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POLITICS

Italy’s ‘Super Mario’ Draghi wins confidence vote for new government

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday night secured final parliamentary approval for his government, meaning he can now focus on dealing with the country's unprecedented health and economic crisis.

Italy's 'Super Mario' Draghi wins confidence vote for new government
The Italian parliament's Lower House ahead of the vote of confidence on February 18th. Photo: AFP

The lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, overwhemingly backed the former European Central Bank (ECB) chief and his cabinet team of technocrats and politicians, with 535 votes in favour, 56 against and five abstentions.

READ ALSO: How will Italy's Covid-19 strategy change under the new government?

Given that nearly all parties have lined up behind the new executive, the near-unanimous result was not a surprise.

On Wednesday, Draghi easily won a first vote of confidence in the Senate, the upper chamber, by a 262-40 margin, with two abstentions.

Italy's new leader is taking over at a particularly difficult time, as the coronavirus pandemic has killed almost 100,000 people and sent the eurozone's third-largest economy plunging by a record 8.9 percent last year.

“There has never been in my long professional life a moment of such intense emotion and so much responsibility,” the 73-year-old economist said in his
inaugural speech at the Senate.

He pledged to use “all means” to fight the pandemic, starting with a faster vaccination programme. He also sketched out an ambitious reform plan, in line
with European Union expectations.

READ ALSO: Seven key quotes from the new Italian PM's first speech

Draghi, who has extensive contacts in the EU and the United States, was set to make his international debut as prime minister on Friday, taking part in a virtual summit of G7 nations.

The EU is set to help Italy's recovery with more than 200 billion euros ($240 billion) in loans and grants during 2021-2026.

Draghi has promised to reform Italy's stifling bureaucracy, labyrinthine tax code and snail-paced justice system, as well as focus on education, closing the gender gap on employment and fighting climate change.

Photo: AFP

The ex-ECB chief was unexpectedly called in to solve Italy's political crisis two weeks ago, after the collapse of Giuseppe Conte's previous centre-left government.

The man known as “Super Mario” for helping save the euro while at the ECB has since won surprisingly wide political backing, including from the far-right, eurosceptic League of Matteo Salvini.

“Me and the League have complete confidence in your government,” Salvini said in the Senate debate, after Draghi warned that supporting him also meant signing up to a more integrated EU and the idea that the euro single currency is irreversible.

According to Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of the Teneo consultancy, Draghi will need “delicate negotiations to persuade his political backers” to implement his agenda.

Parties have “traditionally pursued policies radically opposed (to Draghi's ideas) on multiple fronts, including the role of the state in the economy, corporate interventionism and taxation”, he said.

So, his “first 100 days in office should provide a good sense of what is achievable or not, especially concerning reforms that have been sidelined for decades”, Piccoli concluded.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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