Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi threatens to resign, fearing instability for Europe

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has told his cabinet that he will offer the president his resignation, following a coalition ally’s refusal to back a government bill.

“The national unity majority that has supported this government since its inception no longer exists,” Draghi said in a statement released by his office.

It will be up to President Sergio Mattarella to accept or refuse the resignation. But if the government crisis cannot be resolved quickly, Mattarella could unplug parliament, setting the stage for elections as early as September.

Draghi previously won a vote of confidence in the Senate, but the future of his pandemic unity government was uncertain after the 5-Star Populist Movement boycotted the vote, throwing his coalition into crisis.

5 Star Movement legislator Maria Domenica Castellone reacts at the end of a speech in the Senate.  Photo / Gregorio Borgia, AP
5 Star Movement legislator Maria Domenica Castellone reacts at the end of a speech in the Senate. Photo / Gregorio Borgia, AP

The vote was 172 to 39 on a relief bill to help Italians facing soaring energy costs, but 5-star senators were absent after confirming they would not participate.

Draghi later met with President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday to decide on next steps, which resulted in the resignation offer.

Draghi has repeatedly made it clear that populists were among the coalition partners who signed up to serve in his government last year and that he would not go on without them.

Mattarella could accept or refuse any resignation from Draghi. The president could also ask Draghi to appear before parliament in the coming days to seek a formal vote on the government itself, to see if the bickering ranks of allies would rally around him.

Parliament’s term expires in the spring of 2023. If Mattarella cannot find a solution for Draghi’s government to continue, he should dissolve the legislature and call a snap election, which could be held as early as the end of September.

Politician Matteo Renzi speaks in the Senate, Rome.  Photo / Gregorio Borgia, AP
Politician Matteo Renzi speaks in the Senate, Rome. Photo / Gregorio Borgia, AP

Mattarella had tapped the former head of the European Central Bank – who was known as ‘Super Mario’ for his ‘no matter what’ bailout of the euro – to pull Italy out of the pandemic of coronavirus and lay the groundwork for using billions in the European Union pandemic recovery fund.

The 5 stars had joined Draghi’s broad national unity coalition, which included right-wing and left-wing parties.

But the 5 stars, who have lost significant support in recent years, complain that their interests have been ignored. In the measure voted on Thursday, the 5-stars opposed a provision allowing Rome to operate a rubbish incinerator on the outskirts of the chronically garbage-choked Italian capital.

This article was just part of a bill that cut taxes on petrol and diesel fuel, as well as relief from utility bills for beleaguered Italians, but 5-star leader Giuseppe Conte cited the provision when announcing late Wednesday that its lawmakers would boycott the vote.

During Thursday’s debate, several senators lambasted Conte’s decision.

Being in a government “is not like choosing a menu and deciding, antipasti, no, gelato, yes”, said Emma Bonino, who leads a small pro-European party.

Others noted that Draghi had increasingly become a pivotal figure in Europe as Russia waged war on Ukraine, especially with the imminent departure of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

An ally of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, argued in the Senate that a collapse of Draghi’s government could trigger “the destabilization of Europe”.

“You would be doing a service to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” thundered Senator Antonio Saccone.

Senators stand in the Senate before voting on an economic measures bill.  Photo / Gregorio Borgia, AP
Senators stand in the Senate before voting on an economic measures bill. Photo / Gregorio Borgia, AP

Draghi ruled with the support of virtually all major Italian parties, except for the rising far-right Italian Brotherhood party, which demanded that Mattarella unplug parliament and give Italians a chance to vote for new leaders. .

But Giovanni Orsina, professor of history and director of the school of government at LUISS University in Rome, said Mattarella would like to avoid calling a snap election and will likely ask Draghi to go to parliament to see if he can obtain a new viable majority.

“We have the pandemic, we have the war, we have the inflation, we have the energy crisis. So it’s definitely not the right time,” Orsina said. “And also because Mattarella rightly believes that its mission is to safeguard stability.”

One of Draghi’s achievements has been to keep Italy on track with the reforms the EU forced on the country to receive 200 billion euros in pandemic recovery aid. Much of this EU funding is already allocated and subject to automatic mechanisms, suggesting that funding will not be lost even in a context of government instability.

“But of course the fact that Draghi with his prestige, his international prestige, is not behind this, is going to have benevolent consequences,” Orsina said.