Rome returns to the centre-left five years later

Roberto Gualtieri

Finally, all forecasts were fulfilled and Roberto Gualtieri, former Minister of Economy and Finance and centre-left candidate for Mayor of Rome, has just become the new Mayor of Rome. This victory was more than expected, given that of the four leading candidates in the first round (4 October), three of them (Calenda, Raggi and Gualtieri himself) belonged, in one way or another, to the centre-left: Calenda, as a former minister in the Renzi and Gentiloni governments and head of the PD list for the PD European elections, although he now has his own party (Azione); Raggi, because Five Star contested these municipal elections (called 'administrative' there) with the PD, although in the case of Rome both parties competed directly; and Gualtieri, because he has spent his entire political career in the ranks of the centre-left, and has belonged to the PD since its foundation in October 2007.

Thus, six out of ten Romans who went to the polls voted for the centre-left, while the other four went for the centre-right. This means that part of the vote that Calenda received a fortnight ago probably went to the centre-right candidate (Michetti), which is not surprising because Calenda is very centrist, but well regarded by some sectors of the right, and it should also be remembered that he did not want to openly support Gualtieri. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, on the other hand, who had supported Calenda's list in the first round, had given his support to Gualtieri in the second round because he intends to remain on the centre-left and try to move the PD towards his orbit instead of the one it is in at the moment, which is, as we have said, a pact with the Five Star Movement.

If in the case of the election of the mayor for the capital of Lombardy the blow was dealt to Matteo Salvini (since it was he who chose the centre-right candidate), now it is his rival Meloni who is taking the same blow, since Michetti was his choice. Basically, the same thing has happened again as in the elections for the government of several regions in September 2020: Meloni won the marks for his party, but on the other hand he lost heavily in Puglia to the list led by the governor of the region (Emiliano, from the PD). What is clear is that the two main parties in voting intentions at the moment (Salvini's League and Meloni's Brothers of Italy) are at their lowest point in the last year. And this is related to the success of the Draghi government, which is achieving a "surprise" in "record" time. 

Let us remember that Meloni decided to remain in opposition by not supporting the Draghi government last February, while Salvini, although formally supporting it, knows that its success means precisely his loss of popularity, because it has left him, at least for the moment, without a discourse: with irregular immigration under control and with a European Union that is increasingly generous and flexible with the eurozone's third largest economy (after Germany and France), Salvini no longer knows who and when to attack, which was what gave him votes. This explains why he is now trying to wage a kind of "internal war" within the government's "maggioranza" over tax reform, openly confronting both PD and Five Star (supposedly because they want to raise taxes, but so far there is no news on this). 

But back to Rome, the beautiful city in the heart of Italy that will now be governed once again by a member of the Democratic Party (PD): what can we expect from Gualtieri's management of a city that has been pure paralysis for years? A good question that is certainly difficult to answer: there is reason for hope, but also reason to believe that deterioration will continue to be the order of the day.

Gualtieri's weakest point as Rome's new mayor is that he knows little or nothing about municipal politics. He has spent most of his time in the European institutions, which came in handy when he was appointed Minister of Economy and Finance in September 2019: with a friendly and conciliatory character, he was able to draw up two State Budget laws (PGE) on time, one for 2020 and the other for 2021. And all this with the coronavirus in the middle, which is no mean feat. He was unable to remain at the helm of the ministry because Draghi wanted his most trusted man (Daniele Franco, director general of the Bank of Italy) to be in charge, but he was never subjected to the particular criticism that other ministers (Bonafede, Speranza or Di Maio himself) did receive.

So what Gualtieri can offer the Romans is a good injection of capital, either from European funds (where he has very good contacts, and it should be remembered that the Commissioner for Economic Affairs, former Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, is a party colleague of his and the two have a very good relationship) or from businessmen who want to invest in a city that needs to change a very negative dynamic that has led it to be heavily indebted.

But Gualtieri's best ally will probably be precisely the current president of the Council of Ministers. Because Mario Draghi, like Gualtieri, is a Roman by birth, and it is well known that Romans are particularly proud of their Roman status. Draghi must already know first-hand the disastrous state of Rome, because, although since 2011 he has been between Frankfurt and his private home (almost two hundred kilometres from the Italian capital), now, as "premier", he has to move constantly around his home city, whether to see the President of the Republic, to go to Parliament (in either of its two seats) or to any official act.

It is true that Draghi cannot focus on helping Gualtieri right now, as he has to get the justice reform approved (the Cartabia law has not yet been passed in the Senate) and tackle the controversial tax issue. But it is also true that Draghi probably has more than a year and a half of government ahead of him (although more than one would like to send him to the Quirinal to replace Sergio Mattarella, whose mandate runs out at the end of January 2022), and that his powerful agenda of contacts will surely have room for investors on Roman soil. What is certain is that for the moment Gualtieri will have enough to do with knowing the real situation in Rome, which in reality was best known to the now ex-mayor Raggi (who had been in the Roman Consistory for two consecutive terms, having started in opposition to the then mayor Marino). 

Paradoxically, the Democratic Party (PD) now controls the country's two main cities: the administrative and cultural one, and the economic one (which is none other than the main city of the Lombardy region, where Giuseppe Sala has managed to revalidate his mandate without the need for a "ballottaggio"), and this despite the fact that he continues to stagnate in the polls since Matteo Renzi left the party's leadership in July 2018.

Gualtieri's time in Rome is coming, and anything is possible. Only one thing is clear at the moment: it is difficult for the iconic Italian city to get any worse, because it hit rock bottom years ago. Whether its new mayor can bring about a drastic change is another matter. Five years lie ahead, and we will see what they bring: yes, the centre-left will once again rule the city it has controlled for almost three decades. We will see which of the previous PD mayors Gualtieri most resembles, a real question mark over his performance as mayor.

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' (Sílex Ediciones, 2021).