🎙️ Interview: What does the loss of Draghi mean for Italy and Europe?
We’ve witnessed a very Italian political earthquake that will send shockwaves across Europe. But why did it happen? And what does it mean for the future?
This week saw a political earthquake unfold, with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi forced to resign from his post despite winning a confidence vote, and with an inevitable election being called that all parties will pounce on.
To make sense of this I sat down with Italian expert in international affairs, Dr. Luciano Pollichieni, a researcher at the multidisciplinary and non-partisan Critica research centre.
So, the deed is done, and Mario Draghi was forced to resign, but why did he feel the need to step down after essentially winning the confidence vote?
You see, this is one of the most controversial aspects of the government crisis. The government has effectively won the confidence vote with 95 votes, but, at the same time, Movimento 5 Stelle, Lega and Forza Italia all left the room during the confidence vote basically opting for a form of abstention.
This is controversial for two reasons: Firstly, because when they were put in front of the tough choices ahead, they decided to ‘pull the plug’ on the government; and secondly, because three parties within the majority abstained in substantial numbers without voting against the confidence vote, well…in this situation their ability to act in good faith becomes questionable.
If you really think that what the Prime Minister said is wrong, then why did you leave? Why didn’t you explicitly vote against him in the confidence motion?
Was there ever a way back for the now former Prime Minister?
This is one of the hottest issues of the political debate in Italy, even if I don’t like to focus on this very much as I believe that, in doing so, we might lose sight of the bigger picture that is why the majority decided to pull the plug.
If you ask for my personal opinion, I believe that before the confidence vote on Thursday, PM Draghi had two main options: the first one was to bargain in order to gain the parties’ confidence, trying to keep a good relationship with them as it’s not a mystery that Draghi would like to eventually become President of the Republic. The problem with this is that he was aware that, in doing so, he would need to sacrifice his reformist agenda which was effectively what the EU has been asking Italy to undertake for many years.
The other option was to go in front of the senate, put the parties (mainly 5 Stelle and the Lega) in front of their political responsibility, and defend his agenda. He opted for the second one knowing that these reforms (education, public administration, fiscal system etc.) needed to have the widest consensus possible.
Maybe he thought that the party would have never had the courage to vote against the confidence motion (something that was technically the case), but then he wound up losing that bet.
Do you think that Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi explicitly pulled the support of their respective parties to trigger an early election?
See, again it’s difficult to say. If Salvini and Berlusconi were deeply convinced that Draghi’s agenda was wrong or against the national interest, they would have voted against the confidence vote. This would have also made sense because both Lega and Forza Italia have lost a remarkable part of their electorate when compared to the beginning of this legislative term.
I think that if the PM had been more conciliatory or less generic in his agenda, they would have probably voted confidence in him, but in seeing that Draghi had not backed down, especially on the decree for market liberalization that would take part of their electorate before the elections, they decided that it was better to carefully pull the plug without actually pulling the plug themselves, so they ended up in leaving the room.
Still even with Draghi gone there are now some problems for both parties: part of the Lega membership is not completely convinced of this choice, and some founding members of Forza Italia who were also Ministers in the Draghi government have now left the party.
Why did Movimento 5 Stelle initially pull their support? And do you think they’ll live to regret this?
I think it was for a wide range of reasons.
Former Prime Minister and actual leader of the M5S, Giuseppe Conte needs to demonstrate to both his party and his electorate that he is able to be a strong leader. When the former political leader of the Movement, Luigi Di Maio, quit to form his own party (Together for the Future), he understood that he needed to provide a firm answer to this move and so he decided to threaten the government.
Over the last few days there were also rumours about a mutual personal dislike between Conte and Draghi which made things even harder. Within this context the Partito Democratic was apparently able to mediate between the two sides, but when Draghi told the senate the he wasn’t going to change his agenda and both the Lega and Forza Italia pulled their support, the M5S understood that the elections were coming and that the best way to control the electoral damages (the Movement has lost between 9 and 7% of votes according to the latest polls in this term) was by pulling their confidence in the government.
I think that the Movement will survive to the next elections, and I’m pretty confident that some of its members are already regretting their choice, but I believe that in the future they will be less influential than in the past.
