ROME (AP) — Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned Thursday after the collapse of his governing coalition, a destabilizing blow to the country and Europe at a time of grave economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Draghi handed his resignation letter to President Sergio Mattarella during a morning meeting at the Quirinale Palace. Mattarella rejected a similar resignation offer From the prime minister last week, he asked Draghi’s government to “take care” of the new one and remain in a supervisory capacity, the president’s office said. While the president could see if a new parliamentary majority was possible, his office indicated he would dissolve the legislature and hold early elections.
The turmoil could not have come at a worse time for the eurozone’s third-largest economy. Like many countries, Italy is facing price hikes on everything from food to household goods as a result of Moscow’s incursion. In addition, it is suffering from chronic drought, threatening crops and struggling to implement its EU-funded epidemic recovery plan.
Any instability in Italy could spread to the rest of EuropeFaced with economic trouble and seeking a united front against Russia, the EU loses a respected politician.
Draghi, not a politician but a former central banker, was brought in 17 months ago to deal with the economic collapse caused by Covid-19. But his government of national unity Members of his uneasy coalition of the right, left and populists erupted on Wednesday after rejecting his plea for a reunification to end the normal term of the Italian parliament.
Instead, the center-right Forza Italia and League parties and the populist 5-Star Movement boycotted the confidence vote in the Senate, a clear sign that they were done with Draghi.
“Thank you for all the work done together during this period,” Draghi told the lower chamber of deputies before going to see Mattarella on Thursday morning. Clearly moved by the applause he received there, he repeated a joke that even central bankers have hearts.
Draghi, dubbed “Super Mario” for helping steer the eurozone out of the debt crisis while head of the European Central Bank, has played a similarly quiet role in Italy in recent months. His presence helped reassure financial markets about the debt-ridden country’s public finances, and allowed the country to see through economic reforms the European Union made a condition of its 200-billion-euro(-dollar) pandemic recovery package.
He has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and has become a leading voice in Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion — one of the issues that contributed to his fall from the 5-Star rating on Italian military aid to Ukraine.
Domestic concerns also played a role. The 5-Stars, which won the largest vote in the 2018 national elections, have been upset for months that their priorities such as basic income and minimum wage have been ignored. The final straw? The decision to give Rome’s mayor extraordinary powers to manage the capital’s garbage crisis — powers that party Virginia Raggi was denied when she was mayor.
Although he has been unable to hold his fractured coalition together, Draghi appeared to have broad support among Italians, many of whom took to the streets or signed open letters in recent weeks.
Italian newspapers on Thursday were united in their outrage at the surreal outcome at a difficult time for Italy and Europe to travel.
“Shame,” headlined La Stampa on the front page. “Italy has been betrayed,” said La Repubblica.
Nicola Nobile, co-director of Oxford Economics, warned that Draghi’s exit and the prospect of the country not having a fully functioning government for months could exacerbate economic turmoil in Italy. Slowdown in the second half of the year.
Mattarella tapped Draghi to steer Italy out of the pandemic last year. But last week, 5-Star boycotted a confidence vote tied to a bill to help Italians weather the cost-of-living crisis, prompting Traghi to resign for the first time.
Mattarella rejected the offer and asked Draghi to return to parliament to brief lawmakers on the situation. The prime minister did so on Wednesday, appealing to party leaders to listen to ordinary Italians’ calls for unity.
“You don’t have to answer me. You have to give to all Italians,” he told lawmakers.
Although the next steps are unclear, Mattarella appears likely to dissolve parliament after a period of deliberations, paving the way for elections in late September or early October. The current five-year term of the legislature ends in 2023.
Mattarella plans to meet with the leaders of the upper and lower houses of parliament later Thursday, his office said. The announcement says the Italian constitution allows the president to dissolve parliament.
Polls indicated a neck-and-neck for the center-left Democratic Party and the right-wing Brothers of Italy, which remained in opposition.
Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta said the parliament had betrayed Italy.
“Let the polls show that Italians are smarter than their representatives,” he tweeted.
Italy’s Brothers have long been allied with former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League, suggesting a center-right coalition could win any election and oust Brothers leader Giorgia Meloni. Became Italy’s first female Prime Minister.
Maloney, who had been gunning for a snap election since before the crisis erupted, won.
“The will of the people is expressed in one way: by voting. Let’s give hope and strength back to Italy,” he said.
Some commentators have noted that Draghi’s government, which has been one of Europe’s strongest supporters of Ukraine, has been largely undermined by political leaders who previously had ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Berlusconi vacationed with Putin and considered him a friend; Salvini opposed EU sanctions against Russia after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014; 5-Star President Giuseppe Conte later protested Italian military aid to Ukraine.
After 5-Star senators boycotted last week’s vote, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Putin of giving the gift.
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