Draghi strengthens his alliance with the United States and futher divides the "maggioranza" of Government

Mario Draghi

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, now in his first year and a half at the helm of the government, has decided, in this second week of May, to pay a visit to the President of the United States, Democrat Joe Biden. This contrasts with his outright refusal to visit Vladimir Putin, with whom, as we said on a previous occasion, he has limited himself to phone calls where, rather than asking for a cessation of hostilities in the war against Ukraine, he deals more with the issue of paying for Russian energy than with an increasingly chimerical peace.

Draghi has only reaffirmed his intention to lead the economic sanctions against the Russian Federation while recalling the need to give money to the Ukrainian government so that it can deal with the Russian invader. A position in which he is clearly seconded by the recently re-elected French President (Macron) and to which it seems that Germany will have no choice but to end up joining because, within the so-called "big four" (the first four economies of the EU), it is being left alone because Spain also supports the Italians and the French. 

Draghi's visit to Biden comes at a time when the United States is publicising its efforts to provide military assistance to a Ukrainian army which, by the way, at the time of the outbreak of the war (24 February), was practically conspicuous by its absence.

In reality, Draghi is a typically American "product". Because, although Roman by birth and living in Europe since the early 1980s, what many people do not know is that Draghi forged his extremely powerful intellectual "curriculum" in the United States. At the end of the 1960s, one of the most prestigious transalpine economists, Nobel Prize winner Franco Modigliani, called a young Draghi who was already a rising star at the University of La Sapienza to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to write his doctoral thesis, which he defended in the mid-1970s.

Because, although we have since seen Draghi fully involved in the institutions of his country (Directorate General of the Treasury, Bank of Italy, etc.) and Europe (Presidency of the European Central Bank between 2011 and 2019), the truth is that this economist and financier is as much a "professore" as Mario Monti, Prime Minister between November 2011 and April 2013. Because, when Draghi finished his training in the United States, he spent almost a decade teaching economics at various Italian universities, until he decided to leave teaching to devote himself to public finance. Perhaps this explains his extraordinary ability to communicate, which leads him to give his short appearances before the media a strong content.

All this brings us right back to the history of Italian foreign policy during the republican era, which began with the "referendum" that abolished the monarchy on 2 June 1946. At that time, the person who set the tempo in foreign policy was none other than the Trentino Alcide De Gasperi, who was Prime Minister eight times between 1945 and 1953. De Gasperi, who had to live through the birth of the "bipolar" world in which most countries had to align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union, decided to insert his country fully into the Western defence system, while at the same time integrating it into all the institutions (UN, ECSC, EEC, etc.) that were being created in the post-war world.

Thus, Draghi's performance as President of the Council of Ministers places him squarely in the Christian Democrat tradition and, more specifically, in that of the so-called "right-wing current" (Segni, Pella, Scelba, Tambroni, Zoli and so many other "premiers"). This is something in which he has the invaluable support of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, a resolute pro-European (as he demonstrated in May 2018 by preventing Paolo Savona, an economist opposed to the single currency, to become head of Economy and Finance) who has also felt close to the United States, although it is true that Mattarella is an important and well-known follower of Aldo Moro, famous for his attempt at a government pact with the communists in the 1970s (the so-called "historical compromise", which was more fictitious than real). In any case, although the Italian Constitution recognises the President of the Republic's capacity to intervene in foreign policy, it makes it equally clear that, in the event of conflict between the head of state and government in international affairs, the line taken by the head of government or Prime Minister prevails over that of the head of state or President of the Republic.

The question is: what did Draghi really discuss with Biden beyond what they themselves say at the press conference? Surely, the importance that American energy resources can and should play in weaning the United States from its dependence on the Russian Federation. The stark reality at the moment is that, as much as the European Union is supporting Ukraine in various ways in its war with the Russian invader, the reality is that this same EU, taking together the purchases of its 27 member states, pays a whopping 74 billion euros a year to Russian companies for their energy. In other words, to put it bluntly, the same EU that is talking (and partly talking) about supporting the Ukrainian government to defeat the Russian invader is the same EU that is financing the Putin government's military spending. It is a contradiction that Draghi, like other European leaders, wants to put an end to, but one that will not really end until alternative sources are found, and the United States has a lot to say in this area.

Of course, it is one thing to say it and another to do it: while, for example, Algeria has "fed" gas to Spain through a pipeline that crossed the whole of North Africa to enter through the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Russian Federation in turn planned to supply Germany with this same resource through another pipeline that crosses the Baltic Sea and is known as "Nordstream", in the case of the United States the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean forces this same gas to be transported using vessels that make the energy obtained very substantially more expensive.

However, almost three months into the war, it seems that there will be no turning back: the genocidal Putin must pay for his war crimes and the word "peace" is sounding more and more hollow. "Withdrawal", "capitulation" or "unconditional surrender" are other terms that are becoming more and more meaningful, and it is also becoming increasingly clear that both the United States and the European Union (with Draghi at the helm) want to put an end to Putin's Russia and usher in a new era. Because more than a few will ask, and rightly so: where does so much interest come from in helping a country (Ukraine) that not only is not a member of the Union, but which, until weeks after the Russian invasion began, had not even considered joining the European construction? The answer is clear: the real "Achilles heel" of the rich European Union is its heavy energy dependence, and another regime in Russia could be the solution to the long-standing headache with Putin, which has led the EU leadership to look the other way when the Russian President ordered the poisoning of spies (see Litvinenko) or subjected a political opponent such as Alexei Navalny to truly ruthless practices.

The worst for Draghi will come when he returns to Rome. Waiting for him there will be a Five Star Movement that is increasingly at odds with him over military spending and his closeness to the United States, and a Salvini who for the moment is keeping quiet but who is less and less ready to make a real "bank robbery" (in his case, Draghi is playing on Salvini's enormous desire to become President of the Council of Ministers, something he has been pursuing for the entire legislature). But the reality is that, although this "maggioranza" is increasingly divided, Draghi is fortunate that Five Star is a party on the verge of extinction, and that Salvini's Lega is in its lowest hours. So he will be able to continue setting the tempo of foreign policy, and we already know where he is going: ever closer to the United States and ever more at odds with Putin's Russia. Will he be right in his determined and personal stance?

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