Italy’s loss to Mario Draghi is a warning to progressives across Europe – and to the European Union | Lorenzo Marcelli
In a summer overshadowed by war in Europe, a pandemic, an energy crisis, the cost of living and climate chaos, Italy decides to follow the UK’s lead and brings down the government.
Mario Draghi, the internationally admired former president of the European Central Bank, was not elected but was invited in 2021 to lead an interim national unity government. That unit expired last week.
Other European leaders are appalled. Many Italians are suspicious. The Draghi government has achieved consistently high approval rates. And while Britain appears at least destined for a modicum of continuity as it shifts Conservative leaders, Italy after a year and a half of apparent political stability is now heading into September elections as hard-right parties turn, including the post-fascist Brothers of Italy. Topping the polls.
It’s easy to pinpoint the direct culprits of the Draghi administration’s collapse: his coalition partners, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the far-right League, led by Matteo Salvini, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, decided to boycott the vote of confidence on the package. Measures to ease the cost of living crisis.
However, the problem is not that these parties are selfish and irresponsible for the collapse of Draghi’s plans: of course they are. The problem is that a government led by top-down technocrats is not working in the first place and that Italian progressives have failed to craft a viable alternative to the right. Simply blaming Five Star or the League is a narrative that exonerates itself and risks becoming an excuse for further inaction.
Draghi’s international standing is no excuse for ignoring the shortcomings of his technocratic approach. Italy has long been constitutionally required to hold parliamentary elections by next spring. Before that, it is only natural that the political parties that have artificially merged to form a government to re-launch the economy after the pandemic begin to raise their voices to establish distinct identities with the electorate. This is how democratic politics works: Parties represent different views of the world and voters want to be aware of the differences.
Draghi caused his fall. Understandably, but ultimately, he refused to succumb to pressure and hand over symbolic victories to members of his coalition. Such a compromise is what politics is made of. Watch Germany’s ruling coalition, which agreed to cut the price of gas to appease free-market liberals and guarantee near-free public transportation to also allow the Greens to claim victory.
Putting aside differences between the parties is not a way to ensure the stability of the system. Just put a lid on the boiling water until the pot inevitably comes to a boil.
These explosions in democracies are called elections. But why is there so much concern about the possibility of elections in Italy now?
The irresponsible actions of the Five Stars or the Progressive League should not give Italians a free pass. They failed to provide a realistic alternative to unelected technocracy or to the hard-right reaction against it. Should such an alternative exist, the prospect of an early election would not be as threatening as it seems, and international commentators would not have to urge Draghi to give Draghi another six months, however desirable that may seem.
It is often overlooked that while the Italian right is a fairly stable coalition of three parties, the progressive sphere includes at least three liberal parties, the left-leaning Democratic Party, the anti-establishment Five Star Party, and three or four left-leaning parties. and green parties. Relations between them are far from stable: many centrist parties vetoed any alliance with Five Star, and responded in kind, while many left-wing parties did not join the liberals and some even with the Democrats. This childish game of mutual veto is keeping progressives in Italy out of power.
Enrico Letta, the leader of the Democratic Party and former prime minister, has made strenuous efforts to create a broad front with a realistic chance of defeating the hard right in the elections. His aspirations had now faded out the window.
The weakness of Italian progressives is a chronic problem for Italy as well as for Europe. A hard-right administration in Italy would weaken the European Union at a critical time in the geopolitical confrontation. It would empower Eurosceptic leaders like Victor Urban or ambitious leaders like Marine Le Pen, weaken consensus on Russia and impede deeper political integration with ambitious joint policies on defense or energy.
However, once again, we must refrain from using the Italian oath as a cover for European inaction. Even with Draghi, once hailed as the savior of the euro, in power in Rome, and the pro-European administrations of Germany and France, the EU as a whole has struggled to work together in key areas despite converging crises. EU governments, for example, have not taken into account the demands of the recent conference on the future of Europe, which included the abolition of unanimous voting – a practice that disrupts most EU decision-making – or were able to build common defense and energy policies despite the clear and urgent need for both. .
Mourning the end of an internationally respected government in Italy should not make us forget these facts: Italian progressives need to build a serious alternative to right and the EU needs to become a true political player with ambitious common policies for the sake of all its citizens. . A hard-right government in Italy means a less favorable environment for progress in either. But let’s not kid ourselves: none of this happened when Draghi was in government. The silver lining is that none of this is made impossible by Draghi’s loss of power.