Draghi no longer comes to the rescue of Italy


Italian politics bears a striking resemblance to South American telenovelas: filled with episodes of unrequited love, bizarre couplings and multiple breakups. The narrative lines reach a crisis climax before an unexpected turn of events settles everything – the deus-ex-machina moment. It’s the climax of ancient dramas when a god is swung across the stage by a machine to rip out a troublesome character who can’t otherwise be written into the script.

Italy’s left, led by the Democratic Party, is now hoping for a moment of deus ex-machina after its electoral strategy failed with the sudden departure of a centrist ally just four days after agreeing to join forces against the right rising. But who will play God? The party is betting on the sacred aura of Mario Draghi.

Led by Enrico Letta, the Democratic Party is still reeling from the collapse this weekend of its alliance with the centrist Carlo Calenda. If he can form a government after the September poll, Letta says he will continue Draghi’s policies and avenge the sudden and rude departure of the former central banker. He accuses the right of overthrowing Draghi and betraying Italy’s interests by forcing early elections.

The problem? Draghi himself has no intention of playing the savior in this drama. Those who still hope that the man who saved the euro will enter the heat of the moment to influence the result will inevitably be disappointed. He won’t.

Throughout his tenure, Draghi has made it clear that he is serving a specific mandate, for which he was appointed, not elected. He was entrusted with a mission by the President of the Republic which consisted of guiding the Italian pandemic recovery plan in the right direction in order to obtain funding from the European Union in exchange for reforms.

It was the job of a manager, not a politician – and Draghi showed no appetite for the dirty politics needed to retain power in Rome. Given the antics of the past two months, who can blame him. He made his historic reputation by saving the Euros in 2012. He doesn’t want his name dragged in the mud now. Nor does he want it to be exploited in the ongoing electoral game.

The Democratic Party will find it impossible to do Draghi without Draghi. To brag about pursuing the Draghi agenda without the participation of the technocrat will be a tough sell. Draghi’s job is done and the politicians know it. Giorgia Meloni, Brothers of Italy leader and leader, may lack specifics on just about everything, but it’s the loudest voice in the room crying out for more freedom and less statehood. For Letta’s party to be compelling, she needs to do more than rehearse Draghi, Draghi, Draghi.

Letta had the good instinct to pursue a broad coalition of centrists on the far left. But his so-called campo largo – which roughly translates to wide field – demanded so much flexibility from everyone that he ended up stretching to breaking point. And that is indeed what happened. Calenda, who pulled the plug, broke the deal arguing that some members of the alliance were just as populist as the right and even had a voting record against the Draghi government.

There is now talk of a Terzo Polo – a group of centrists who could come together to offer voters a third option. It sounds complicated. It’s also inefficient. The more divisions there are among centre-left forces, the better for Meloni, who is rejoicing after the latest drama. Polls indicate that Letta’s Italian Democratic Party is neck and neck with Meloni’s brothers. But she has a viable – albeit argumentative – coalition. The centre-left has no alliance to beat the right-wing led by Meloni. Their numbers just don’t match.

This can all be fun, but Italian life after Draghi won’t be much fun. Moody’s reminded investors – and Rome – of the cost of political turmoil by downgrading the country’s outlook to negative after Draghi’s departure. Gone is the famous “Draghi put” – his ability to appease the markets – which capped Italian yields for most of his tenure.

The few weeks left before the vote are a life in Italian politics. And anything can happen. But there is now a greater likelihood that a right-wing government will hold the keys to Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s residence, come autumn. Letta and her Italian Democratic Party should waste no time chasing the ghost of Draghi.

More from this writer and others on Bloomberg Opinion:

Meloni will continue to play with Salvini. Wait.: Maria Tadeo

The woman who could lead Italy to the far right: Rachel Sanderson

Italy’s romance with meritocracy has been a recurring, recurring one: Adrian Wooldridge

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Maria Tadeo is Bloomberg Television’s European correspondent based in Brussels where she covers European politics, economics and NATO.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion