Italian premier tells divided Parliament: unite, or I'll resign

After his offer to resign prompted popular pleas for him to stay on, Italy’s premier says he’s willing to keep his job. But, he has one condition: a demand that his colleagues in government renew their commitment to work together for the sake of the nation.

Andrew Medichini/AP
Italian Premier Mario Draghi (center) waits to deliver his speech at the Senate in Rome on July 20, 2022. Mr. Draghi is calling on colleagues to commit once more to a unity government for the sake of the country's stability and prosperity.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi said spontaneous displays of support for his government were “unprecedented and impossible to ignore” as he weighed Wednesday whether to rescind his resignation offer.

Mr. Draghi challenged the partner parties in his governing coalition to come back together after a key party withheld its support, triggering his offer to step down last week. He suggested he would continue to lead if the coalition members recommitted to a pact of unity that created his government a year ago.

“Are you ready? Are you ready to rebuild this pact? Are you ready?” Mr. Draghi thundered at the end of a speech to Italy’s Senate. “You don’t have to give the response to me. You have to give it to all Italians.”

In recent days, political leaders, mayors, doctors’ associations, and ordinary citizens have urged Mr. Draghi to stay in office as Italy copes with soaring inflation and energy prices, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and implementing a plan to use some 200 billion euros in European Union pandemic recovery funds.

Mr. Draghi offered to resign after senators from the 5-Star Movement, the biggest vote-getter in Italy’s 2018 national election, boycotted a confidence vote on a bill to deal with the economic crisis. They opposed a bill that included funding a trash incinerator for Rome, but their beef with the premier went well beyond that, including the government’s military support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Mr. Draghi, who was drafted to head the government last year, had long insisted he would never head a second government or one without the 5-Stars. He said flatly last week that he wouldn’t govern by ultimatum, a reference to 5-Star demands.

But it appeared the waves of appeals for him to reconsider, from inside and out of Italy, had an effect.

He told the Senate he was personally moved by the spontaneous shows of support, citing in particular the petitions by Italian mayors and medical personnel, the “heroes of the pandemic.”

“The mobilization in these days by citizens, associations, and regions for the government to continue is unprecedented and impossible to ignore,” Mr. Draghi said. “This demand for stability requires all of us to decide if it’s possible to recreate the conditions in which the government can truly govern.”

Mr. Draghi laid out priorities for Parliament to consider in rebuilding “from the top” the majority needed for the government to work efficiently. Despite his indicating he was open to trying to forge a way forward, there was no clarity on how the day would play out.

The 5-Stars have badly fractured over the crisis, and other coalition partners have staked their ground, with the center-right partners vowing they would never govern again with the populist movement.

After Mr. Draghi’s speech, senators offered replies and gave Mr. Draghi a chance to respond. A vote was possible later in the day with another day of debate scheduled Thursday in the lower chamber of Parliament.

Watching over the scene was President Sergio Mattarella, who rejected Mr. Draghi’s offer to resign last week but ultimately can decide whether to accept it if it is offered again, ask him or someone else to try to govern until scheduled spring Parliamentary elections vote or dissolve Parliament now and trigger early elections as soon as September.

Mr. Mattarella tapped Mr. Draghi in 2021 to form a government of national unity, grouping parties from the right, left and the 5-Stars to guide Italy through its economic reboot following the pandemic and enact reforms necessary to implement the EU recovery program.

The uneasy coalition worked for a while – Mr. Draghi called it a “civic miracle” on Wednesday – but he lamented that the sense of compromise and working for the common good had evaporated in recent months as parties sought to distinguish themselves and sparked divisions.

“I believe that a premier who never went before electors must have the biggest support possible in Parliament,” Mr. Draghi said. “This is even more important in a context of an emergency, in which the government must take decisions that profoundly impact the lives of Italians.”

The 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, who complained his forces had been humiliated and ignored by other coalition parties, delivered a nine-point set of demands for Mr. Draghi to embrace, including the 5-Stars’ flagship pledge of a basic income and minimum salary.

Mr. Draghi addressed some of the 5-Star concerns in his speech, including assurances that the basic income and minimum salary were very much on the agenda. “A true social agenda is needed” to confront soaring energy costs and the surge of inflation, he said.

He laid out key priorities for the near-term to ensure the next tranche of EU funds arrive and cited reforms concerning the justice system, bidding for public contracts, as well as Italy’s gradual independence from Russian gas as priorities.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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