Former ECB chief Mario Draghi to form new Italian government

·2-min read

Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella has asked former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi to form a non-political government to steer Italy through the coronavirus pandemic after last-ditch negotiations among political parties failed.

The head of state held talks with Draghi on Wednesday after efforts to salvage the collapsed coalition of outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had failed.

Mattarella appealed "to all political forces [to support] a high-profile government", ruling out the only other possibility – early elections – as ill-advised given the array of challenges facing Italy.

Draghi will now hold talks with political parties to try and muster support in parliament for an administration that will be tasked with handling the twin coronavirus and economic crises battering Italy.

In a brief statement after receiving the mandate from Mattarella, Draghi said he was confident of securing sufficient backing in parliament.

"I will look to parliament, the expression of the popular will, with great respect," he said, adding that the country faced "a difficult moment".

Draghi added that he hoped for unity from political forces as well as society at large, and would return to Mattarella to tell him of the outcome of his talks. He did not give any timeframe.

Eurozone's saviour

The former bank chief is widely credited with pulling the Eurozone back from the brink of collapse in 2012, pledging to do "whatever it takes" to save the single European currency.

He has largely vanished from the public eye since his ECB term ended in October 2019, but his name emerged as a potential premier in recent weeks as political turmoil combined with the health and economic emergencies to form a perfect storm.

The first European country to be hit by the coronavirus, Italy has seen more than 89,000 deaths since its outbreak almost a year ago – the sixth-highest toll in the world.

Lockdowns aimed at curbing the contagion have devastated the economy and data released on Tuesday showed that Italy's gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 8.8% in 2020 – its steepest annual drop since World War Two.

Monti precedent

Mattarella said one of the most important things the next administration had to do was to rapidly draw up plans for how to spend more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) from a European Union fund designed to help overcome the economic slump.

A Draghi government would reinforce Italy's international standing at a time when it has the presidency of the G20. But taking the job would carry risks for the 73-year-old economist.

The last time a technocrat took charge was in 2011, when another economist, Mario Monti, was entrusted with helping Italy out of a debt crisis. Parliamentarians soon turned on him when they deemed that his economic medicine was too pungent.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)