Italy, the start of the academic year marked by stability and economic recovery

Mario Draghi

As expected, the Draghi government, "in carica" since mid-February this year, is proving to be a success: vaccination has reached cruising speed, contagions are under control and the country is preparing to return to complete normality, starting with the return to school after having missed practically the entire last academic year. At the same time, strong growth is a fact and all indicators point to the fact that, by the end of 2021, the country will have recovered practically all the GDP lost in 2020 (8.9 points). Finally, the "maggioranza" that sustains the Draghi government is not moving, and opposition to it is limited to the abstention of the small right-wing Fratelli d'Italia party and a group of parliamentarians scattered in the Mixed Group without the capacity to influence the lines of government action.

In a legislature that is not due to end until March 2023, the two key dates marked on the calendar before the new summer arrives are 4 October, when municipal elections (known there as "administrative" elections) will be held in the country's main cities. In the fray are none other than the capital (Rome), the main city of Lombardy (Milan) and the most important city in the southern part of the country (Naples). A few months later, the election of the new President of the Republic will take place, as the mandate of the current tenant of the Quirinal (Sergio Mattarella) expires on 3 February 2022. 

Apart from that, the Draghi government must continue with the task of reform, drawing on European funds, in the knowledge that, with the good data it already has, the fall of this government is a real chimera: The general principle that "those who bring down the government pay for it at the ballot box" is well known, and if it comes at a time of strong economic recovery, all the more reason for the "maggioranza" to continue, with the only question mark hanging over the always unpredictable members of the Cinque Stelle Movement. In any case, these parliamentarians, although still the largest parliamentary group, do not have the capacity to bring down the government, as they would also require Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega, to do the same, and Salvini, who now, with his hitherto unseen Europeanism, does not give the impression that he is going to bring down the current government.

The municipal elections give the impression, unlike in 2016, of being more irrelevant than ever. They are a mix of candidates who apparently have every chance of winning (the clearest example is Giuseppe Sala, mayor of Milan and member of the Democratic Party (PD), who will surely manage to revalidate his mandate without major opposition) and others who will, even if, deep down, they do not want to be elected. The clearest example of the latter is Rome, the city that was once a launching pad for candidates (Veltroni, in 2008, went from being mayor of Rome to head of the centre-left list in a general election that he eventually lost) and that now no one wants to govern. And no one wants to do it because whoever takes over the Roman city council has to deal with an enormous debt of 12 billion and rising.

Paradoxically, there are two candidates who clearly want to be mayor of Rome (Raggi, for Five Star, and Calenda, for Azione) but who have a very difficult time not only to be the new mayor of Rome (in the case of Raggi it would mean revalidating her mandate since she has been the "sindaco" since 2016), but even to go to the so-called "ballottaggio" (second round). Ahead of them are the centre-left candidate (former PD minister Roberto Gualteri) and the centre-right candidate (Manfredi). Whoever is finally elected, they have an important trump card, and that is that the current prime minister (Draghi) is also a Roman by birth, so he will surely do his best to give a boost to his city, which is by far the European capital currently in the worst state due to neglect, lack of modernisation and neglect by the administration.

After these elections, in which around 1,000 of the country's 8,000 city councils will be renewed, it will be time to elect the president of the Republic for the 2022-29 seven-year term. Here, too, it is striking that there are two clear favourites (Sergio Mattarella and Mario Draghi) but, apparently, they do not have the slightest interest in being finally elected. In Mattarella's case, he has just turned eighty, has been in public life for almost forty years (he entered parliament in the 1983-87 legislature) and, after doing an impeccable job as head of state, wants to return to his native Sicily. As a native of Palermo, he has lived much less than one might think in his homeland: let us not forget that, as the son of a historic Christian Democrat minister (Bernardo Mattarella, present in many governments from the late 1950s to the late 1960s), he has spent much of his life in Rome, and now wants to retire definitively to his homeland.

Draghi's case is different. He has the perfect profile to be President of the Republic: a Europeanist, an unblemished track record and a strong influence on the political and business class, since, we should remember, he was already working in the Treasury Directorate General in the early 1990s and later became governor of the Bank of Italy. But the reality is that Draghi wants to continue governing ("I will continue as long as Parliament wants me to", he has said repeatedly) and he knows that, by moving from being head of government to head of state, he would no longer be running the country but would be the guarantor of the proper functioning of the institutions and of the existence of a "maggioranza" with which to govern. And the fact is that, if he is offered to be the new President of the Republic, a "no" automatically means that his candidacy will be automatically rejected. This already happened in 1948 with the builder of the Italian Republic, Alcide de Gasperi, who, as Prime Minister since the end of 1945, was offered the post of President of the Republic in the 1948 presidential election, once the current Constitution came into force. De Gasperi knew that he would lose control of the country's leadership at a key moment (post-war economy, integration into the Western world, purge of fascism) and therefore continued to hold the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, reaching the record of being the only politician to have been Prime Minister eight times (and all of them consecutively). 

Moreover, the circumstances of this moment are very different from those of 2013. At that time the centre-right and the centre-left, who should be the ones to agree on the name of the head of state (as they did for decades between Christian Democracy and the Italian Communist Party) were openly at loggerheads, and this led to having to ask the ageing Napolitano to repeat his mandate. Now, by contrast, the centre-right appears fairly compact, with the support of significant minor forces (including former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva and the group For Autonomy, both with almost half a hundred votes), This means that it will be enough to agree on the candidate with the PD (in practice Cinque Stelle is not even counted, despite now being strongly in tune with the PD leadership) so that, going to the fourth ballot (the first in which only a simple majority is required), the chosen name will come out ahead. As expected, the "totto-nomi" (the nomination of possible candidates) has already begun, but the history of presidential elections shows that a "dark horse" almost always emerges: Pertini in 1978, Scalfaro in 1992, Ciampi in 1999, Napolitano in 2006, and Mattarella in 2015. In any case, this whole issue will not come up until the end of December, when the final negotiations will begin.

Thus, the only conflict at the moment is whether or not to apply the so-called "green pass", which would allow only those who have been vaccinated to go to public places such as cinemas, event centres or restaurants. Salvini's party is strongly opposed because it considers it a right that must be preserved at all times to be vaccinated or not, and the "green pass" would be, in a way, a form of coercion for those who are not vaccinated. We will see how "premier" Draghi resolves this issue, but this decision cannot be delayed too long because the cold months are coming and practically all those who have wanted to do so voluntarily have already been vaccinated, so it remains to be seen what will be decided for the rest.

Finally, this will be a key year to determine whether or not Italy will "turn on the leadership" of the European Union: with Germany immersed in elections and negotiations to form a government; with France also holding elections in May next year; and with Spain completely behind (and even more so), the country will have a unique opportunity to lead a European Union that needs a man of reference, and that man is none other than Mario Draghi. Everything will depend on the consolidation of growth and the open support of the current parliamentary "maggioranza". But it is certain that, at least for the moment, everything is looking very promising. And we will be able to see for ourselves in the coming months.

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