‘EU loyalist’ Draghi’s abrupt exit

  The 74-year-old Mario Draghi was originally a rare “pro-European” prime minister in Italy. He is highly regarded by European political circles, including French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholz. For this reason, the speed with which Draghi’s government collapsed shocked Europe.
  In a Senate confidence vote in late July, Draghi, who had been in office for just over a year, failed to make it through. In the ruling coalition, the three main parties from the center-right and the far-right all chose to abstain from voting, which means that the “broadest coalition” that Draghi has formed for one and a half years has completely collapsed. The next day, Draghi formally submitted his resignation to President Mattarella. As planned, Italian voters will elect a new prime minister in September.
  Draghi was still expected to remain in power until at least September when he left early at a NATO summit in late June to resolve domestic disputes. Affected by a series of crises triggered by the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in February this year, the European economy has been in trouble, and the European society’s position on the conflict has gradually diverged. Draghi led the “EU’s third largest country” Italy, Germany and France and other allies to maintain a consistent position, which was once considered to be the key to Europe’s success in surviving the crisis in the future. However, the new Italian government that is about to take office is likely to be “more conservative” and support Ukraine’s compromise with Russia, and Europe faces the danger of further division.
  Levy, director of the Center for European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out to China News Weekly that the collapse of Italian politics is only a microcosm of Europe: with the rise of populist parties in the past decade, mainstream parties in various countries have to adjust their decision-making To be more “closer to public opinion”. When the Ukraine crisis led to countries suffering economic and security crises of widely varying degrees, the split in mainstream public opinion in different countries forced governments to move towards different policy positions. “EU loyalist” Draghi tried to salvage this division, but ended up ruining his career.
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  The split in Draghi’s government is mainly between the prime minister and the leader of the populist Five Star Movement, Conte. Conte continued to criticize Draghi’s government’s hostile measures against Russia, which led to a downturn in the Italian economy and rising inflation, while Draghi and Foreign Minister Di Maio, who was born in the “Five Star Movement”, accused Conte’s remarks of “irresponsible”.
  On June 21, Di Maio announced his departure from the “Five Star Movement” and took about 60 members of parliament to form a “new political group supporting the Prime Minister”, and the ruling coalition broke openly. Draghi and Conte then held “constructive talks” in early July to try to reach an understanding on economic decision-making ideas, including introducing a minimum wage, reducing labor taxes, and adjusting the budget to better deal with inflation, but did not Touched on the controversial issue of Ukraine. Both sides have realized that differences are difficult to bridge.
  The process of making high-level differences public is also accompanied by a split in the position of the Italian people. In May, the European Council on Foreign Relations conducted a large-scale poll in ten major European countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy. The results showed that Europe is splitting into two camps of “peace” and “justice”. The proportions of support are At 35% and 22%, the former advocates that achieving peace is the more pressing goal now, even at the expense of Ukraine’s concessions to Russia, while the latter insists on a “total failure” for Russia. Among all the countries surveyed, Italy is the only country with more than half of the support for “peace”, and 52% of the people support an end to the conflict as soon as possible. Notably, there is no clear partisanship in this position. Supporters of all major parties, left, center, and right, have a majority in support of “peace.” After Italy, 40% of Germany and France support “peace”, while the other countries such as Britain and Poland have an absolute advantage in the “just” camp, and the “peace” camp accounts for less than 20%.
  Why has Italy become the “least anti-Russian” European power? The economic pressures mentioned by Conte are just one reason, and Italy is not the European country that has been hit the hardest. The latest data released by the European Commission at the end of July showed that the economic growth rate of the 19 countries in the euro area in the second quarter of 2022 was 0.7%, and only Italy and Spain grew by more than 1%. The energy sector has been hit hardest by Italy, where Draghi is still heading to Algeria to find alternatives to Russian natural gas and a big push for renewable energy even as the government falters. In less than half a year, Italy’s dependence on Russian natural gas has dropped from 40% to 25%, and “complete independence” will take 24 to 30 months.
  On the other hand, since the end of the Cold War, the Italian government has maintained friendly relations with Russian officials. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Alliance Party leader Salvini are regarded as European dignitaries with close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But compared to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian leaders have never been or hope to be “bridge figures” between the Western world and Russia. In the mediation before the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Italy was not a member of the “Normandy Group” multilateral mediation mechanism, and Draghi did not rush between Brussels and Moscow like Macron and German Chancellor Scholz.
  So, what is the reason for Italy’s sudden emergence in the “peace” camp? The European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out in the report that the reason behind support for “peace” or “justice” is not ideology, but “the peace camp is more convinced that Europe’s prospects will be worse because of the Ukraine crisis.” In fact, the so-called “peaceful” camp is in many ways a camp of pessimists, the report further says.
  At the moment, Italian society is indeed the most pessimistic. In the latest industrial and consumer confidence index released at the end of July, Italy, which has outperformed its economic growth rate, is not only less optimistic than major economies such as Germany and France, but also not as optimistic as Finland, which has suffered a severe economic recession due to its close proximity to Russia. Lithuania and other countries.
  The reason is that in the past two years, Italy has the highest per capita new crown death rate and the highest per capita debt among European countries. When Draghi becomes prime minister in February 2021, Italy’s public debt hits $2.9 trillion, the fifth-highest in the world. As the hardest hit by the financial crisis in 2008 and the European sovereign debt crisis in 2012, Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP) had been stagnant for a long time before the outbreak, and its GDP in 2019 was only 4% higher than that in 2000, while France and Germany were in the same period. GDP per capita increased by 16% and 25% respectively. The epidemic has further aggravated the economic situation and caused structural unemployment in the whole society, with as many as 60% of young people unable to find work.
  That’s why Draghi came to power. He has a Ph.D. in economics from MIT and led Italy’s finance ministry to rescue the depreciating lira in the turbulent early 1990s. Since then, he has served as the head of the Bank of Italy and then the head of the European Central Bank. When the euro zone sovereign debt crisis was at its worst in 2012, Draghi and Merkel emphasized that “whatever it takes” to save the euro, known as “Super Mali” Oh”.

