Italian elections
The road to the Quirinal

Mario_Draghi

Mario Draghi, World Economic Forum

© World Economic Forum, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

While this article will be published, it is not excluded that what I have written will seem completely out of date. And from the time it is published until the end of the voting for the Presidency of the Italian Republic, things will be bound to change again. Needless to say, the best, or rather the worst, of Italian politics can be expected during the vote.

Never before have a number of factors been so decisive in determining who will occupy the Quirinal Palace for the next seven years.

Until a few weeks ago it seemed that the current Prime Minister Mario Draghi could have been the ideal candidate for the Presidency of the Republic.

Not only, and not so much, because of his international prestige and authoritativeness, but also, if not above all, because for both the majority and opposition parties his figure has become very cumbersome in the last 11 months.

As the ancient Romans used to say, "promoveatur ut amoveatur": you promote him in order to remove him.

According to many attentive observers[1] of Italian politics, Draghi could certainly be an excellent President of the Republic. He would follow in the footsteps of great predecessors who have had a similar curriculum: from Luigi Einaudi to Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. He could, it is said, interpret the apparently narrow powers of the Head of State designed by the constituent fathers in such a way as to play a guiding role that is not only representative but also operational. In fact, as has been sophisticatedly observed[2], the powers of the President of the Italian Republic are like an accordion: in case of need, they can be interpreted in a particularly extensive way, which has already happened in the recent past.

In such a scenario, however, there would be some doubts. How could a government not headed by such an authoritative figure manage to guarantee a minimum of stability? How would the PNRR resources that would have to come from Europe be managed? How reliable would Italy's enormous public debt, already one of the largest in Europe before the pandemic (the largest apart from Greece), be? These doubts have already been voiced in the international press.

[1] M. Magno, Noterelle su Draghi, Berlusconi e il Quirinale, January 8th, 2022 https://www.startmag.it/mondo/noterelle-su-draghi-berlusconi-e-il-quiri…

[2] G. Pasquino, La costituzione in trenta lezioni, Turin, 2015. The image of the accordion-like powers of the president of the republic is due to the witty Professor Giuliano Amato.

Italy - Victor Emmanuel II Monument
Italy - Victor Emmanuel II Monument © Roxyuru, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

However, Draghi's election suffered an initial setback two weeks before voting began on 24 January. While Mr Draghi was holding his press conference on 10 January, Silvio Berlusconi, in a flurry of phone calls with various parliamentarians, clarified the situation: "In this legislature there is no other possible government after Draghi". The official explanation is that only Draghi can hold this majority together. On the left, the insult against the election of Berlusconi as President of the Republic was already underway.

But it seemed to me much more likely that a Berlusconi candidacy would have been a merely tactical value.

During the first three ballots[1], Berlusconi's name could only have been a signal to the centre left of the need for a shared agreement on the choice of the name of the future president.

At the same time, Letta, secretary of the PD, and Conte, president of the populist 5Stelle movement, invoked the need to elect, for the first time, a woman to the Quirinal.

That the populists of the 5-star movement are disoriented in time and space is shown by the fact that at the beginning of the vote they launched the candidacy of Andrea Riccardi, a non-politician who had previously been a minister. Alas, Andrea, in Italy, is a male name.

The result is that, at the moment, Parliament is ending its second day of voting without any agreement on a possible future President.

As Rhett Butler said in Gone with the Wind: tomorrow is another day and we'll see...

Outside the polling station, the self-styled leaders of the main Italian parties are intensifying their contacts.

The centre-right parties seem to have indicated a trio of possible candidates: Letizia Moratti, Marcello Pera and Carlo Nordio.

Letizia Moratti was mayor of Milan and several times minister. As Minister of Education she is responsible, together with former Minister Berlinguer, for the decay of education.

Carlo Nordio is a former magistrate, with no political experience, who has the merit of being a man in favour of the rule of law, but has no political experience.

Marcello Pera, former president of the Senate, is a figure academically linked to the study of Karl Popper's thought, which for a liberal should be a sure anchorage. It is a pity that as a politician he has distinguished himself for the close cultural relationship woven with Pope Benedict XVI.

At this point, the centre-right could have proposed a certainly liberal profile such as Antonio Martino.

[1] According to Article 83 of the Italian Constitution, the President of the Republic is elected in a joint session of Parliament, which now consists of 630 deputies, 322 senators, and regional delegates, three per region, except for Valle d'Aosta, which appoints two. A two-thirds majority is required for the first three ballots. From the fourth onwards, an absolute majority is required.

Streets Italy
Italy © Pixabay

So now it is up to the main centre-left parties, plus the populist 5-star movement, to look for a solution.

