ROME — Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered to step down on Thursday after a populist coalition partner refused to vote for a key bill in parliament, but the country’s president quickly rebuffed it, leaving one of the key Western European leaders at the helm for now.
The rejection of the resignation left in limbo the future of Draghi’s 17-month-old government, officially known as the National Unity Coalition, but whose survival is strained by growing differences. more marked within the coalition.
Draghi’s broad coalition government – which includes right, left, center and populist 5-Star Movement parties – was designed to help Italy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Hours earlier Thursday, Draghi and his government won a vote of confidence, 172 to 39, in the Senate despite the 5 Star Movement’s refusal to back the bill, which included 26 billion euros (dollars) to help consumers and industries grappling with soaring prices. energy price. But the dramatic snub, orchestrated by 5-star leader Giuseppe Conte, Draghi’s predecessor, did some damage.
Shortly before heading to the presidential palace in the Quirinal to hand in his resignation, Draghi declared: “The majority of national unity that has supported this government since its creation no longer exists.
But President Sergio Mattarella told Draghi to return to parliament and see if he could still garner strong support, according to a palace statement.
The next showdown in parliament is scheduled for July 20, when Draghi will formally present his support ahead of a vote of confidence – this time not on a specific bill but on the very viability of his government.
“Now there are five days left to work for Parliament to confirm its confidence in the Draghi government and for Italy to emerge as quickly as possible from the dramatic outcome” of the last few hours, tweeted Enrico Letta, the leader of the Democratic Party, ally of Draghi and a former prime minister.
In Brussels, the European Union’s finance commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, a former Italian prime minister, said officials there were “watching with worried astonishment” the potential collapse of Draghi’s coalition.
The uncertainty over Draghi’s stamina also seemed to rattle the markets. The Milan Stock Exchange lost 3.44% on Thursday.
If Draghi cannot solidly piece together a durable coalition, Mattarella could unplug parliament, paving the way for snap elections as early as late September. Currently, the term of Parliament expires in the spring of 2023.
Mattarella had tapped the former head of the European Central Bank – who was known as ‘Super Mario’ for his ‘no matter what’ bailout of the euro – to pull Italy out of the pandemic and lay the groundwork for using billions in the European Union’s pandemic recovery fund.
The 5 stars, who lost significant support in recent local elections and plummeted in opinion polls, are in disarray.
In the measure on Thursday, the 5-stars opposed a provision allowing Rome to operate a garbage incinerator on the outskirts of the chronically trash-choked Italian capital.
During the debate, some senators hailed Draghi as a pivotal figure in Europe as Russia wages war on Ukraine, especially with the imminent departure of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Center-right Senator Antonio Saccone thundered that the 5 stars were “doing a favour” to Russian President Vladimir Putin by causing political instability.
Recently, Conte had dithered for a while on whether to continue supporting military aid to Ukraine, but eventually backed Draghi to promise further assistance.
Being in government “is not like picking a menu and deciding, antipasto, no, gelato, yes,” said Emma Bonino, who leads a small pro-Europe party.
Draghi ruled with the support of virtually all of Italy’s major parties except for the burgeoning far-right Italian Brotherhood party. The potential implosion of Draghi’s coalition has sparked fresh demands from party leader Giorgia Meloni for a snap election which she hopes will be her stepping stone to becoming Italy’s first female prime minister.
Giovanni Orsina, professor of history and director of the school of government at LUISS University in Rome, correctly predicted that Mattarella would ask Draghi to find a new viable majority.
“We have the pandemic, we have the war, we have the inflation, we have the energy crisis. So it’s definitely not a good time,” Orsina said. “Mattarella rightly believes that its mission is to safeguard stability.”
One of Draghi’s achievements has been to keep Italy on track with the reforms the EU forced on the country to receive 200 billion euros (dollars) in recovery aid in case of pandemic. Much of this EU funding is already allocated, suggesting it will not be wasted even amid government instability.
Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield and Paolo Santalucia contributed to this report.
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