Italian Premier Mario Draghi has told his Cabinet he will offer his resignation on Thursday evening to the nation’s president, following the refusal of a populist coalition ally to support a key government bill.
“The majority of national unity that has sustained this government from its creation doesn’t exist anymore,” Draghi said in a statement.
It will be up to Italian President Sergio Mattarella to accept or reject the resignation. The president could also ask Draghi to go before Parliament in the coming days to seek a formal vote on the government itself, to see if the squabbling allies would rally around him.
But if the government crisis can’t be resolved quickly, Mattarella could pull the plug on Parliament, setting the stage for an early election as soon as September. As of now, Parliament’s term expires in spring 2023.
Hours earlier, Draghi and his pandemic unity government won a confidence vote, 172-39, in the Senate despite the refusal by the populist 5-Star Movement to back the bill, which earmarks 26 billion euros (dollars) to help consumers and industries struggling with soaring energy prices.
But the snub, orchestrated by 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, Draghi’s predecessor, had already done its damage.
Draghi’s broad coalition was designed to help Italy recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and included parties from both the left and the right. He noted he had made clear when he took office in February 2021 that his government “would only have gone forward if there was the clear prospective to be able to realize the government program” that was the basis of the governing coalition.
“That compactness has been fundamental to face the challenges of these months. This conditions don’t exist any more,” the premier said.
The premier announced his decision after meeting with Mattarella at the Quirinal presidential palace.
Mattarella had tapped the former European Central Bank chief — who was known as “Super Mario” for his “whatever it takes” rescue of the euro — to pull Italy out of the coronavirus pandemic and lay the groundwork to make use of billions in European Union pandemic recovery funds.
The 5-Stars, who have lost significant support in recent local elections, and have slumped in opinion polls, are in disarray. Hard-line 5-Star proponents, who were skeptical of joining the government last year, have been complaining that their interests have been ignored. In the measure voted on Thursday, the 5-Stars opposed a provision to allow Rome to operate a garbage incinerator on the outskirts of the chronically trash-choked Italian capital.
In the debate Thursday, several senators blasted Conte’s decision to have 5-Star senators boycott the vote.
Being in a government “is not like picking up a menu and deciding, antipasto, no, gelato, yes,″ said Emma Bonino, who leads a tiny pro-Europe party.
Others noted that Draghi had increasing become a pivotal figure in Europe as Russia wages war against Ukraine, especially with the impending departure of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Draghi has governed with the support of virtually all of Italy’s main parties, with the exception of the fast-rising far-right Brothers of Italy party, which has demanded that Mattarella pull the plug on Parliament and give Italians a chance to vote in new leaders.
Giovanni Orsina, a history professor and director of the school of government at Rome’s LUISS university, said Mattarella would likely ask Draghi to go to Parliament to see if he can command a new, workable majority.
“We’ve got the pandemic, we got the war, we have inflation, we have the energy crisis. So certainly this is not a good moment,” Orsina said. “And also because Mattarella believes, rightly, that his mission is to safeguard stability.”
Among Draghi’s achievements has been keeping Italy on track with reforms that the EU has made a condition for the country to receive 200 billion euros (dollars) in pandemic recovery assistance. Much of that EU funding is already allocated and subject to automatic mechanisms, suggesting the funding won’t be lost, even amid government instability.