Italy, like the US, has recently completed experiments in populist governance. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigration League formed a coalition after general elections in 2018, but the coalition broke up after less than a year. As in America, the new head of government is an established figure. But unlike President Biden, Prime Minister Mario Draghi is better known as a politician than a technocrat: an economist with a doctorate from MIT who heads the Italian Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Italy and the European Central Bank. He shuns social media and rarely gives public interviews or speeches.
“When I was prime minister, Mario Draghi was the director general of the Treasury. I know him personally and professionally, “Lamberto Dini told me. He led the government in 1995-96, “He was very quiet. He would only call when there was a problem to solve, and he would solve it. He’s not just a technocrat; he is a great political figure. ”
Mr Draghi, 73, is best known for rescuing the euro during its debt crisis in 2012. He promised in his speech that the ECB will do “whatever is necessary” to save the eurozone, stopping international speculation on the currency.
This month President Sergio Mattarella appointed Mr Draghi to head the national unity government. Unlike in the US, there is no populist reaction to the new established leader. In contrast, the anti-establishment Five Star League and Movement was so eager to join the new cabinet that they abandoned their previous eurosceptic positions. The coalition also includes the center-left Democratic Party, the free market Forza Italia, and the socialist-democratic Free and Equals Party. The only opposition party is the far-right Brothers of Italy.
The unelected Mr Draghi was very popular with voters. According to a survey by Noto Sondaggi, Italy’s leading poll, 56% of Italians trust him – the highest number recorded in two decades. Markets seem to share the feeling: The Italian bond yield benchmark hit a record low after the appointment.
Bringing together a diverse coalition will be a challenge for the new prime minister. For starters, he reappointed Luigi Di Maio Five Star as foreign minister. Mr. Party Di Maio opened Italy to the Chinese Communist Party by signing the Belt and Road Initiative. Mr Draghi is committed to Italy’s alliance with the US and needs to persuade the Five Star Movement to change course.
In a country where Covid has been particularly hard-hit, Mr Draghi will also manage an aid program larger than the Marshall Plan – $ 240 billion from the European Union’s Recovery Fund. He oversaw the ECB’s quantitative easing after the 2008 financial crisis, and he appointed League members to the major economics ministries, a signal that he plans to increase productivity by reducing taxes and reforming inefficient bureaucracies. Expenditures will be directed carefully to businesses with prospects for success and unemployment.
“It looks like we’ve come to an agreement,” Giovanni Orsina, historian and dean at Rome’s LUISS University, told me. Voters vote for anti-establishment parties, but they lack the competence to lead. Italy will find out if a trusted leader can satisfy popular discontent by combining expertise with a different populist vision.
Ms. Bocchi is Joseph Rago’s Memorial Fellow of the Journal.
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Appears in the print edition of February 25, 2021.