The Draghi government or a different concept of public sector management

Mario Draghi

There are just slightly more than ten days to go before the first Draghi government completes its first two months in office, and an analysis can already be made regarding its actions, style and concept of governance: in short, of managing the public sector. In this regard, important differences with previous governments can already be glimpsed. Mario Draghi, who is at the head of the government, although he has a certain political profile, is mainly a manager, and this is evidenced in his way of conceiving the management of an executive.

In this sense, the only element he may share with previous premiers is that of leadership. Draghi is not only the President of the Council of Ministers, but also the visible face of the government. And to this end, as Conte (in his second government), Gentiloni and Renzi did, he has not appointed a deputy prime minister, because he wants the focus to be on him. In the meantime, he wants all ministers to act essentially as the executing arms supporting his vision, albeit with a significant degree of autonomy. 

Let's start with the way he communicates, which is so necessary in normal circumstances, but even more so in times of strong "health emergency" and equally strong "economic emergency". Draghi, unlike the "two Matteos" (Renzi and Salvini), is not interested in Twitter, so widely used by political leaders of all stripes (remember Donald Trump's tendency as president) to communicate with his followers. Moreover, he does not want to go to the media either: he is not seen on television, radio or the press. He will certainly appear in the media eventually, when necessary.

Thus, his main communication tools have been two: parliamentary appearances and press conferences after the Council of Ministers. In these, he gives an account of his management and answers questions from both politicians and journalists, and so on until the following week. On the other hand, whenever accompanied, he does so with those members who are necessary: Roberto Speranza (Health) and Andrea Orlando (Labour) on the first occasion, and Speranza alone on the second. Meanwhile, none of the ministers make any statements or go to the media - no doubt as instructed by their prime minister.

It is clear that Draghi not only does not belong to any political party (he is not known to be a member of any party), but that he does not have the slightest intention of pursuing a political career. Of course, anything is possible: in November 2011, when Mario Monti, another man with no political affiliation, agreed to head a government of independents, he surely had no intention of jumping into the "political arena", but the fact is that, in the general elections of February 2013, he ran with a new formation, Scelta Civica, which came fourth after the Democratic Party (DC), Forza Italia, and the Cinque Stelle Movement. But Monti's and Draghi's backgrounds were certainly very different: although both were trained economists, the former had been a European Commissioner and then devoted himself to university teaching (he was Rector of Bocconi, the centre where the country's economic and business elite is educated, at the time he was given the job of forming the government). Draghi, on the other hand, is the former governor of the Bank of Italy and president of the European Central Bank (ECB); thus, a man who will be 74 years old in September this year can only hope to become president of the Republic. Of course, that is another matter entirely.

Draghi has proved that he has plenty of time as prime minister. His term of office ends in two years; in order to lift an economy where GDP has fallen by 8.9 points in 2020 and debt has risen to 153-154% of GDP (never seen before), the two-year term will be necessary. To do so, however, he needs the current parliamentary support to be maintained, and he has already clashed first with the main party in the coalition supporting his government. In fact, on Friday 26th last, Draghi had to hear Matteo Salvini complain about so many lockdowns, and Draghi, in no uncertain terms, quickly replied: "We face a war against coronavirus and must mobilize accordingly".

The advantage of the current prime minister lies in the fact that the saying "those who bring down governments pay for it at the ballot box" is very much true in Italian politics. Just ask Matteo Renzi, who, having brought down the second Conte government, is now lower than ever in the polls. So Salvini, leading the same voting intention uninterruptedly since September 2018, must tread carefully, for the population is fed up with the mismanagement of both the "health emergency" and the "economic emergency". The only thing left was for politicians to bring down additional governments (remember that Salvini himself already did so in August 2019, and in the end he was left out of the Council of Ministers).

It is too early to assess Draghi's first government's effectiveness. What should really be noted is that he has managed to go from 60,000 vaccinations per day to 150,000 now. Of course, this is not enough for Draghi: he wants to reach 500,000 daily vaccinations as soon as possible, with the aim that around 80% of the population will be vaccinated by the summer.

Digitisation, as well as the implementation of environmentally friendly economies, will be more complex. Also pending are the reform of the justice system (in the hands of the prestigious jurist Marta Cartabia) and the labour market (in the hands of the aforementioned Orlando, PD's secretary-general). And it will be up to this government to organise the G-20 summit, something the eurozone's third largest economy has never done before.

For the time being, politicians will be busy with the all-important municipal elections this summer-autumn (depending on whether they are postponed, as they were in September last year). In the fray are the capitals of Lombardy (whose mayor, Giuseppe Sala, belonging to the PD, has a good chance of repeating); of Lazio (the current tenant of the "Campidoglio", Virginia Raggi, has her time numbered here); and of Campania (will the independent De Magistris go for a third consecutive term in office?). Thereafter, there will be a few months left until the time to elect a new president of the Republic (Sergio Mattarella's term of office ends in the last days of January 2022). And, once the head of state has been elected for the next seven-year term, the question is how much longer the government presided over by Mario Draghi will be able to survive. In fact, the truth is that politicians are more upset than ever: due to the success of the "referendum" to "taglio" the number of MPs in both chambers (held last September), it is certain that around 350 deputies and senators will not be able to revalidate their seats... simply because they will no longer exist (the lower chamber will go from 630 to 400 members, and the upper chamber from 315 to 200).

The question is whether a new electoral law will be introduced for these elections or whether the same one as in March 2018 (the Rossatellum bis) will be used. The current law sets the threshold for entering Parliament at 3% for parties standing individually and 10% for coalitions. The proportional system is still in force, although some still demand a majority system. If the current electoral law is maintained, it seems that we will see a three-party contest: centre-right, centre-European and reformist, and centre-left. The first will certainly include Salvini's League and Meloni's Brothers of Italy, and the question is what Forza Italia will do, at the moment the clear minority force within this coalition, whereas, if it were to go with the pure centre, it would become the majority. On the centre-left it seems clear that PD and LeU will go together, and the question is whether or not they plan to add Cinque Stelle, while it is even less clear who will be the head of the list. As for the third and final coalition, many small parties will enter: Italia Viva (Renzi), Azione (Calenda), Cambiamento (Totti), etc.

Meanwhile, Mario Draghi's government will be in charge of the management. Let's get used to the austere, dry and direct style of the Roman economist and banker, who sometimes reveals he does not lack a sense of humour. An Executive that will not make many headlines, but which faces a challenge: the modernisation of a stagnant productive apparatus. And if there is anyone who can do it, it is none other than Draghi, with the invaluable collaboration of his trusted men (who are none other than the seven independents who joined with him). Time will certainly be the judge.

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is a professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book 'Italia, 2013-2018. From chaos to hope' (Liber Factory, 2018).