Talks to revive Italian govt fail, all eyes on president

Andrew Cummings
February 4, 2021

Last week, Giuseppe Conte, an obscure academic who proved a deft political operator, resigned as prime minister.

The crisis was triggered by Matteo Renzi, another former prime minister, who clashed with Conte and the main coalition partners, the eclectic anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, over how to spend more than $200 billion in European Union funds to boost Italy's recovery from the pandemic.

The Italian President summoned the former head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi in an effort to resolve the country's political crisis.

"It's a hard moment", Draghi said.

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.

Italy, the first European country to be hit by the virus, has seen nearly 89,000 deaths since its outbreak emerged last February, the second highest toll in Europe and the sixth highest in the world.

Mr Renzi, whose nickname is "il rottamatore", or "the demolisher", complained among other things about Mr Conte's plan to spend more than 200 billion euro (£1.8 billion) in European Union funds and loans to help the economy recover from the pandemic.

The right-wing opposition still pressed for an early election, though the Forza Italia party of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi indicated its support and the League party led by the interior minister in Conte's first government expressed openness.

The block had insisted on Mr Conte remaining premier and bitterly resented Mr Renzi's power play that brought him down.

The preceding government coalition consisted of the center-left Democratic Party, the Five-Star Movement, and the centrist Italia Viva party led by Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister.

Italy's outgoing government took office in September 2019 but was fatally weakened last month when former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party.

The 5-Star, which has formed the backbone of Italy's last two coalition governments, has repeatedly railed against the concept of technocrat governments and would likely face a grassroots revolt if it backed the veteran central banker. Italy, with over 89,000 confirmed virus deaths, has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe after Britain.

Says caretaker govt could not draw up recovery fund plans.

He ruled out snap elections because of the pandemic, opting instead for a "high-profile government" without political affiliations - a national unity government led by an impartial figure.

There was no immediate comment from Draghi ahead of today's meeting at the presidential palace in Rome.

Draghi, an Italian economist credited with saving the eurozone at the height of the debt crisis in 2012, would take over at a crucial time, with his country still battling a raging pandemic.

He holds a degree in economics and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is an economics professor at several Italian universities.

Draghi was named to head the European Central Bank in November 2011, succeeding Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet in a eurozone shaken by the debt crisis. The ensuing economic devastation has only made matters worse, with gross domestic product falling 8.8% a year ago and almost 450,000 jobs lost, national statistics agency ISTAT reported this week. Prior to that, he had been a vice-chairman and managing director at Goldman Sachs International in London and an executive director at the World Bank.

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