The fate of the Italian government hangs in the balance amid growing pressure on Mario Draghi to remain prime minister as he prepares for a crucial speech in parliament on Wednesday.
The former European Central Bank chief’s resignation last week was rejected by President Sergio Mattarella, who instead asked him to address parliament in an attempt to avert what would be Italy’s third government collapse in three years.
His speech in the senate will be followed by a vote of confidence.
Draghi offered his resignation after the Five Star Movement (M5S), a key component of his broad coalition, boycotted a vote on a €26bn cost of living package, saying that the pact of trust on which his administration was founded had been broken.
Unusual for Italian politics, a campaign begging him to stay has swept the country: over 1,500 mayors from across the political spectrum along with various labour unions have declared their support; pro-Draghi demonstrations have been held in key cities and a “Draghi, stay” petition has attracted more than 100,000 signatures.
In addition, endorsements of Draghi, dubbed “Super Mario” for his role in saving the Euro during his time as ECB chief, have been rolling in from international leaders who see him as fundamental to not only ensuring stability in Italy but as a partner in facing the challenges of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
It is unclear if the pleas will be enough to dissuade the 74-year-old, who as of late last week was reported to be unwilling to reconsider his decision.
Over the last few days, his coalition parties have been scrambling to come up with a response before Wednesday’s vote. While the centre-left Democratic party is resolute in wanting Draghi to stay, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia have excluded the possibility of continuing the Draghi government with M5S, a party they described as “untrustworthy and incompetent”. Draghi also said he would not govern without M5S.
Meanwhile M5S, already weakened by a significant exodus of parliamentarians, was still thrashing out its position as of Tuesday afternoon. Giuseppe Conte, the former prime minister who leads M5S, again issued Draghi with an ultimatum, arguing he needs to welcome the party’s priority policies, including a minimum wage and a green home renovations scheme.
Even though Draghi could still gather a majority without M5S, he might decide he is through with the regularly squabbling coalition parties.
The next general elections are due by June 2023, but if Draghi opts to step down, Mattarella will most likely dissolve parliament and call elections as early as late September.
“We are at 50-50 at the moment,” said Sofia Ventura, a politics professor at Bologna university. “It depends on what Draghi says – he will give a tough speech, which I don’t think will include messages of appeasement to M5S.”
Italy’s government plight comes at an extremely delicate time, for international and internal politics. Draghi, who was appointed by Mattarella in February last year to lead the country out of the coronavirus pandemic and revive its economy, has been a staunch ally in supporting aid, including military aid, for Ukraine.
Priorities at home include tackling the energy crisis, approving next year’s budget and enacting reforms in order to receive the next chunk Italy is due to receive from its €200bn share of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund.
“If, in the end, Draghi has to support a capricious majority then he won’t end up doing what he wants to do,” said Ventura. “It will be hellish for him to keep good relations in the coming months, but his international position is important, also because the alternative isn’t very good.”
A survey of recent polls found that if early elections are held, then a coalition led by the far-right Brothers of Italy and including the League and Forza Italia could win a majority.
Stefano Ceccanti, a deputy with the Democratic party, is convinced the Draghi-led government will continue, with or without M5S.
“During periods of war, you can’t collapse a government,” he said. “Even without M5S, this would allow us to move ahead with a more homogeneous majority.”