Morality and Law
Mario Draghi: In Search of Emergency Moments

Italy has been firmly in the Western orbit for decades and its aspiration to revive its economy using European funds can only strengthen this alignment. The reason is that the EU itself has no choice with respect to the Atlantic link with the United States, certainly not in the near future and not before Germany really tries to detach from the United States, writes Valdai Club expert Orietta Moscatelli.

Accompanied by enormous expectations at home and throughout Europe, Mario Draghi has become the new prime minister of Italy. It is a country in search of a vaccine for itself that has lost its antibodies for renewal; for too long it has been hostage to its huge public debt burden and short-term policies.

 The former president of the European Central Bank is called upon to quickly develop a plan to take advantage of the historic opportunity to use the funds allocated by Europe: 209 billion USD for Italy alone out of a total of over 2,000 billion. It is the third time in thirty years that a high-profile finance coach has been sent to the government by the President of the Republic to whom the Constitution guarantees the role of a referee in particularly delicate moments. For the third time, the emergency has been triggered as Italy finds itself at a crossroads in its relationship with Europe, at risk of expulsion in the first two cases, and has attempted to leave the chorus in recent years.

In 1993 the former governor of the Bank of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, was co-opted to ensure Italy’s entry into the eurozone. In 2011, former European commissioner Mario Monti was chosen to quickly restore public finances and reduce the risk of default. These two moments have re-aligned Italy within the context of the European economy and at the same time resulted in the gestation phase of new experiences in their own way: revolutionary breaking points which were followed by great changes. In the mid-nineties, Silvio Berlusconi emerged as the new protagonist of Italian politics, a forerunner of populism in government after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a source of inspiration for various politicians, not only Italians. In the second episode, the drastic measures introduced by the Monti government contributed to the maturation in record time of “populism from below”, with the Five Star Movement (M5S) catapulted to power first in a strange tandem with the sovereign forces of the Lega di Matteo Salvini, then in an even stranger alliance with the centre-left of the Democratic Party (PD).

The arrival of Draghi has upset the alchemy of Roman politics. His attitude baffled everyone already in the days of the consultations for the new government.

It is no coincidence that “Super Mario” (as he has been called since the euro rescue launched in 2012, when he famously vowed “Whatever it takes”) is considered “not very Italian”. Also for this reason, he is respected and feared, in Rome as well as outside Italy’s borders. To put it briefly, he is precise and rigorous. During the first talks with the parties, he listened to everyone and spoke very little. He offered no indiscretion, no anticipation, no social networking, leaving nothing to drive Roman politics, which is accustomed to whispers, double entendres, and even more important hints of official declarations. To board the company led by Draghi, the parties changed their skin or position overnight. The most evident metamorphosis is that of Salvini, who has become pro-European, at least in words, given that in the European Parliament the Lega remains in the group with Germany’s AfD and Marine Le Pen’s right wing from France, not at all converted to the European faith. Even the centre-left accepted what they’d defined as unacceptable a few days earlier, that is: being in a government with the Lega, in the name of the national unity, was necessary for the government of the Great Change. Their spiritual father, former comedian Beppe Grillo, who in the past had called Draghi “a parasite” and today praises him, intervened to appease the base of the enraged M5S movement.
With this act of realism and “devolution” of politics to the technocrat, in Italy, at least for now, the sovereign chapter and, definitively, that of the anti-system government is closed.

Salvini was tempted to stay in the opposition, but he could not break with the business world of the North, the historical basis of the Lega, convinced that European money can really make a difference, not just in emerging from the pandemic. The Five Star movement, on the other hand, was born as an anti-system party, and has been assimilated to the dynamics of Roman power. If we voted today, little would remain of the 32% obtained in 2018 and joining Draghi was the only way to preserve the massive presence in parliament that the next elections will wipe out.

In addition to the economy, the new prime minister will control foreign policy, regardless of whether Luigi Di Maio remains in the Foreign Ministry. The prime minister also eliminated the proxy for relations with Europe: the confrontation with Brussels will now be managed without ministerial filters. This is not surprising. Draghi is pro-European in deed even more than in word. He himself is proof that the internal politics of the member countries are largely carried out in Brussels and Frankfurt. He is certainly an Atlantist, not so much because he worked for Goldman Sachs, but as a logical consequence of a historical observation, now reinforced by the economic situation. Italy has been firmly in the Western orbit for decades and its aspiration to revive its economy using European funds can only strengthen this alignment. The reason is that the EU itself has no choice with respect to the Atlantic link with the United States, certainly not in the near future and not before Germany really tries to detach from the United States, a plan that Angela Merkel at times seems to have pursued. In recent years, the sovereign and populist followers who came to rule in Rome have struggled to digest the notion that the Atlantic bond does not allow for digressions. M5S flirted with China to get investments (which didn’t come). Salvini looked to Russia, first of all for reasons of consensus in  productive  Northern Italy, which considers international sanctions an own goal, a self-inflicted mistake. Escapades delaying a quick return to the Atlantic house, moreover, are viewed with suspicion and therefore exhibit less authority than before.

The new government assumes that the EU and NATO are Italy’s polar stars, but it will try to maintain the role of a “bridge” for dialogue with Russia, even if the moment of tension leaves little room.

Draghi’s authority will help Italy to be heard in Europe, however, only if real reforms can be transformed into trust in the country: this is not something that can be done in a few months. In short, if the reset in foreign policy has its own historical logic, that of domestic politics could succeed or fail miserably. Draghi wants to accelerate the exit from the pandemic through vaccinations, and to contain the social emergency that is looming on the horizon. Widening his gaze, he would like to set Italy on the road towards a turning point centred on three themes — the economy, innovation and ecological transition — which correspond to three super-ministries entrusted to technicians and people he trusts. At best, he will lay the foundations for a virtuous path of investments and reforms, including that of justice, the sore point of the “blocked” Italian system. In the worst case, he will find himself fighting in parliament for every single measure: he will take note of it and will return to his country residence, with his conscience at rest for at least having tried. Whether he leaves before the next season of the “Italian political laboratory” series currently remains unknown.

Morality and Law
Italy Returns to Europe
Elena Maslova
Europe has become a rallying point for both the right and the left in the new government, including the Eurosceptics. Both flanks say they want a stronger voice in Europe and European institutions. With the arrival of the Mario Draghi cabinet, the two pillars of Italian foreign policy — Europeanism and Atlanticism — can be expected to receive strong support, writes Valdai Club expert Elena Maslova.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.