Draghi begins talks to form new Italian government

By: AFP      Published: 06:57 PM, 4 Feb, 2021
Draghi begins talks to form new Italian government

Italy's Mario Draghi was set to begin detailed talks Thursday on the formation of a new government, after being parachuted in to restore political order in the virus-plagued country.

The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) was slated to meet party leaders in Rome to sound them out about their willingness to support a national unity administration.

He already has support from some of the main parties in parliament, but the biggest -- the populist Five Star Movement (M5s) that strongly supported outgoing premier Giuseppe Conte -- is not yet on board.

Conte quit last week after his coalition collapsed following the withdrawal of a key partner, former premier Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva party.

M5S and its allies in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) tried to cobble together a new government but failed, prompting President Sergio Mattarella to call in Draghi on Wednesday.

The economist's task is urgent -- Italy remains in the grip of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, with the death toll still rising by hundreds each day, to a total of almost 90,000 so far.

The government must also come up with a plan within weeks to boost its recession-stricken economy with the help of a massive injection of European Union funds.

Political government

According to the daily La Stampa, Draghi faces a "puzzle". 

PD and Renzi's Italia Viva are ready to back him, alongside Silvio Berlusconi's opposition conservative Forza Italia and some smaller left and centrist forces.

Renzi told the daily La Repubblica that the Draghi government "will be the salvation of Italy."

However, Draghi also needs the abstention or the support of one of three other parties: M5S, Matteo Salvini's far-right League and the Brothers of Italy, also far right. 

Even if it has lost most of its radical edge, the M5S started out as an anti-elitist party, so it is awkward for them to endorse a quintessentially establishment figure like Draghi

One of the M5S leaders, outgoing Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, has called for a "political government", rejecting the idea of a cabinet made up of technocrats.

Draghi could get around that by offering some cabinet posts to the M5S and other parties, but it remained unclear whether this would be enough to overcome the blockage.

Di Maio and other members of the outgoing administration, including Conte, were being considered for new cabinet positions, according to multiple media reports. 

The PD's Roberto Gualtieri could also survive as Economy Minister, even if Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF official, and Fabio Panetta, a central banker like Draghi, were also being linked to economic portfolios. 

Italy is banking on receiving the lion's share of the EU's post-virus recovery fund -- around 200 billion euros ($240 billion) -- but must submit a credible spending plan to Brussels by April.

Should Draghi fail to muster a majority, or lose a parliamentary confidence vote after taking office, the fallback option for Italy would be snap elections. 

But President Mattarella clearly said Tuesday he wants to avoid early polls, given the complexity of holding them in the middle of a pandemic.