The Government of Italy

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La Civiltà Cattolica

 La Civiltà Cattolica / Politics / Published Date:26 March 2021/Last Updated Date:21 April 2021


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On February 17, 2021, the new Italian government led by Mario Draghi won a confidence vote in the Senate with 262 votes in favor, 40 against and 2 abstentions. The next day, in the Chamber of Deputies, he received 535 votes in favor, 56 against and 5 abstained. Draghi thus was able to form the third government of the 18th legislature, following the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was in his second term.

Draghi’s appointment came after a series of consultations conducted first by the Head of State, Sergio Mattarella, and then by the President of the Chamber, Roberto Fico, who had been asked to sound out the possibility of a new agreement between the parties of the previous majority (supported by the Five Star Movement, the Democratic Party, Italia Viva and Liberi e Uguali).

Draghi’s appointment

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“I feel, therefore, a duty to appeal to all political forces in parliament to show their confidence in a government of national unity, which should not be tied to any particular political agenda. I am resolved therefore, to confer a mandate as soon as possible to form a government that will promptly address the grave emergencies that must be faced without delay” (Statement of President Mattarella at the end of the meeting with President Fico of the Chamber of Deputies, February 2, 2021, in www.quirinale.it).

With these words, on February 2, 2021, the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, concluded his address to the citizens and the political parties. To resolve the government crisis brought on by Conte’s resignation on January 26, 2021, there was no need to go down the road of new elections, as desired by the opposition parties (Forza Italia, Lega and Fratelli d’Italia). The President of the Republic, as is his prerogative, presented a new proposal for a government of national unity, asking for the support of all parliamentary parties and independents.

The decision was guided by three compelling reasons: the risk of leaving Italy in the hands of a government limited to the functions of ordinary administration at a crucial time because of the health, economic and social emergencies; the danger of another outbreak of the virus and the urgency of coordinating the vaccination campaign; the expiry of the freeze on redundancies and the need to present to the European Commission a plan for the use of funds – Next Generation EU, also called The Recovery Fund – for the re-launch of Italy. So Mattarella turned to parliament asking them to support a government capable of addressing the issues in question.

A few minutes later, the Press and Communication Advisor to the Presidency of the Republic, Giovanni Grasso, announced that Professor Mario Draghi had been summoned to form a government. Draghi is an internationally recognized and respected figure. Six months ago, Pope Francis appointed him a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. As Eric Albert and Jerome Gautheret[1] have written, in the moment of crisis, in order to save the Republic – as the senators did in ancient Rome by calling Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, by then retired to private life – Italy appealed to its most representative person, Mario Draghi.

The new Prime Minister had an excellent educational formation, which has continued throughout his professional career: after attending the Jesuit Massimo Institute in Rome, he attended lectures by Keynesian economist Federico Caffè, and then continued his studies at MIT in Boston.[2] Draghi held numerous positions, becoming President of the ECB, a role in which he was able to resolve the euro crisis and promote a change of course in the European austerity policy. He decided to loosen the constraints on the public debt of member states so that they could initiate policies to intervene in areas of social inequality.[3]

In the days following the appointment something exceptional happened: almost all the parliamentary parties, despite some initial opposition, veered toward supporting Draghi. On February 12, he presented his proposed list of cabinet ministers and thus opened up the possibility of a government of national cohesion to  deal with the unique challenges facing the country.

His Council of Ministers consists of technocrats and politicians, a mix that aspires to ensure a sharing of responsibilities between the various forces represented in parliament to achieve an effective delivery of the new government’s policies. The choice went in favor of technocrats in very delicate positions and politicians accustomed to doing mediation work, a wise choice Beyond the political  labels, Draghi has found people who are able to work together, making sure that the values that the individual forces bring forward can converge to promote a common project that has clear objectives and that is limited in time. The vote of confidence that Draghi obtained is the third largest in the history of the Republic.

A technical government with a difference

The birth of the Draghi government has been welcomed as a fairly exceptional event in the history of the Italian Republic. The most recurring comparison – although we will discover it is not entirely appropriate – has been with the Ciampi, Dini and Monti governments. These were all “technical” governments, born following moments of parliamentary crisis and in contexts of deep economic or political difficulties for the country. On all three occasions, the President of the Republic in office decided to nominate a super partes President of the Council, capable of gaining consensus across the political spectrum, and the confidence of Parliament, without a recourse to elections.

