A selfish Italian political class avoids the last-minute catastrophe


Special efforts are needed to make the politicians of the First Italian Republic look good, but in the last week the politicians of the Second Republic have succeeded.

The process by which they re-elected Sergio Matarella as President of Italy revealed a political class that was deeply at odds with itself but with a common selfish interest in its own survival. Matarella’s re-election prevents a short-lived catastrophe – the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s reformist government. But it leaves serious doubt as to whether Italy’s professional politicians, maneuvering for the lead ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, are capable of evoking a higher sense of responsibility for the country, as it is at a critical juncture in its development.

The first republic is the informal term used to describe the political system that ruled Italy from after World War II until the early 1990s, when it collapsed in a storm of bribes and other scandals. The second republic, which has been staggering from crisis to crisis for the past 30 years, had to be a new beginning for politics.

The events of the past week show, on the contrary, the sad shortcomings of the political parties of the Second Republic – whether relatively old, such as the hard-line League, or relatively new, such as the former anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Italian democracy is increasingly relying on the leadership and stability of the talent and maturity of non-political figures, such as Draghi, who have been introduced to stabilize the ship because elected politicians cannot do it alone.

Italy’s partners in the EU and financial markets will be relieved that in the next 12 months or so, Draghi will be able to consolidate the reforms he has been pursuing since becoming prime minister a year ago. These reforms, based on the approximately € 200 billion available to Italy from the EU’s € 750 billion pandemic recovery fund, are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost growth, jobs and innovation in a thinning economy. stagnation and high public debt. from the 1990s.

Matarella may even serve only part of her second seven-year term, giving Draghi a chance to move to the presidency and continue to monitor reforms. However, such a result is far from guaranteed and would still leave open the question of whether any government formed after next year’s elections will have a sincere commitment to reform.

It was remarkable to see politicians applauding themselves on Saturday, as in the eighth round of voting in a week, they finally united behind Matarella. Because the previous stalemate highlighted the government’s significant disintegration of Draghi’s “national unity.” Not for nothing is Enrico Leta, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, complaining that the presidential election revealed a “political system that is blocked” and “not working”.

Like Giorgio Napolitano, who agreed in 2013 to run for a second term as president with the utmost reluctance, Matarella did not seek re-election. But political parties could not find anyone in their own ranks with either national authority or an inter-party call for Matarella’s replacement.

In the end, they opted for a second term for the 80-year-old president only because they feared that any other move could lead to the fall of Draghi’s government and early elections. For many of them, this posed a risk of fewer seats in parliament and loss of power, privileges and pensions.

Against the background of these self-interest calculations, one party is outlining a distinctive path – the far-right Brothers of Italy, led by Georgia Meloni. It is the only major party to refuse to join Draghi’s government, and opinion polls suggest it is currently the most popular party on the right of the political spectrum. Italy may have only a year left to decide whether to appoint its first radical right-wing prime minister from the post-war era.

tony.barber@ft.com



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