Italy is now barreling toward an uncertain political future. Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief who saved the Eurozone almost exactly a decade ago by pledging publicly to do “whatever it takes” to steer Europe through its sovereign debt crisis, has abandoned hopes of seeing Italy through its current time of troubles. Italy must now weather the storms created by the human and economic losses from the pandemic and the energy and security crises created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with someone else in charge. Draghi will remain in his post until Italy can hold a national election before the end of September, but his work as leader of a rare unity government in Italy will remain unfinished.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway, the downfall of Draghi’s coalition came gradually, then suddenly. He agreed to form a government in February 2021 – Italy’s 19th in 33 years – only with support from both the left and the right. Give the crisis created by COVID-19 and the urgent need for help from the EU, most other major parties agreed. The center-left Democratic Party, the anti-establishment populist Five Star Movement, populist firebrand Matteo Salvini’s hard-core nationalist Lega, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia all signed on.
Over the past 17 months, sniping within the coalition has made Draghi’s life more difficult, but the need to secure relief funds from Brussels and the fear that new elections would unleash chaos held things together. Leaders of the right-wing parties who believed they could win a future election knew that a national vote was due no later than next spring.
But in June, the coalition began to fall apart. An increasingly hostile rift within the Five Star Movement, and then between Five Star and Lega, provoked ultimatums. When Five Star threatened to leave the government, there was hope Draghi would continue as prime minister with a narrower coalition. But when Lega and Forza Italia insisted the price of their continued support would be a more right-wing government in place of a unity coalition, Draghi resigned.
This upheaval comes at a terrible time for Italy. This next election will mark the first time in decades that a national vote has taken place in autumn, a period usually reserved for passing a budget. And Italy needs to pass a budget to implement the reforms the European Commission demands in exchange for a promised €200bn in grants and loans from the EU’s pandemic relief fund. That process will now be delayed because Italy’s president has dissolved parliament in advance of the September elections. Instead of fighting inflation, scrambling for ways to get through a difficult winter without Russian energy supplies, and helping…