The Italian president has sworn in a former chief of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, as prime minister at the head of a unity government called on to confront the coronavirus crisis and economic slump.
All but one of Italy’s major parties have rallied to his side and his cabinet includes members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, as well as technocrats in key posts, including the finance ministry and a new green transition portfolio.
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Much now rests on Draghi’s shoulders.
He is tasked with plotting Italy’s recovery from the pandemic and must immediately set to work on plans for how to spend more than 200 billion euros ($240bn) in European Union funds aimed at rebuilding the recession-bound economy.
If he prevails, Draghi will likely bolster the entire eurozone, which has long fretted over Italy’s perennial problems. Success would also prove to Italy’s sceptical northern allies that by offering funds to the poorer south, they will fortify the entire bloc.
But he faces enormous challenges. Italy is mired in its worst downturn since World War II, hundreds of people are still dying of COVID-19 each day, the vaccination campaign is going slowly and he only has limited time to sort things out.
Italy is due to return to the polls in two years time, but it is far from certain that Draghi will be able to survive that long at the head of a coalition that includes parties with radically opposing views on issues such as immigration, justice, infrastructure development and welfare.
Highlighting Italy’s political instability, Draghi’s government is the 67th to take office since 1946 and the seventh in the last decade alone.
President Sergio Mattarella asked him to take over after the previous coalition collapsed amid party infighting. Draghi has spent the past 10 days drawing up his plans and unveiled his 23-strong cabinet on Friday, which included eight women.
Eight of the ministries went to technocrats, with the rest split amongst the six main parties that back the government; four for the 5-Star Movement, the largest group in Parliament, three each for the Democratic Party, the League and Forza Italia and one apiece for Italia Viva and LEU.
As finance minister, Draghi called on an old colleague, Daniele Franco, the deputy governor of the Bank of Italy, while the sensitive job of justice minister was handed to the former head of the constitutional court, Marta Cartabia.
He also looked outside the political sphere for two new roles – technological innovation, which was entrusted to the former head of telecommunications firm Vodafone, Vittorio Colao, and ecological transition, given to physicist Roberto Cingolani.
These twin positions play into demands by the EU that a sizeable chunk of its recovery fund should be used to promote the digitalisation of the continent and to shift away from a dependence on fossil fuels.
Draghi, a reserved figure who has no profile on social media platforms, will unveil his programme in the upper house of Parliament on Wednesday and the lower house on Thursday.
Confidence votes will be held in both chambers and with just the far-right Brothers of Italy outside the cabinet, he looks likely to win the biggest majority in Italian history.
However, some members of the 5-Star Movement, which was created in 2009 as an anti-system, anti-euro protest group, have said they might vote against Draghi – threatening a party schism.