In Italy, sighs of relief as Mattarella stays put

Call an Italian MP today, and you’ll most likely hear a note of relief in their voice – similar to that of a high school student who has passed the “Esame di Maturità” (a school leaving exam so dreaded in Italy than the Baccalaureate in France.)

The Italian parliament re-elected the 80-year-old head of state, Sergio Mattarella, for a second term this weekend.

  • The Quirinal – the Italian presidential palace that has housed Mattarella for seven years, and now possibly seven more (Photo: Wikimedia)

The ice-blue-eyed Catholic left-winger from Sicily was backed by almost all of Italy’s parties, including the far-right League, the moderate left-wing Democratic Party (PD) and the post-populist 5 Star Movement (M5S). .

It took eight ballots to elect Mattarella – but the government led by Mario Draghi was strengthened, along with the social-democratic PD which is a key part of Draghi’s government. On the other hand, the populist parties came out weaker, in particular the far-right League.

Admittedly, multiple ballots for an Italian president are not that unusual. In 1971, for example, it took 23 rounds to elect the Christian Democrat Giovanni Leone. Re-election is also something of personal triumph for Mattarella, albeit undesirable.

During the last months of his mandate, Mattarella had repeatedly stressed that he wanted to devote himself to his family after seven years spent at the Quirinale, the palace in Rome that once housed the kings of Italy and is now the official residence of the Head of State.

Ahead of the vote, Italian newspapers published photos of his staff packing their boxes for the move to Rome’s elegant Parioli district, where they plan to live in retirement.

Still, a re-election of the president is unusual. This had happened only once before, in 2013, when the aftermath of the financial crisis was still raging. The parliament, fearing that political instability could lead the country to a Greece-like scenario, re-elected then-president Giorgio Napolitano.

Today, the spread between Italian 10-year government bonds and German bunds is under control and Italy’s economic outlook looks promising. According to IMF estimates, GDP is expected to grow by 3.8% this year. A few days ago, the third so-called technological unicorn in Italian history, a space logistics company, based near Lake Como, announced that it would be listed on Nasdaq later this year.

Despite Italy’s relative stability, Mattarella’s services were still needed.

The main reason is that none of the parties was strong enough to impose its own candidate.

Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini tried to play kingmaker by proposing Elisabetta Casellati, president of the Senate and member of Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia. But she did not get enough support from center-right parties.

As for the Social Democrats, the PD, they did not have enough seats to elect anyone they wanted. And yet PD leader Enrico Letta played a key role in playing a decisive role in ensuring that votes were ultimately cast for the incumbent head of state.

“There was definitely a kingmaker, and that was Enrico Letta [the PD secretary]“, said Nadia Urbinati, professor of political theory at Columbia University.

A second reason for Mattarella’s re-election is confidence. Although the pandemic is winding down, the situation remains difficult for many ordinary Italians. More than 300 people died on Monday (January 31) alone – and Mattarella is the most trusted politician among citizens.

A third reason for Mattarella’s re-election is the personal interest of Italian parliamentarians. If Mario Draghi had been elected in place of Mattarella, as some high-level politicians had hoped, Parliament might not have been able to form a new government, triggering a general election that would have jeopardized the salaries – and pensions – of many Members.

Mattarella thanked parliament after his re-election and said he would respect its decisions, pledging to “interpret the expectations and hopes” of Italians.

Some media have pointed out that since the presidential term lasts seven years, Mattarella could end up staying at the Quirinal Palace for 14 years, almost becoming a kind of monarch.

“The Italian constitution does not expressly stipulate a ban on re-election,” said Gaetano Azzariti, professor of constitutional law at La Sapienza University in Rome. “In democratic systems, it is a fundamental principle that any high-level monocratic position is temporary,” he said.

Several MPs told EUobserver that Mattarella only accepted a second term “out of a sense of duty”. But, they say, his presence will improve the prospects for stability and consistency.

His re-election risks having several consequences on the Italian political landscape.

The Italy of the two presidents?

First, he strengthened the government of national unity led by former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Mattarella and Draghi respect each other and are both staunchly pro-EU and pro-NATO, and this new, post-reelection era has been dubbed “the Italy of two presidents” under which Draghi will continue to exercise his economic savvy. and financial. , and Mattarella will exert its political capital and gravity.

Rarely in the history of the Italian Republic has there been greater harmony between the Head of State and the Prime Minister.

Letta’s leadership of the quarrelsome PD has also been strengthened while Berlusconi’s failed run for the presidency is widely seen as proof of the 85-year-old tycoon’s growing weakness.

Meanwhile, the M5S continued to show major splits. M5S’s Luigi Di Maio, and the country’s foreign minister, would have liked to see Draghi replace Mattarella. But the former Prime Minister and political leader of the M5S Giuseppe Conte bet on Elisabetta Belloni, diplomat and current director of a department which coordinates the secret services.

As for Salvini, “it was his big debacle,” said Urbinati, the Columbia professor.

“It is now clear that the League is divided: on one side there is him, and on the other there is the economic development minister Giancarlo Giorgetti, who is linked to business interests,” Urbinati said. “They have different strategies.”

By backing Mattarella, Salvini also infuriated her ally Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Ultranationalist Brotherhood of Italy, one of the few parties that did not vote for the incumbent president.

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