  As Italy’s rare “technocratic” prime minister in recent years, Draghi has played a sedative role in Italy since taking office. He instituted aggressive vaccine distribution and economic recovery plans, launching a series of youth-focused economic reforms. But what really matters is that only Draghi, with his good reputation in Brussels, can assure the EU that Italy can use the EU recovery fund of up to 200 billion euros efficiently. Thanks to an external “blood transfusion”, Italy’s economic growth rate will increase to 6.5% in 2021, and the credit rating agency “S&P Global Ratings” has upgraded its debt outlook from “stable” to “positive”.
  A noteworthy detail is that Italian public opinion previously believed that the key reason why Draghi’s ruling coalition will not break down quickly is that Italy is still waiting for the second “recovery fund” from the EU. If the government collapses at this moment, it will affect Italy’s implementation of its economic recovery plan and will hinder the budget review in the second half of the year. Albertazzi, a professor of political science at the University of Surrey, therefore speculated that Draghi’s government could remain intact until at least the autumn.
  However, when Draghi chose to be consistent with most Western countries on Russia and Ukraine, he ignored that the Italian society, which has just regained confidence, is extremely sensitive to “various factors that may affect the economy.” Overall, the proportion of Italians who support “peace” is only 3% higher than that of Germany, but when it comes to “whether they support cutting economic ties with Russia”, the proportion of Italians who oppose it is 10 percentage points higher than that of Germans. In addition, unlike most Germans who support increased military spending, as many as 63% of Italians believe that although Europe is no longer a “peace continent”, there is no need to increase defense spending. Only over 10 percent of Italians agree to “spend more” on security matters.
  The polling data is already clearly reflected in the election. The Five Star Movement, which was originally the largest party in parliament, faced an unprecedented Waterloo in June’s local elections, winning only about 3 percent of the vote. The latest polls also show that the support rate of the “Five-Star Movement” has hit a new low, with only 13% of the country as a whole, less than half of that in 2018.
  Le Dick, an emeritus professor of comparative politics at York University in Canada, who has long been concerned about the European political situation, pointed out to China News Weekly that in recent years, affected by global polarization and populist waves, there have been cases in European countries where traditional political parties are difficult to stabilize and “dominate”, The situation in which the left, center and right parties are forced to govern together. Among them, southern Europe, which has been most affected by the financial crisis since 2008, is the most obvious, and Italy is no exception. This institutional problem also determines Draghi’s current fate.
  In order to achieve the goal of Italy’s economic recovery, Draghi, who was an economist, also formed the “widest coalition government” that surpassed his predecessors. Except for the far-right Italian Brotherhood Party who refused to join, the Draghi coalition government included almost all Italians. political party. Antonio Tagani, vice-president of Force Italia, pointed out that no one else could bring so many parties together. But the rupture of the coalition came in a split second when the parties suffered a slump in support over Draghi’s decision.
  Teresa Colatena, a researcher at the Rome branch of the European Council on Foreign Relations who has long studied Italian foreign policy, pointed out early in the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that Draghi’s overly aggressive military and political support for Ukraine could undermine Italy’s balance of political power. Today, Italy appears to have “fixed the damage”.

Tourists gradually return to Venice in Venice, Italy, on March 12. Figure/Visual China
To reproduce the differentiation situation during the European debt crisis?

