Italy was thrown into further political turmoil on Thursday (July 14th) when Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced his resignation after a key ally in his grand coalition government boycotted a parliamentary vote of confidence.
The government survived the Senate vote by a margin of 172 to 39, but the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the second largest member of the coalition, pulled out before the vote. Draghi had previously warned that such a snub would have led to his resignation.
“I want to announce to you that this evening I will submit my resignation to the President of the Republic,” the Prime Minister then declared to the members of his cabinet, according to a government press release.
The result of the vote in the Senate means that the “coalition of national unity which has supported this government since its creation no longer exists”, continued Draghi, lamenting that “the pact of trust” between allies has been broken.
The crisis raises the specter of early elections at the end of September or the beginning of October – about six months before they are due – unless the Prime Minister can be persuaded to reconsider his decision.
President Sergio Mattarella came out in favor of the solution, as his office said it “did not accept” Draghi’s resignation and told him to return to parliament for “an assessment of the situation”.
The leader of M5S, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, has hinted that he would be willing to make peace, but it is unclear at what price, and whether Draghi and others would be willing to pay it.
Center-left Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta said the next five days – Draghi is expected to address parliament on Wednesday – will decide whether the crisis can be patched up, saving Italy from “the dramatic fall into which it go at these times.”
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister signaled that he has no desire to cling to power at any cost, leaving him exposed to more insurgencies and hostile postures from the M5S or the far-right League , another recalcitrant member of the coalition.
“If there is a feeling that staying in this government is causing extraordinary pain, is a struggle, causes no pleasure, that there is no satisfaction in what the government is doing, then we should be clear, no ?” he said on Tuesday.
“In other words, if the government can work, it continues, if it can’t work, it doesn’t continue,” Draghi added.
The M5S broke ranks on a €26 billion aid package that includes plans to build a waste incinerator to tackle Rome’s garbage crisis. The party opposes the incinerator over concerns of toxic emissions; he also accuses the government of not doing enough about poverty.
The act of rebellion gives the former anti-establishment party the chance to rekindle its hardline credentials as it prepares for the next election, after years in government marred by infighting, political swings, mass defections and shifts in the number of polls.
The M5S came out on top in the 2018 general election, winning around 33% of the vote, but polls are now up to around 11% and have lost nearly half of their elected MPs, including their former leader, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who formed a new party last month.
Italy is used to political crises, having had 67 different governments since becoming a republic in 1946, with prime ministers lasting on average just over a year. Draghi lasted a bit longer, having been sworn in 17 months ago.
Known in his former role as president of the European Central Bank as the man who saved the euro, the 74-year-old has been called into retirement to lead a government of national unity tasked with accelerating vaccinations against Covid and to implement the reforms required by the EU.
His resignation comes as Italy remains under pressure from Brussels to comply with reform targets linked to some 200 billion euros in loans and grants from the EU’s post-Covid recovery plan.
The country is also facing a deteriorating economic outlook following the war in Ukraine, with an energy crisis, rising inflation, slowing growth and renewed market concerns over its high level of public debt. , which amounts to more than 150% of GDP.
The European Commission is following political developments in Italy with “worried bewilderment”, EU Economics Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, a former Italian prime minister, said in Brussels.
“In these troubled waters, [with] war, high inflation, energy risks, geopolitical tensions, stability is a value in itself, and I think we need cohesion right now, not to cause instability,” Gentiloni said.