Italy's president calls in Draghi, political parties hesitate

ROME – Italian President Sergio Mattarella is expected to urge former head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to form a government of national unity to tackle the double coronavirus and economic crises that have plagued the country.

The Head of State was expected to receive Draghi at 12:00 p.m. local time (6:00 a.m. CET) and almost certainly give him the mandate to put together a high-profile government that he hopes will have the support of a wide range of parties in the fractures will win parliament.

Mattarella’s move came after talks to bail out Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s shattered coalition collapsed, leaving him with two options: early elections or a technocratic government to deal with the many challenges Italy is facing.

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The president said the national elections during the coronavirus pandemic were unwise and warned that a new government would have to take office immediately or the country risked missing out on more than 200 billion euros from a European Union fund designed to overcome the Economy should contribute to slump.

However, there was no guarantee that the well-respected Draghi would be able to muster sufficient support, with the largest party in parliament, the anti-establishment 5-star movement, immediately ruling out their support.

Draghi is widely credited with pulling the eurozone from the brink of collapse in 2012 and pledging to “do whatever it takes” to save the single European currency.

He’s largely gone from the public eye since his ECB tenure ended in October 2019, but his name has emerged as a potential premiere in recent weeks as political turmoil coupled with health and economic emergencies formed a perfect storm.

Italy, the first European country to be affected by the coronavirus, has recorded more than 89,000 deaths since its outbreak almost a year ago – the sixth highest number in the world.

Lockdowns to contain contagion have devastated the economy, and data released on Tuesday showed Italy’s gross domestic product contracted 8.8 percent in 2020 – the sharpest annual decline since World War II.

The first challenge for Draghi will be parliament.

The five-star hotel that forms the backbone of the last two Italian coalition governments has repeatedly railed against the concept of technocratic governments and would likely face a grassroots revolt if it supported the veteran central banker.

“The 5-star hotel would only have supported a government led by Giuseppe Conte,” said Riccardo Fraccaro, a party bigwig and state secretary.

If the 5-star player stays on the sidelines, all eyes will be on the next two largest parties – the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the far-right league – which are sworn political enemies but may have to vote together to give Draghi a chance.

When asked if his Eurosceptic party would support the 73-year-old economist, the leader of the league, Matteo Salvini, said it would depend on his plans. “He has to tell us what he’s up to,” Salvini told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

A league source said the party would offer its support if Draghi committed to holding elections in a year’s time.

The PD largely supported Mattarella’s move but did not offer unconditional support. “The Democratic Party needs to think about what to do about what others are doing,” said Andrea Orlando, vice chairwoman of the PD.

A Draghi government would boost Italy’s international standing at a time when it holds the G20 presidency. But accepting the job would involve risks for him.

The last time a technocrat took command was in 2011 when another economist, Mario Monti, was hired to help Italy out of a debt crisis. MPs soon turned against him when they felt his business medicine was too harsh.

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