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Draghi and Mattarella, parallel lives, but successor to each other?

Mattarella y Draghi

With the "Colle" (electoral college that will decide the name of the future president of the Italian Republic) to be held on 24 January, the names of some of the candidates to succeed the outgoing president, Sergio Mattarella, who, at the age of 80, has just turned 80, and after an impeccable mandate (he has forged up to three different "maggioranza", which has brought him wide recognition from the Italians, who do nothing but applaud him wherever he goes), are sounding more and more strongly, and after an impeccable mandate (he has forged up to three different "maggioranza" and this has been widely recognised by the Italians, who do nothing but applaud him wherever he goes), has made it very clear that he wants nothing to do with a possible re-election, although the Constitution contemplates this possibility, as happened with Napolitano in 2013. So it will be necessary to think about a successor, since this veteran Christian Democrat does not intend to revalidate his mandate.

In this regard, it is becoming increasingly clear that the best candidate to succeed him is none other than the last person Mattarella entrusted with forming a government almost a year ago: the Roman Mario Draghi. And therein lies the main problem for Draghi, who before being appointed President of the Council of Ministers had all the cards to be the next head of state, to become the new tenant of the Quirinal Palace, the seat of the presidency of the Republic. Because, if Draghi moves from head of government to head of state, what will happen to the almost year and a half of life that remains to the 18th Legislature?

Certainly, the parallels in the lives of the remaining presidents of both the Republic and the Council of Ministers are striking. Born just under five years apart (Mattarella was born in July 1941, while Draghi was born in September 1947), neither of them belongs to rich Italy (the northernmost part): the former is Sicilian, while the latter, as we have already mentioned, is Roman. Although their origins are quite different (Mattarella comes from an illustrious Christian Democrat family, while Draghi's parents, who died prematurely, had no political affiliation whatsoever), both quickly showed a strong teaching vocation, teaching at university.

In fact, Mattarella, who had studied law, decided to direct his career towards teaching at the University of Palermo, while Draghi headed for the United States to work with Franco Modigliani (a prestigious transalpine economist) to complete his doctoral thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had been awarded many Nobel prizes in economics. So at the end of the 1970s they were both teaching at university: Mattarella in Palermo, Draghi in Venice and others in the Italian public sector.

But as circumstances would have it, both ended up devoting themselves to public life, each in the world they knew best: Mattarella, as a professor of Constitutional Law, to the judicial sphere; and Draghi, to the economic and financial sphere. Although, of course, for very different reasons. In Mattarella's case, the tragic murder of his brother Piersanti by the Mafia, which took place on Epiphany 1980 as he was leaving Mass, led him to enter politics, winning a seat in the first elections he was able to run for (the 1983 elections, the previous ones having been in 1979). Meanwhile, Draghi agreed to work for Minister Goria, head of the Treasury. The fact is that in 1983 they both left university and embarked on a career in public life in which they both quickly came to prominence.

Mattarella was soon appointed Minister without portfolio for Relations with Parliament in different governments (his main supporter was the also Christian Democrat Ciriaco De Mita), and he also became Minister for Public Instruction. Furthermore, in 1993 he received a major assignment: to draft the first electoral law in more than four decades, which would give rise to the law known as "Mattarellum", a law with which several general elections would be held. Between 1998 and 1999 he was deputy prime minister, and then returned to parliamentary life until leaving his seat after the 2008 elections (he became a founding member of the main centre-left party, the Democratic Party). What surely awaited him was what he was most interested in, which was to become a member of the judiciary, and he was soon appointed to the High Council of the Judiciary. Finally, as is well known, on 3 February 2015 he became the twelfth president of the Republic, winning the votes of almost two thirds of the "Colle".

By that time, Draghi had also made his personal contribution to national institutions, albeit in his case economic and financial ones. He spent a full decade in the Directorate General of the Treasury and, after a few years in private banking, in December 2006 he became the new governor of the Bank of Italy, where he stayed until October 2011, when he became the third president of the European Central Bank after the Dutch Duisenberg and the French Trichet. There was no shortage of reticence about his appointment to the ECB, especially from the German Bundesbank, but time proved that he was more than qualified to lead the European regulator. Because, in addition to saving the single currency at a critical moment (the first part of the last decade), he was able to impose a policy of low interest rates that led to the consolidation of the Banking and Monetary Union, still incomplete but a fundamental element for European integration to continue to be an increasingly solid and credible reality.

So when former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi brought down the coalition government at the end of January 2021, Mattarella did not think twice: he immediately called in Mario Draghi and charged him with forming a government (3 February), at the same time appealing to the political forces to support a government headed by an independent. And Draghi, who after all has been dealing with politicians for more than three decades, won truly unthinkable support: two forces as opposed as Salvini's Lega and the Democratic Party, not to mention the ever-changing and unpredictable Five Star Movement, voted for him. And time has proven the wisdom of this broad support: the transalpine economy is on track to grow by more than 6% and Draghi, faced with the reality of a new coalition government in Germany that has just landed in the chancellery and a French government that has already entered the electoral phase (there are presidential elections in May of this year), plus an increasingly lagging Spain (especially due to the structural weakness of its economy, which is highly exposed to the consequences of the coronavirus), has become the leader of the European Union, something that has certainly not happened since the times of Bettino Craxi, Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987.

Mattarella is now leaving, but it is not at all clear that his natural successor (who is none other than Draghi) will be able to do so. It is well known that he meets all the requirements to be President of the Republic: age (he still has six years to go before he becomes an octogenarian), prestige, proven honesty, management skills and knowledge of the political class with which he should be dealing. But if Draghi leaves the presidency of the Council of Ministers vacant, what will happen? Because here the political class is strongly divided: Lega and Fratelli already want elections, while the rest prefer to run out the legislature. And for any "premier" to depend on the votes of Five Star (which would become the decisive force in the absence of Salvini's votes) is not particularly advisable. And all this with the management of European funds and the coronavirus in the middle.

We will see what happens after the first vote on 24 January. But the politicians are very clear about one thing: if two independents (Draghi as President of the Republic and his "right-hand man", the Minister of Economy and Finance Daniele Franco, as Prime Minister) are able to govern the country, it would be a major failure. And we must not forget that we are talking about a parliamentary republic where the two legislative chambers have fundamental decision-making power. So the issue is clear: Draghi as Mattarella's successor? Politicians have the last word.

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is Professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book Historia de la Italia republicana, 1946-2021 (Sílex Ediciones, 2021)