  After Draghi’s resignation, Italian President Mattarella announced that national elections would be held on September 25. Polls show that the far-right Italian Brotherhood Party, the only far-right party that has not joined Draghi’s government, has soared recently. It currently exceeds 22%, leading all parties, while the entire right-wing camp may win 221 of the 400 seats in the House of Representatives. also won a majority in the Senate. That means Draghi’s unsuccessful “European turn” could lead to Italy’s first big victory for conservatives since 2008, with Giorgio Meloni, the leader of Italy’s fraternal party, expected to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
  Italian stocks fell 1.6% on the day Draghi’s government ended. Nicholas Nobier, deputy director of Oxford Economics, warned that investors were concerned about a marked slowdown in the second half of Italy’s “post-Draghi era”. In addition, the EU is deeply skeptical that the new right-wing government can make good use of the EU’s second “recovery fund”.
  However, all parties are more worried that Draghi’s exit means that major European countries will intensify differences on their policies towards Russia and Ukraine. Among EU member states, Italy’s industrial output value is second only to Germany, but as one of Europe’s five largest economies, Italy’s position in European decision-making has been unable to compare with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom for many years. Draghi’s coming to power is regarded by analysts as constructing a new “power triangle” of the EU in a true sense. On June 16, Draghi, Macron and Scholz took the train bound for Kyiv together, becoming a symbolic symbol.
  Draghi is not an “anti-Russian politician” and prefers to see his performance in the Ukraine crisis as a push for European integration. Unlike Conte and other populist politicians who often express “EU skepticism”, Draghi emphasized the important role of Europe and transatlantic relations in Italy’s politics and economy in his inaugural speech. Like Germany, as a defeated country in World War II, Italian political circles usually avoid mentioning “national interests” and “geopolitics” to avoid causing too many associations with the history of fascism. But just as Scholz used the Ukraine crisis to push Germany to “embracing geopolitics” again, Draghi tried to redefine its “national interests” within the European framework, emphasizing that the pursuit of “national interests” is the real “return to Europe”.

  Ledik, an emeritus professor of comparative politics at York University in Canada, believes that although Draghi was the first to put forward more radical proposals such as “let Ukraine join the EU” after the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, he has been looking at Europe’s options from a strategic perspective in general. . On the energy issue, Draghi emphasized that “it is not possible to simply impose sanctions, but to ensure the diversification of energy supply”; on the defense issue, he is not keen on increasing the common military expenditure, but calls for improving the distribution of the defense system, “We Having 146 different defense architectures versus 34 in the U.S. is an extremely inefficient allocation of resources.”
  Regarding Italy’s interests in Europe, Draghi not only promoted Italy to become a key player in the Mediterranean region, but also emphasized the upgrading of partnerships with major allies such as Germany and France. In December 2021, he and Macron signed the Quirinal Palace Treaty, which comprehensively redefines French-Italian relations and draws a strategic framework for cooperation between the two countries in the fields of diplomacy, defense, immigration, and economy.
  Jason Davidson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, pointed out that Draghi’s abrupt exit would fundamentally change the Italian government’s stance, and a hoped-for right-wing government could urge Ukraine to negotiate with Russia to end the war. When asked who was responsible for the war, more than two-thirds of respondents in most European countries pointed to Russia, but in Italy, 39% believed It was Russia, 35 percent blamed Ukraine, and more than a quarter thought the U.S. was to blame. On the issue of whether to provide military aid to Ukraine, Italy is also the only country with a dominant voice.
  Draghi’s strategic vision of Italy’s participation in European integration could also be upended. Davidson believes that, given that the EU needs to reach an agreement before imposing sanctions, Draghi’s resignation means that the EU cannot further strengthen energy sanctions against Russia, and will deepen the division between southern European countries and extreme “anti-Russian” Central and Eastern European countries.
  Ledik pointed out that at a time when domestic political differences in European countries are intensifying, Draghi’s political ideas are difficult to realize in most countries. Taking the Western European camp that most supports European integration as an example, the newly formed Dutch government coalition has strengthened its support for European cooperation in the external, defense and economic fields, but these contents are mainly derived from the second largest party in the alliance, and therefore in the There is a strong uncertainty in the execution thereafter.
  ”Another intriguing detail is that in France, Le Pen de-emphasized her approach to Russia, skeptical of European integration; in some countries, such as Italy, the opposite is true. This shows that European countries have ended their short-lived’ A period of solidarity, going in a completely different direction.” Le Dijk said that now Europe lacks a “consensus builder” like Merkel who has been in power for a long time, and leaders of various countries need to resolve their internal differences before they can have a chance to promote transnational reconciliation. Mark Leonard, founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that European public opinion is changing, and the most difficult days may be yet to come. The “post-Draghi era” Europe may be like the previous European debt crisis. Divide so quickly.