Can Mario Draghi prove the saviour of Italy?

Former ECB chief has his work cut out after accepting mandate to form a new government and tackle Covid crisis

Former head of the BCE (European Central Bank) Mario Draghi gives a press conference after a meeting with the Italian president, at the Quirinal palace in Rome, on February 3, 2021. Italy's president is expected February 3, to ask Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, to lead the country out of the devastating coronavirus pandemic after the coalition government collapsed. He called for unity after being charged by Italy's president to form a new government, saying the country faced a "difficult moment". / AFP / POOL / Alessandra TARANTINO
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For generations Italians have taken comfort from a saying that the political situation was 'critical but not serious'.

With the latest political crisis, the parlous state of the country can no longer be laughed away.

After the patience of 79 year old president Sergio Mattarella snapped, Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank accepted a mandate on Wednesday to form a new government. The prime minister's designation was asked to tackle head on “the serious health, social, economic and financial emergencies” facing Italy.

epa08983895 A handout photo made available by the press office of the Quirinal Palace (Palazzo Quirinale) shows former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) Mario Draghi (L) arriving at the Quirinal Palace for a meeting with the Italian president, in Rome, Italy, 03 February 2021. President Mattarella has summoned Draghi for a meeting seeking for a 'high-profile' government. Mattarella, who said he was left with two choices, either calling snap elections or nominating a technical government, made the announcement after the ruling coalition failed to form a majority following Giuseppe Conte's resignation as prime minister.  EPA/FRANCESCO AMMENDOLA/QUIRINAL PALACE PRESS OFFICE HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
 Mario Draghi (L) arrives at the Quirinal Palace for a meeting with President Mattarella after the former ECB head was asked to form a new government. EPA

Former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s decision to withdraw support was the last straw for the centre-left government led by Giuseppe Conte.

Undoubtedly, Mr Draghi has saviour credentials as Mr Conte's successor. Newspapers called him “the saviour of the euro” nearly a decade ago and his sway with moderate voters is high.

The orphan teenager, brilliant in mathematics, who studied at Sapienza University of Rome and has a PhD from the MIT, has flourished into one Italy’s most respected economists.

“Whatever it takes”, he said in 2012, implying that the ECB would do anything to preserve the euro: an expression so legendary in Italy that it appears written on the walls.

A group of supporters hold placards reading "Draghi President" in front of the Quirinale Presidential palace in Rome Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi arrived for talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella to discuss a mandate to form a new government. (Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP)
The orphan teenager, brilliant in mathematics, has become one of Italy’s most respected economists — a fact not lost on his supporters. AP

Though Covid-19 has killed almost 90,000 people in the country and caused enormous difficulties for the national health system, a remnant of what was once called the ‘dolce vita’ is still evident.

The historic city centres are quite crowded, many middle-class people cannot wait to get back on the ski slopes and youngsters have their aperitifs in the late afternoons. Valentine’s Day is approaching and supermarkets are full of big, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates made in Italy.

For a Draghi government to come into being, there must be a confidence vote in parliament. Centrist parties hold less than half the seats, while populists on the left, the Five Star Movement and the right, Lega and Fratelli d’Italia, can cancel each other out.

Reputation is Mr Draghi's key card. “Draghi is an important personality, he can really help Italy at this very difficult time. This is why I hope that responsibility will prevail in Parliament,” said Marcello Pera, former president of the Senate.

A left-wing member of the parliament said that many politicians did not want fresh elections. “In the end, many parliamentarians will vote for Draghi. The alternative is a new election, and many are terrified of not being re-elected,” the representative said.

If endorsed, Mr Draghi’s main challenge will be to defeat Covid-19. So far, Italy has been one of the European countries with relatively high vaccination rates and is looking to offer inoculation to most people by September. However, more co-ordination is desperately needed between national and regional health authorities.

Mr Draghi will also have to boost the economy. Entire sectors, such as restaurants, chain stores and hotels are in dire straits.
The crucial issue will be to make the best use of the €209 billion ($251.31bn) made available to Italy through Next Generation EU, a European recovery instrument to help repair the immediate damage done by Covid-19. "Italy can only hope to recover if it uses this money well. You need capable people, Draghi is the most eminent man Italy can count on, we have no other possibility" said Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe in Bologna.
Social tensions are also a big challenge. Mr Conte had managed to keep the situation under control thanks to subsidies and some smart measures, but the increase in youth violence, domestic violence, queues at soup kitchens and homeless people freezing to death in the streets tell us that many Italians are running out of strength, especially in the poorer south.
"This crisis shows the disconnection between a political system that has so far only produced rubble. It also shows the needs of the country and its most enlightened elite," Marco Follini, a former deputy prime minister said.

Mr Draghi is the best that the Italian elite can express, and since he has been pointed out as the new prime minister, something has already improved: the spread between Italian and German government bonds has fallen, and the Milan stock exchange is rising. But this first small miracle will certainly not be enough.

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