On April 18, 1993, the task was entrusted to Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, former governor of Bank Italia, who would later become President of the Italian Republic. For the first time, the President of the Council of Ministers was not a member of parliament. The period was very troubled. The time of the “First Republic” was coming to an end with the requests to the Chambers to vote on the authorization, first for Bettino Craxi, then for Giulio Andreotti to proceed. This was at the peak of the scandals linked to Tangentopoli. The previous year the nation had been appalled by the Mafia massacres of Capaci and Via D’Amelio. In this context, the Ciampi government was faced with two urgent needs: “to prepare a proposal for an electoral law in the event that parliament was unable to approve its own bill by July; to find 13,000 billion lire to deal with the national deficit.”[4]

Less than two years passed – a sign of the political transition underway – when Lamberto Dini, also a non-parliamentarian, was appointed to form a new government to succeed Silvio Berlusconi. It was to be a time-limited government for one year with the objective of completing the transition from the “first” to the “second” Republic and of introducing some reforms to rebalance public and social spending. This was made clear by his four commitments: to define the par conditio rules for electoral campaigns; to institute a new regional electoral law that would come close to the parliamentary one; to execute a demanding financial maneuver, the reform of the social security system.[5]

The third “technical” government was entrusted in 2011 to Professor Mario Monti. It was created to respond to the climate of distrust in the markets that had hit the country during the global economic crisis, leaving it immobilized and unable to react. Thus, the then-government gave way to “European pressures on Italy, [which] together with the spread (difference in value between Italian multi-year treasury bonds (BTPs) and German Bunds) rising significantly above 500 points, and the interest rate on BTPs dangerously close to 7 percent almost forced President Berlusconi to resign,” as summarized by Fr. Michele Simone in the pages of our magazine.[6]

All of these governments were called upon to manage a transition and had to take some painful and unpopular paths. The prospects facing the Draghi government present certain differences, which must be considered in order to evaluate it in the future. In the meantime, it is part of the 18th legislature, the first in the history of the Republic not to have had a prime minister elected by parliamentarians. In fact, Professor Giuseppe Conte, who presided over the two previous governments, was not elected but proposed and supported by majorities made up of political parties. This is an indicator of the fragmented scenario that emerged from the 2018 elections, in which the traditional moderate and progressive parties lost support, populist alignments gained strength and a relatively new player, the Five Star Movement, established itself as an important  actor on the political stage.

In recent years the terms of the political debate on the national and international stage have changed and become focused on the open-versus-closed pole, as The Economist noted in an editorial significantly titled “The New Political Divide” in 2016, marking the shift from the classic dialectic between right and left. The open positions lean toward a dialogue on international issues: the euro, migration flows and the role of the European Union; the closed formations propose, on the same issues, restrictive and nationalist visions focused on the constraints of national borders.

Laying the foundations for a ‘new reconstruction’ of the country

The new government faces two challenges: to counter the pandemic and to start the “new reconstruction” of the country, to use Draghi’s words during his programmatic address to the Senate on February 17. From his very first words, he came across as a man who feels a sense of responsibility and visibly demonstrates it with a sobriety “that has a soul” and that refutes the expectations built on the alleged coldness of the technocrat.

The first difficulty to overcome, however, is the extreme heterogeneity of the parliamentary forces that support him. In his speech, Draghi recalled the responsibility of the choice made by parties that have so far presented themselves to the electorate as alternatives to each other: “No one needs to take a step backward with respect to their identity but, if anything, in a new and quite unusual process of collaboration, they can take one step forward in responding to the needs of the country, in approaching the daily problems of families and businesses that know when it is time to work together, without prejudice and rivalry.”[7]

Immediately afterward, the Prime Minister outlined the policy “to hand over a better and fairer country to our children and grandchildren.” Draghi warned that his government would not be neutral, because the way forward cannot be followed in the weakness of solitude (“There is no sovereignty in solitude”), but it requires the strength of companionship in the common European home, starting from the values of Western democracies, aware of the irreversibility of the euro and participation in the Atlantic Alliance. Within this space are to be imagined the actions to position resources such as those provided by the Next Generation EU, to be allocated for support and the new start.

Draghi’s ambition is to respond to the emergency with a plan for the future. It is worth noting the unusual recurrence in his speech of two words that have not been heard for some time from the lips of prime ministers, ministers and political leaders: “youth” and “future.” To achieve a “new reconstruction” it will not be enough to deal with the pandemic and plan vaccinations, but it will be necessary to initiate a health care reform that strengthens the regional network and extends to  medical care at home.

