We live in an age of political instability. From Boris Johnson’s resignation to Emmanuel Macron losing his parliamentary majority, European governments in the past few months have been in the midst of turmoil. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Italy felt the need to reassert its primacy as the centre of political chaos: Mario Draghi, Italy’s national unity government Prime Minister has resigned after three parties refused to express parliamentary confidence in his government. Reactions in Italy have ranged from disbelief to relief, and, while this crisis has only anticipated Draghi’s resignation by six months (elections were due to be held in March 2023) it nonetheless highlights the massive challenges ahead, for both Italian and European stability.
The uniqueness of Italian politics is its surreal and absurd dimensions. Most in Italy and Europe are left baffled by the decision to pull out from Draghi’s government which had united Italian parties in a new spirit of cooperation. The unfortunate reality is that many Italians do not realise what has been lost. A vast amount of Italians is against Draghi’s support for Ukraine, and many stood against his de facto mandatory vaccination scheme, the so-called ‘green pass’. Draghi was a great resource for Italy, yet one which, I fear, we will learn to appreciate more as time moves on. Certainly, it must be said, many are feeling simply utterly confused and lost about the recent events, as party politics trumps the common good.
The crisis was ignited by former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his Five Star Movement. However, the refusal to continue in the government of the right-of-centre parties, namely Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, further ended any chances of having Mario Draghi stay in power. The reasons for this are wholly political. For the League and Forza Italia, the decision was related to machinations within the right-wing coalition: the third right wing party, Brothers of Italy, led by Italy’s Marine Le Pen, Giorgia Meloni, had refused to join the Draghi government and was draining support away from the other traditional conservative parties. For the Conte’s Five Star Movement, a party which has lost most of its support, the decision marked a return to its radical roots in order to seek electoral resuscitation. Essentially, it was the last spasm of a dying beast. In the process, Mario Draghi was sacrificed. Many have described Draghi as ‘Super Mario’, an epithet he perhaps does not fully deserve. Draghi was not a panacea to all problems, and most of Italy’s structural issues have persisted. Indeed, Draghi’s speech to parliament was confrontational and, one might argue, further escalated the crisis. However, no one in Italy has Draghi’s international standing and ability, one reinforced by his past tenure as European Central Bank President, and by his English fluency (a rare feat in Italian politics). From leading one of Europe’s most successful vaccination programs, securing 191 billion euros for Italy through the European Recovery Plan, to leading Europe’s stance on Ukraine, Draghi has undoubtedly been a leader in a Europe where France and Germany have also seen political instability.
The situation is not tragic and only anticipates elections by six months. It nevertheless remains absurd. Italy’s plans to spend the 191 billion euros need to be accompanied by structural reforms asked by the EU, and the absence of a stable government will risk the whole survival of the recovery plan. A missed opportunity of majestic proportions. The same applies to the national budget, which needs ratification before the September elections. In the meantime all parties have been left tainted: the right-wing coalition parties, primarily the League and Brothers of Italy, with their often anti-European stance, could scarcely manage the European Recovery Fund; the centre-left Democratic Party has been hurt by its association with the Five Star Movement; and many parties have opposed Draghi’s policies on Ukraine, often trying to block the sending of arms against Russia. The international ramifications are thus incredibly important, and, whilst fresh elections are to be welcomed, a success for the League or the Five Star Movement would signify a success for some who in the past strongly supported Putin. The leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, for example, once called Putin ‘a great European statesman’. Exactly as advocated by Alexander Dugin, one of the philosophers of Putin’s Russian expansionism, Russia could seek to break NATO through Germany and Italy. The unpopularity of Draghi’s support for Ukraine suggests that in this task Putin has made significant progress.
It is an old adage that Italian politics follows the maxim expressed in Lampedusa’s Gattopardo (‘The Leopard’), namely that all must change for all to remain the same. Indeed, Italy remains unstable and divided, and Italian politics continue as a bizarre, comedic, tragic, and oxymoronic exercise in political incompetence. Yet, this last of many crises suggests a failure to grasp an opportunity, perhaps the last, to attempt to fix Italy’s problems. Draghi could scarcely fix a nation with such a varied coalition, yet he had set the circumstances for a new period of competence and good government. Perhaps it was only an illusion of change cut short by the electoral posturing. The only thing we know for certain is that Italy’s political future remains thoroughly uncertain.
Image: CC2:0, Flickr via European Central Parliament