Wednesday, 24 February, 2021


Investors cheer return of 'Super Mario' to lead Italy

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Conrad Doyle | 04 February, 2021, 08:39

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.

Draghi, known as "Super Mario" for having rescued the common currency during Europe's debt crisis, had been rumored as a possible choice to lead a non-political government if Conte was unable to find new parliamentary support.

Talks to revive Italy's ruling coalition have failed, the small party that triggered the government crisis said on Tuesday, deepening the country's political turmoil in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The immediate tasks for the next government are "to defeat the pandemic, complete the vaccination campaign, provide answers to the people and relaunch the country", Draghisaid.

Appealing for unity from Italy's squabbling political forces, he added: "We have the chance to do a lot for our country".

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.

Mr Draghi, dubbed "Super Mario" for his action calming the markets during his stint at the European Central Bank during 2011 to 2019, had always been discussed as a potential saviour for Italy.

"However, his success, and therefore the sustainability of this rally, depends on a broad agreement among political parties on the government's agenda".

His greatest hurdle, though, will be securing support from the 5-Star Movement, the biggest political bloc in the Italian parliament and the senior partner in Conte's government.

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

When the eurozone was in turmoil in 2012, Draghi famously said that "the European Central Bank is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro".

The anti-establishment, populist movement emerged as a potent political force in part as a response to Italy's last technocratic government, led by Mario Monti, in 2011-2013.

With over 89,000 confirmed virus deaths, Italy has the second-highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe after Britain.

The president explained that Italy can't afford snap elections right now because it needs a fully functioning government that can fight the pandemic and also submit a national recovery plan to the European Union (EU) by April. He made clear he was pleased with the outcome, praising Mr Mattarella's "wise" decision.

Draghi, an economist who is credited with steering the eurozone through the sovereign debt crisis, said he accepted the mandate from Mattarella "provisionally".

The appointment came after Draghi met with Mattarella for over one hour at the Quirinale Palace.

Asked whether his eurosceptic party would back the 73-year-old economist, League leader Matteo Salvini said it would depend on his plans. The ensuing economic devastation has only made matters worse, with gross domestic product falling 8.8 per cent past year and almost 450,000 jobs lost, national statistics agency ISTAT reported this week.

Draghi, 73, is perhaps best known for his intervention as European Central Bank chief during the peak of Europe's debt crisis in 2012. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has reported, "Among many achievements, Draghi was the architect of Italy's massive privatization program in the '90's, executive director of the World Bank, and managing director for Goldman Sachs International".

Conte had drawn up a 220-billion-euro ($240 billion) recovery plan using the European Union funds, but Renzi accused him of using it for vote-winning handouts, rather than addressing long-term structural issues.

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