Italy’s Draghi set for final round of talks on new govt

Rome, Feb 8 (AFP/APP): Ex-central banker Mario Draghi will open a final round of talks on Monday on forming a new Italian government, as the virus-hit country enters its third week of political crisis.

The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) is under pressure to secure the parliamentary support he needs to be sworn in as prime minister before the end of the week. However, the surprising eagerness of Matteo Salvini’s far-right and eurosceptic League party to back the ultra-Europhile Draghi is complicating coalition building.

The League has fraught relations with both the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the two other key players expected to get on board the new administration. Italy has been without a fully functioning government for almost a month since the centre-left coalition collapsed, forcing Giuseppe Conte to resign as prime minister.

Draghi was brought in by Italy’s president last week to form a new national unity government to face the devastating health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He was scheduled to hold a second and final round of talks with smaller parties on Monday before meeting M5S, PD and the League on Tuesday.

One of the key issues still open is the extent to which Draghi’s cabinet should be made up of technocrats or include politicians, at least partially. Giving politicians a seat at the table could increase their loyalty to the government, but also risks a repeat of the inter-party bickering that brought down Conte’s cabinet.

As things stand, Draghi could have parliamentary support stretching from the leftist Free and Equals to the League, with only the Brothers of Italy, another far-right party, in opposition. On Saturday, Salvini listed the arrival of more than 200 billion euros ($240 billion) in European Union economic recovery funds as one of the reasons to join the government.

“I’d rather be in the room where it gets decided whether that money is used well or used badly, rather than be an outside spectator,” he said. Draghi is expected to report back on Wednesday to President Sergio Mattarella on whether he can form a government. He would then need to present a list of ministers and take office with his cabinet following a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace — something that could happen by Friday.

The instalment of the new government would be completed by votes of confidence in the two houses of parliament, where Draghi would spell out his agenda. Last week, when Mattarella called him in, the 73-year-old said Italy urgently needed to “beat the pandemic” and relaunch its economy.

More than 91,000 people with Covid-19 have died in Italy and last year nearly 450,000 people lost their jobs while the economy shrank by around nine per cent.

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