Students will have to make up for lost study time, but it will be necessary to update courses and methodologies, as well as to reorganize some courses, such as those of the Technical Institutes, because the new generations will need the skills for a society in constant change. Support for the manufacturing sector and the broader economy cannot be limited to mere handouts, but must be oriented toward a new model of development, a model of integral ecology, which indissolubly combines environmental protection, attention to new knowledge and investment in social wellbeing.

This means, Draghi said with realism, that we will live through a painful transition phase, and not all activities will survive: “The government will have to protect workers, all workers, but it would be a mistake to protect all economic activities indiscriminately, some will have to change, even radically. And the choice of which activities to protect and which to accompany in the change is the difficult task that the framers of economic policy will have to face in the coming months.”[8] Protecting workers will mean, therefore, reinforcing the redeployment allowance and investing in active policies, training and employment centers.

A chance for democracy: ‘simply governing’

The crisis we are going through requires an extraordinary commitment. Draghi has stated that his commitment is “simply governing the country.”[9] We like to think that “simply” is an adverb capable of recalling all the political forces involved to the assumption of shared responsibility, to achieve the objectives without falling into the temptation of a permanent electoral campaign, to which Italy has unfortunately become accustomed. Simply govern. Without being distracted by other things and without obscuring the goal with propaganda to make up for one’s own shortcomings. In this sense, the government is “political,” because the choice to suspend conflict is ultimately political.

The unprecedented coalition government can become a great opportunity for the parties to mature, if they are able to highlight their capabilities through results. The parties are, therefore, called to reflect on themselves. It is a moment for laboratory experiment, and this space allows a resolution of tensions and a reflection on what these forces have as their goal and how they define themselves in the dynamics of the country.

If the government of technocrats and politicians is able to set out the reforms for the “new reconstruction,” then politics will come out more credible and authoritative in the eyes of citizens, because it will have offered them a new opportunity to recognize themselves as “people,” a community linked by relationships that go beyond differences. Moreover, the convergence of formations, up to now antagonistic, within the same collaborative space could favor the evolution of democratic debate, which still identifies the political adversary as the enemy.

Laying the foundations of a project for the future of Italy would in fact contribute to the recognition of the dignity of the other and of the common goals for the country, and would shift the axis of confrontation. It would involve asking for the consent of the citizens without the continuous delegitimization of the other, not fomenting anger or fears, to proposals that indicate the best, most suitable and effective means and paths to rebuild. The way that today appears to be the only viable one is to feel that we are all in the same boat, a Noah’s ark, where wolf and lamb, lion and giraffe climb aboard together. They must not tear each other to pieces, for the voyage is to be shared. Also thanks to their being forced to work together – a real test – each of them will be able to rediscover themselves and their own (better, one hopes) natural political instincts.

Fundamental in this sense is something Prime Minister Draghi stated: before any belonging comes the “duty of citizenship.” Here there is an interesting meeting point with the vision of Pope Francis in the encyclical Fratelli tutti. This is the “unusual perimeter of collaboration” between political forces that is needed to respond to the needs of the country. It is a matter of achieving a form of “social friendship” that asisfor the pontiff gives birth to the “best politics” (Fratelli tutti, No. 154).

Here, a fundamental question arises, which is also a political challenge: in recent weeks the political class has shown a desire to converge toward the center, with a generally moderate emphasis. Whether it is a matter of tactics, or a real maturation, the uncertainty remains: Will the electorate, accustomed to polarization and exasperation at partisan demands, make the same move as the parties it has voted for so far?

In any case, by offering a new perspective, politics now has the opportunity to plant shoots of hope, for “a land will be fruitful, and its people bear fruit and give birth to the future, only to the extent that it can foster a sense of belonging among its members, and create bonds of integration between generations and different communities” (Fratelli tutti, No. 53).

 

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[1] Cf. E. Albert – J. Gautheret, “Le triomphe romain de Mario Draghi”, in Le Monde, February 19, 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cf. G. Ruta, “Mario Draghi’s Contribution to Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union” in Civ. Catt. En. Dec. 2019 at laciviltacattolica.com/mario-draghis-contribution-to-europes-economic-and-monetary-union

[4] G. De Rosa, “Il Governo Ciampi. Inizia un’epoca nuova nella storia italiana?”, in Civ. Catt. 1993 II 486-495.

[5] Cf. G. De Rosa, “Il Governo Dini: ‘tecnico’ e ‘di tregua’”, in Civ. Catt. 1995 I 285-293.

[6] M. Simone, “Il Governo di ‘impegno nazionale’”, in Civ. Catt. 2011 IV 496.

[7] M. Draghi, “Le dichiarazioni programmatiche del Presidente Draghi”, in governo.it, February 17, 2021.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.