ROME – Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged ItalyPoliticians were polarized on Wednesday to unite behind his new government to help the country deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused, said Italy have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a more sustainable, just, and healthier nation for future generations.
Draghi vowed to lead an environmentally conscious, pro-European and digitally reformed government during a speech in the Senate marking the debut of his program. His cabinet is expected to win the obligatory vote of confidence in the Senate and Lower House after Draghi won broad support for the technical-political government that the Italian president asked to form as an emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Today, unity is not an option, it’s an obligation,” said Draghi to applause. “Obligation guided by what unites us all: Italian love.”
Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank who is widely credited with saving the euro, pledged a similar all-out effort to get the country out of the pandemic. Since the virus first erupted in Italy last year, the country has reported more than 94,000 COVID-19-related deaths, more than any other European country except the UK.
He said his administration’s main goal is to confront the pandemic and save Italian lives “at all costs,” including strengthening the public health care system, bringing civilian protection and armed forces into the country’s vaccination campaign and ensuring that families can cope with the economic impact of the lockdown.
“The virus is the enemy of all of us,” said Draghi, 73, as he urged politicians to put their personal and political interests aside and take up the same spirit of sacrifice that their parents and grandparents did after World War II.
The prime minister said Italy had an opportunity not seen since then to rebuild the country from the ground up using more than 200 billion euros ($ 241.2 billion) in European Union recovery funds. Draghi said his government would be “convincingly” pro-EU and pro-US, and that he envisions strengthening bilateral relations with France and Germany in particular.
Draghi’s government was inaugurated at the weekend, wrapping up several extraordinary weeks that saw Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s popular prime minister since June 2018, resign after key allies withdrew support for Conte’s pandemic response. After attempts to form a third Conte government failed, President Sergio Mattarella asked Draghi to form a high-profile non-political government.
Draghi’s 23-member cabinet includes politicians in most ministries but puts technical experts in a key role, particularly those responsible for ensuring that the funds Italy expects to receive are used according to EU criteria. About 37% of the allocated recovery funds should be used for environmental purposes, while 20% should be allocated for digital transformation.
Italy has one of the EU’s worst records in the use of designated EU funds, a trend Draghi seems to want to stop.
“Everything that is wasted is a crime we commit against future generations,” he said.
Draghi explained that Italians who have lost their livelihoods due to virus-related closures will be a top priority, citing women, young people and other casual workers who have borne the brunt of the lockdown measures. But he said some activities would be more protected than others, a sign that the government would prioritize industry and jobs according to a focus driven by the environment and technology.
He said a focus on training workers for sustainable high-tech jobs, especially in the backward south of Italy, would combat the dual problem of unemployment and the need to transform Italy’s economy, which contracted 8.8% last year.
Draghi quoted Pope Francis calling for a new approach to preserving the environment and Italy’s cultural and natural wealth. He said Italy’s tourism sector, which accounts for around 13% of GDP, should be helped to recover, but in a sustainable manner.
He’s drafted a number of planned reforms, including a major overhaul of the income tax system, greater investment in education and research, and making public administration more digital-friendly for ordinary citizens.
His speech to senators won praise from both left and right politicians. Democratic leader Nicola Zingaretti assured Italians that their country was “in good hands”. Right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini pledged his support, lauding Draghi’s calls for greater health care spending, tax cuts and public works projects.
“Great starting point,” Salvini tweeted. The league is on the board.
However, one of Salvini’s right-wing allies doubled down on his opposition. Georgia Melloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party, said her lawmakers would vote “no” in a vote of confidence, citing Draghi’s stern comments in particular about giving up national sovereignty for European cohesion.
“We will evaluate individual measures that generate votes, without giving up sovereignty, which we don’t recognize,” said Melloni.
Draghi’s government also has the backing of most of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, the largest party in the Italian Parliament. The vote of confidence drama is expected to focus on how many 5-star lawmakers abstained or voted against Draghi, given his appointment as prime minister split the movement.
Follow all AP pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.