The events will bring a shattering end to a period of political unity in Rome and destabilize the EU’s third-largest economy, of which Draghi was widely seen as a guarantor. For a year and a half, the centrist Draghi has led a broad, left-to-right government, and he has built on his reputation — as Europe’s former top central banker — to increase Italy’s influence in Brussels and to make tough promises. The European Way Against Russia in the War in Ukraine
But leaders of several coalition parties showed on Wednesday that they wanted something different.
“It’s over,” Draghi ally Matteo Renzi said on the Senate floor as three key coalition members, rattled by a day of testy negotiations, announced they would not take part in the confidence vote.
On pure numbers, Draghi won the poll. But as the Five Star Movement, the League and Forward Italy decided not to participate, they effectively overthrew the unity government.
Draghi, in a surprise move, chose not to tender his resignation immediately afterwards – a move that would have required a visit to the presidential palace. He will appear before the Lower House on Thursday morning instead. Giovanni Orsina, director of the School of Government at Louis-Guido Carli University in Rome, said Draghi’s resignation seemed inevitable.
“I don’t see any possibility of rebuilding the situation politically,” Orsina said.
What comes next for Italy, whenever the elections are held, will be very different. The next government will bring together a group of nationalist and center-right parties, including some with Eurosceptic and pro-Russian views. In recent days, some politicians loyal to Draghi have warned that Italy’s crisis is playing into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it is not known what kind of approach these parties will adopt once they come to power. Georgia Meloni, whose nationalist Brothers of Italy is the country’s most popular party and lone opposition group, has voiced Ukraine’s opposition to Russia.
“What we have to consider [Draghi’s departure] will represent opposition to Putin,” Enrico Letta, head of the center-left Democratic Party, said in a phone interview. “Dragyi has been a reference point for all European leaders.”
Many political experts expected Draghi – on a make-or-break day – to be able to persuade the parties to agree again to the coalition. When he tried to resign last week, in response to the Five Star Movement’s revolt over the bill, he was rebuffed by President Sergio Mattarella, who urged him to return to parliament and test his coalition once more.
But by Wednesday afternoon, fractures were evident everywhere: between Tragi and the right, between the right and the amorphous Five Star Movement, the parties blamed each other for the breakup. The conflict between the parties has been on the rise for the past few months. Italy, in any case, must hold a national referendum early next year – giving parties an incentive to differentiate themselves at the front.
“The desire to move forward together has gradually faded,” Draghi said in a morning Senate speech.
In that speech, Draghi, who rarely raised his voice, celebrated the government’s work in helping Italy during the worst of the pandemic and, more recently, its push for alternative energy sources amid the war in Ukraine. But he delivered a stark message, asking coalition parties to reconsider and end any attempt to undermine the government’s agenda. It’s his bid to make sure his alliance isn’t a shambles if it gets to the finish line.
“We need a new trust agreement — honest and firm,” Draghi said. “Are you ready to redo this contract?”
But he did not go out of his way to woo the populist Five Star movement by mentioning its pet projects. And he took a dig at the Nationalist League, whose leader Matteo Salvini has voiced support for striking taxi drivers, whose protests Draghi called “violent” and “unauthorized.”
It soon became clear that the odds of a deal had stalled.
Before the confidence vote, far-right and center-right parties had said in a joint memo that they were fine with Draghi as president – as long as the Five Star Movement was not part of the government. But Draghi said he wanted to lead only as broad a coalition as possible – including the Five Star Movement. Because he was not elected — Mattarella’s choice to lead a unity government during a 2021 government crisis — he said he needed broad support to continue.
In times of crisis, Italy’s president plays a big role. After previous government breakdowns, Mattarella helped the country put together new coalitions and avoid snap elections.
If Draghi resigns, Mattarella could in theory try again, finding someone who can win a majority and carry Italy through to the end of its legislative session. But with bitterness and the right’s push for an early vote – the odds of such a solution are slim. Even if he resigns, Draghi may be given the option of being a stand-in ahead of a vote that could be held in late September or October.
Ahead of the confidence vote, Draghi received several pleas – in a petition from more than 2,000 mayors – to stay a little longer. Polls show two-thirds of Italians want Draghi to stay on. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote in an op-ed in Politico, “Europe needs leaders like Mario.”
“A dark moment for Italy,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Twitter. “The consequences of this tragic choice will live on in history.”
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