Italy’s loss of Mario Draghi is a wake-up call for progressives across Europe – and for the EU | Laurent Marsili
In a summer overshadowed by war in Europe, a pandemic, an energy and cost of living crisis and climate chaos, Italy has decided to follow the UK and trigger a government collapse.
Mario Draghi, the internationally admired former head of the European Central Bank, was never elected but was called in 2021 to lead a provisional government of national unity. This unit ended last week.
Other European leaders are appalled; many Italians are incredulous. The Draghi firm has achieved consistently high approval ratings. And while Britain seems destined at least for a modicum of continuity as it changes Tory leaders, Italy, after a year and a half of apparent political stability, is now heading for a September election where parties far right, including the post-fascist party of the Brothers of Italy at the top of the polls.
The immediate culprits for the collapse of the Draghi administration are easy to identify: its 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 a vote of confidence on a package of measures to ease the cost of living crisis.
And yet, the problem is not so much that these parties are selfish and irresponsible in frustrating Draghi’s plans: of course they are. The problem is that top-down government by technocrats doesn’t work in the first place, and Italian progressives have failed to craft a viable alternative to the right. Simply blaming Five Star or the League is a self-absolving narrative that risks becoming an alibi for further inaction.
Draghi’s international prestige is no excuse for ignoring the shortcomings of his technocratic approach. Italy has always been constitutionally bound to hold legislative elections next spring. Prior to that, it is only natural that political parties that had artificially banded together to form a government to revive the post-pandemic economy would begin to raise their voices to establish separate identities with the electorate. This is how democratic politics works: parties represent different worldviews and the electorate wants to be aware of the differences.
Draghi brought about his own downfall. Understandably but ultimately self-defeating, he refused to bow to pressure and hand over token victories to members of his coalition. Such a compromise is what politics is made of. Evidenced by Germany’s governing coalition, which agreed to lower the price of gasoline to please free-market liberals and provide near-free public transport to enable the Greens to claim victory as well.
To erase the differences between the parties is not a way of guaranteeing the stability of a system. All he does is place a lid on the simmering water until the pan inevitably overflows.
Such explosions in democracies are called elections. But why is the prospect of an election in Italy right now so worrying?
The irresponsible actions of Five Star or the League should not give Italian progressives a pass. They have failed to provide a realistic alternative to the unelected technocracy or the hard-right backlash against it. If such an alternative existed, the prospect of a snap election would not be as threatening as it seems and international commentators would not have to insist that Draghi be given another six months, however desirable that may seem.
We too often forget that while the Italian right is a more or less stable coalition of three parties, the progressive field includes at least three liberal parties, the left-wing Democratic Party, the anti-establishment Five Stars and three or four left-wing parties. and green parties. Relations between them are far from stable: many centrist parties have vetoed any coalition with Five Star, which has responded in kind, while several left-wing parties would not join the Liberals and some even the Democrats. This childish game of reciprocal veto keeps the Italian progressives out of power.
Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic party and former prime minister, has worked hard to create a broad front with a realistic chance of beating the hard right in the election. His aspirations have now all but disappeared.
The weakness of the Italian progressives is a chronic problem for Italy as well as for Europe. A far-right administration in Italy would weaken the EU at a crucial moment of geopolitical confrontation. It would strengthen Eurosceptic leaders such as Viktor Orbán or hopefuls such as Marine Le Pen, weaken the consensus on Russia and prevent deeper political integration with ambitious common defense or energy policies.
And yet, once again, we must refrain from using the Italian right as a cover for European inaction. Even with Draghi, previously hailed as the savior of the euro, in power in Rome, and pro-European administrations in Germany and France, the EU as a whole has struggled to work together in key areas despite converging crises. EU governments have, for example, failed to heed the demands of the recent conference on the future of Europe, which included the abolition of unanimity voting – the practice that blocks most EU decision-making – or have been able to build common defense and energy policies despite the obvious and urgent need for both.
The mourning of the end of an internationally respected government in Italy should not make us forget these facts: Italian progressives must build a serious alternative to the right and the EU must become a real political player with ambitious common policies for the good of all its citizens. . A far-right government in Italy means an environment even less conducive to progress on either. But let’s face it: none of this happened while Draghi was in government. The silver lining is that none of this is made impossible by Draghi’s loss of power.