Don’t forget that they promised a sort of revolution to their electorate, but when they faced a reformist agenda like Draghi’s, they grew uncomfortable.
Could this be an opportunity for the Partito Democratico to once again become the leading party in Italy?
I think that the problem of the Partito Democratico is not so much its leaders’ expertise (Letta has been prime minister already) nor its strategy since it has been able to be in government for almost 10 years without having a proper parliamentary majority. Its issues are its communication and appeal.
Over the last years, the main message coming from the Partito Democratico has basically been “vote for us because our opponents are worse”, and in doing so a growing part of the progressive electorate and youth have felt increasingly estranged from the party’s agenda.
To make a comparison: the Partito Democratico in Italy ended up without having neither a Jeremy Corbyn nor a Keir Starmer, but instead with many leaders presenting themselves as being more respectable than their opponents.
I must admit that since his comeback as party leader, Letta has put some interesting proposals on the table such as a minimum wage, the necessity to invest more in Italy’s youth, and the reform on the citizenship law, but we have to see whether these proposals would survive the forthcoming electoral campaign.
Where do you think the potential election will take Italy?
The election will definitely lead to a new government that, in theory, should be led by Ms. Meloni’s right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia; but even in that case it is not clear, since rumors say that Meloni might be tempted to nominate another political figure to lead the government.
If that is true, it is a quite meaningful sign concerning the effective will or ability of the main political parties in taking their responsibility and leading Italy through a process of reforms that cannot be postponed. So, I would not be surprised if we might find ourselves with another national unity government of some sort.
But I don’t think that the problem is where the elections will lead Italy but are more about where the country already is.
You see this is the most worrying part for me. The truth is that Italy is already facing a wide range of different internal contemporary crises: 30 years of slow economic growth with no increase in salaries, a terrible demographic balance with an aging population and a high-skilled youth that is leaving the country, high public debt, and other issues.
Together with these crises you have the global ones: migrations, Ukraine, climate change, etc., but the impression you get from political debate is that none of these is taken into account by our political elites. The electoral campaign will take place during one of the hottest summers ever recorded but surprisingly climate change is not debated in this context. We are basically stuck in a circle where our political parties don’t have the expertise to face such challenges anymore, and all they are able to do is prepare electoral strategies.
Now, this is fair, but you cannot ignore that our allies in NATO and in the EU are now expecting quality governance from us (especially after the creation of the Next Generation EU) but I’m not completely sure about the ability of our current political system to provide it.
Draghi, his government, and its policies were very far from being perfect, but they were actually interested in reforming the country and our allies appreciated that. I’m not sure that the same can be said about our political parties unfortunately.
Who do you see being the ultimate winner of this upcoming election?
If we talk about the election itself, I believe that the biggest winner will be Ms. Meloni: a woman able to lead, for the first time in the country’s history, a right-wing party to becoming the most voted one.
At the same time, I believe that Mr. Berlusconi will also be a big winner, since even if we claim to live in a “post-Berlusconi era”, he is still there and is still able to influence the dynamics in the conservative alliances. On the other side, Mr. Letta has a good chance to emerge as a winner of some sort since polls show that under his leadership the Partito Democratico has gained more votes than under his predecessors.
Still, you need to remember a common saying that we have in Italy about our politics: “in the day after the elections in Italy nobody loses, and everybody wins”.
Where do you think Mario Draghi goes from here? And is there a future for him in Italian or European politics?
In the short term I think he might finish part of his job, particularly the part concerning the liberalization decree (at least part of it). Even if he will not take part in the elections, I believe that he will exercise some influence, especially as part of the electoral debate will be focused on who pulled confidence from Draghi and why.
The real issue to watch is whether he will be able to make it to the presidency of the Republic, which is a political race that is still very open.
Despite this I think he remains one of the most respected Italians in the history of the EU, so I believe that he might be listened to in the future. The real question for me is how much he would be ready to influence politics in Italy and Europe, but I believe he will definitely play a role at least in the near future.
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Thanks for the interview. Very insightful about Italy. Personally, I would like to see more federalism in Italy where more sovereignty as regarding labour markets and refugees is at the local or regional levels.