Sunday, December 10

Italian president rejects resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi


ROME — Italy hit a period of dizzying political turbulence Thursday, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi saying he would resign and make way for a new government, only for the country’s president to reject Draghi’s resignation and ask him to reassess whether he can hold a majority together .

President Sergio Mattarella invited Draghi back to Parliament, a request that will touch off days of backroom negotiations among parties and potentially lead to a confidence vote next week.

Draghi for 17 months has been a rare unifying force in Italian politics, commanding a wide left-to-right backing. But that unity has faltered as pandemic concerns have been replaced by inflation, record drought and war in Europe — and as some political parties perceive they might fare better in early elections.

Italy’s government was pushed to the brink Thursday not by a global or national crisis but by a fight over what do to about trash in Rome.

“Absurd,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political science professor at Luiss Guido Carli University.

Italy needs a new president and a stable government. Mario Draghi cannot be the answer to both.

Senators from one of the biggest parties in Draghi’s coalition — the Five Star Movement — boycotted a confidence motion ostensibly because it was linked to a bill that contained a provision for a trash incinerator in Rome, a project the Five Stars opposed on environmental grounds.

Draghi had made clear he would interpret a walkout as a vote against the unity government he leads and would feel obliged to reconsider his mandate. The Five Stars — a onetime populist party that has hemorrhaged most of its support — went ahead, anyway. And so Draghi offered his resignation from him, saying that the trust underpinning the government had come “undone,” and that the conditions for a functional government “no longer exist.”

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What comes next requires some guesswork.

Draghi may have the chance to patch things back together with yet another confidence vote — one tied solely to the existence of the government, unrelated to any bill. Mattarella, a revered former constitutional court judge, has proven adept over the years at appealing to a sense of national responsibility, and there are clear reasons Italy would benefit from keeping its government intact for a while longer. In the autumn, it has a budget to pass. And it must carry out reforms to receive its windfall from the European pandemic recovery fund.

Draghi, in theory, could also carry on as prime minister in a new government without the Five Stars, in what would be a narrower majority. But Draghi, who in February 2021 was handpicked by Mattarella to lead a unity coalition, has indicated that he wants no part in such a scenario.

“There is no government without the Five Stars,” Draghi said this week, adding that he wouldn’t lead a coalition with an alternate makeup.

D’Alimonte said Mattarella wants to keep Draghi as prime minister and avoid early elections. But those, too, remain a possibility.

Many analysts say such a move would be embarrassing for Italy, given the emergencies confronting Europe. Among investors, Draghi is seen as a guarantor of stability in one of the world’s most heavily indebted economies. And in Brussels, where he is widely respected for his past eurozone-saving work as Europe’s top central banker, Draghi has given Italy a degree of political clout it rarely enjoys. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he has firmly backed sanctions against Russia and helped Italy scramble to find alternative energy sources.

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What to know about Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister

But some of the same Italian parties that have been supporting Draghi now have reasons to prefer elections, if given the choice. Parties on the center-right and far right are convinced they could win any vote held in the coming months. The Five Stars’ move gives them such a chance without looking as if they initiated the government’s breakup.

“The situation such as it is cannot go on,” Lorenzo Fontana, a deputy leader of the nationalist League, had said earlier in the day. “Clearly, for us, there is no fear of leaving the final word to Italians.”

For all the Five Star resistance to the incinerator, other politicians have called it a solution to an urgent — and putrid — problem in the capital. Rome in recent years has become synonymous with haphazard trash collection, overflowing dumpsters and seagulls that swoop in to feast on the rubbish. The problem of waste disposal was been intensified by a fire at a treatment facility that generated a black cloud with a stench that spread for thousands.

The trash problem has plagued Rome’s mayors, including the current center-left leader, Roberto Gualtieri, who described in an interview with Il Tempo, a local newspaper, “dirty streets, decay and high costs of an ill-working system,” and pledged that a new high-tech waste-to-energy plant will be ready by 2025.

Italy is notorious for its topsy-turvy politics, but the latest turbulence caught the country off-guard, coming just before the political class decamps for its summer holidays. The source of the tumult, the Five Star Movement, is fighting for its political future and struggling to figure out how to do it.

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Can a party founded by a comedian run a major European country? Italy may soon find out.

The Five Star Movement only a few years ago was Italy’s most popular party — an anti-establishment band of populists, comprising ideas from the left and the right, that promised a radical form of democracy, including internet votes among party supporters. But the movement has proven more effective at agitating from the outside than governing.

As part of various Italian coalitions over the past four years, it has zigzagged on issues including immigration and the European Union. The party recently splintered when Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi di Maio picked off about a third of the Five Stars’ parliamentarians, who were divided on weapons shipments to Ukraine. The remaining Five Star members are led by Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister and law professor, who earlier this month had handed Draghi a nine-point list of the party’s proposals.

“A government won’t be able to work under an ultimatum,” Draghi said in response.

There is a history between Draghi and Conte, who had been Italy’s leader during the onset of the pandemic, and who made the difficult — but ultimately lifesaving — decision to call for a nationwide lockdown at a time when such moves were unprecedented in a modern democracy . But in early 2021, Conte was pushed out as part of a fight within his own coalition just as Italy was trying to ramp up its coronavirus vaccination campaign. Mattarella, at the time, said it was time for a government that could tackle “the great emergencies.”

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