Therefore, if an election is not achieved within the first three ballots, for which a two-thirds majority of Parliament is required, it cannot be ruled out that figures who have hitherto been in the background may come into play. Or rather, that they are moving with their lights off, waiting for events to happen.

These include Giuliano Amato, a socialist whom Berlusconi likes so much that he wanted him elected in 2015[1], and Pierferdinando Casini, now a member of the Senate of the Democratic Party but for years a member of the centre-right. Casini is a Catholic, not sensitive to secular positions, but who would have the merit, at least, of being a convinced pro-European.

Among the potential women, the names that are being mentioned are those of the current Minister of Justice Cartabia, a law professor and former member of the Constitutional Court. She is also a Catholic and has a clear Europeanist profile. It is no coincidence that Cartabia was voted for by the two small liberal movements in Parliament: Più Europa and Azione.

For the Liberals, the best candidate would have been Emma Bonino: already a highly regarded European Commissioner and Foreign Minister. A woman with strong secular convictions, she is in favour of greater European integration, so much so as to define herself a European federalist.

If, on the other hand, some agreement should be found before reaching the fourth ballot, perhaps Draghi himself could come back into play. It is true that without him at the Council presidency the current variegated majority would be very difficult. And in all likelihood it would lose out to Salvini's League, which is reluctantly participating in the government, fearful of losing votes to the populist right wing of Fratelli d'Italia.

The main glue of any government could be two converging elements.

On the one hand, the improvised and demagogic constitutional reform, desired by the 5 Star Movement and incredibly endorsed by the Democratic Party, which has reduced, starting from the next general elections, the number of MPs by one third for each branch of parliament. This means that the re-election chances for many MPs are further reduced.

On the other hand, the possibility of accessing the PNRR funds: now that the first payments from Europe are approaching, the Italian parties will be scrambling to manage the available resources. After all, these resources are very useful for fostering consensus in view of the upcoming elections. This second reason explains the current parties' eagerness to elect Draghi to another office: formally by paying him due signs of gratitude, but in reality because he is seen as an obstacle to a less strict management of the resources they expect to rain down from Europe.

And this is where the parallel between Draghi and the former president Einaudi ends. I would not like, in fact, that this time too, as Ennio Flaiano wrote fifty years ago, the glories of the republic of undivided pears would begin again[2]. Unless the pears, in the meantime, have run out.

Update:

Meanwhile, Italy has a new President of the Republic. Actually, not exactly new. In the end, the parties decided to converge for the re-election of the outgoing President, Mattarella. This is the second time this has happened in the last ten years. Obviously there is no shortage of leaders who are pleased with the choice. Mattarella has been and will be an excellent president, but his re-election, which certainly guarantees reliability (at the top of the Republic) and continuity (in the Draghi government), marks the profound crisis of an entire generation of politicians. Unable to choose, they are now forced to ask Mattarella to change his plans, as they did in 2013 with Napolitano.

The hope is that in the remaining months of this legislature, Draghi will have enough space to carry out a series of reforms that the same political class bogged down in the election of the President of the Republic has punctually failed to implement. The fact that the year ahead of the next elections will be a long campaign year is not a good omen. It will be up to Draghi to appeal more to the weakness of the parties than to their reliability.

 

[1] G. Cazzola, Rebus Silvio. Draghi fuori: e se spuntasse Amato?, il Riformista, January 12th 2022.

[2] This is a famous anecdote told by the great liberal journalist Flaiano, in an article in the Corriere della Sera of 18 August 1970: “[…] The butler brought a huge tray of the kind that the Dutch and then Neapolitan Mannerists painted two centuries ago: there was everything, except the split melon. And among those fruits, some very large pears. Luigi Einaudi looked a little surprised at so much botany, then sighed: 'I would take a pear,' he said, 'but they are too big, does anyone want to share one with me? We were all startled and instinctively looked at the butler: he had turned flaming red and was perhaps about to have a stroke. During his long career he had never heard such a proposal at a dinner served by him in those halls. Nevertheless, I beat him to it: "I, President," I said, raising a hand to show myself, as I had done at school. The President cut the pear, the butler put half of it on a plate, and placed it in front of me as if it contained half of John the Baptist's head. A tumult of contempt must have stirred in his not-so-large soul, in that immense body. […]

He did nothing, continued his round. But the trapeze jump was successful, and the conversation resumed more lively than before: while the butler, snobbish as only certain waiters and guard dogs can be, disappeared behind a screen. Here end my memories of President Einaudi. I never had the chance to see him again; a few years later another man came to the presidency and the rest is well known. The republic of undivided pears began for Italy”.