A selfish Italian political class avoids disaster at the last minute

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It takes a special effort to make the politicians of Italy’s First Republic appear in a good light, but over the past week the politicians of the Second Republic have succeeded.

The process by which they re-elected Sergio Mattarella as President of Italy revealed a political class deeply at odds with itself, but with a common selfish interest in its own survival. Mattarella’s re-election averts a short-term disaster – the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s reformist government. But it leaves serious doubts as to whether Italy’s professional politicians, maneuvering for an edge ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, are able to invoke a greater sense of responsibility for the country as it finds itself at a critical time in its development.

The First Republic is the informal term used to describe the political system that ruled Italy from the aftermath of World War II until the early 1990s, when it collapsed in a storm of corruption and corruption. other scandals. The Second Republic, which has staggered from crisis to crisis over the past 30 years, was meant to represent a new beginning for politics.

The events of the past week demonstrate, on the contrary, the lamentable shortcomings of the political parties of the Second Republic – whether relatively old, like the far-right League, or relatively new, like the former Five Star Anti- establishment. Increasingly, Italian democracy has come to rely for its leadership and stability on the talents and maturity of non-political figures, such as Draghi, who are brought to steady the ship because elected politicians cannot. do it themselves.

Italy’s European partners and financial markets will be relieved that, for the next 12 months or so, Draghi will be able to consolidate the reforms he has pursued since becoming prime minister a year ago. These reforms, which build on the approximately €200 billion made available to Italy by the EU’s €750 billion pandemic recovery fund, are a unique opportunity to boost growth, l employment and innovation in an economy that has languished in stagnation and high public debt. since the 1990s.

Mattarella may even serve only part of his second seven-year term, giving Draghi a chance to move on to the presidency and continue overseeing reforms. However, such an outcome is far from guaranteed and would always leave open the question of how much of a government formed after next year’s elections will have a sincere commitment to reform.

It was remarkable to see the politicians cheering on Saturday as, in the eighth round of voting in a week, they finally united behind Mattarella. For the previous stalemate underlined the essential disunity of Draghi’s “national unity” government. Not for nothing Enrico Letta, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, deplores that the presidential election revealed “a political system which is blocked” and which “does not work”.

Like Giorgio Napolitano, who only reluctantly agreed to serve a second term as president in 2013, Mattarella did not seek re-election. But the political parties could find no one in their own ranks with the national stature or the cross-party appeal to replace Mattarella.

In the end, they opted for a second term for the 80-year-old president only because they feared any further action would trigger the fall of Draghi’s government and a snap election. For many of them, this carried the risk of fewer parliamentary seats and the loss of power, privileges and pensions.

Amidst these self-serving calculations, one party charts a distinct course – the far-right Italy Brothers, led by Giorgia Meloni. It is the only major party that has refused to join Draghi’s government, and opinion polls show it is currently the most popular party on the right side of the political spectrum. Italy may be just a year away from deciding whether or not to install its first post-war hard-right prime minister.

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