How the Italian right ousted Mario Draghi – POLITICO
ROME — On a scorching afternoon in Rome, some of Italy’s most powerful politicians gathered in the shade of a luxury villa in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, sat down to a lunch of swordfish and salad and plotted to overthrow the government of Mario Draghi.
The Villa Grande host on Tuesday July 19 was Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire former prime minister who leads the center-right Forza Italia party. Alongside him was Matteo Salvini of the far-right League, with representatives of other groups and their aides.
Giorgia Meloni, the opposition leader who is now in pole position to become Italy’s next prime minister in a snap election this fall, urged the plotters by phone as talks continued the following day.
Within 24 hours, Draghi’s fate was sealed. The plotters had withdrawn their support for his grand coalition and the prime minister had no choice but to go to the presidential palace, where he resigned on Thursday morning.
Italy now faces months of turmoil. It will probably be several weeks after the September 25 elections before a new coalition can be formed.
The Italian political crisis is also a problem for the European Union. The central bank is trying to avoid an imminent recession, while balancing the need to control inflation with the risks of a new debt crisis.
As war rages in Ukraine and energy supplies dwindle, some Italian politicians are now wondering if the right really knows what it has done.
For Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, the coalition parties were “playing games with the future of the Italian people. The effects of this tragic choice will remain in our history,” he said.
The crisis for Draghi began a week earlier. After months of growing tensions within the coalition, the populist 5-Star movement refused to back it in a key confidence vote on a 26 billion euro aid package to ease pressure on the cost of life.
Draghi responded by offering to resign, but President Sergio Mattarella asked him to try to convince his detractors. He accepted and scheduled a new vote of confidence in Parliament for July 20.
The day before that vote, Berlusconi invited his allies to a meeting to discuss tactics over lunch.
Movie stars and fashionistas
The Appian Way is Rome’s most glamorous address, a historic road lined with monuments and catacombs that leads from the capital to the far reaches of the ancient empire. Famous residents of the area include movie stars like Gina Lollobrigida and Valentino, the 90-year-old fashion designer.
It was here, in his five-bedroom Villa Grande – which he bought 20 years ago and then lent to the late director Franco Zeffirelli – that Berlusconi gathered his colleagues for interviews.
Accompanied by his 32-year-old partner, Marta Fascina, the 85-year-old billionaire welcomed the guests to his terrace and started the discussions.
According to Berlusconi himself, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the “very disturbing and inexplicable behavior of the 5-star movement”, which sparked the crisis last week.
But another agenda was rapidly gaining momentum: the need to topple Draghi’s coalition and call a snap election. A person who was at the meeting said Salvini was the most open pusher for the right to head for an election.
But Berlusconi clearly felt the same way, the person said. He produced several pages of notes, with a 20-point electoral platform. “It included plans for tax reform, justice and pensions,” the person said. “This meeting was the first stage of the election campaign.”
It was uncomfortably hot. Guests sat and sweated on the terrace, overlooking gardens of aloe vera and Mediterranean pine trees. Lunch concluded with servings of frozen yogurt – Berlusconi is apparently on a health quest – and a side dish of frustration. Right-wingers were upset that Draghi chose to meet center-left Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta that morning by snubbing them.
They spoke of the need to review social benefits, to fight against illegal immigration, a tax amnesty and investments in nuclear energy. It looked like a program for a new government.
After six hours, Berlusconi decided it was time to call the prime minister himself. The right was clear on what it needed – a radical change of direction in Draghi’s administration, without the 5 Star Movement on board.
Berlusconi stayed at home while his Forza Italia colleague Antonio Tajani and Salvini traveled to Draghi’s residence for the 7:45 p.m. showdown. They demanded a reshuffling and overhaul of the government’s agenda.
It didn’t go well. When Salvini and Tajani left, it was clear to Draghi that the next day would be difficult.
The righties returned to Villa Grande and the talks continued late into the night, finally breaking up only at 12:30 a.m.
Wednesday dawned and Draghi’s moment of judgment had arrived. According to people familiar with his thinking, he believed he simply couldn’t afford to compromise.
As the unelected leader of a national unity government, chosen by the president to help pull the country out of the pandemic last year, Draghi felt he had no mandate to engage in deals policies. If he gave in to a series of demands for concessions from the right, it would be the start of a bargain that would never end, he thought.
So it was an angry prime minister who took his message to parliament. Having refused to accede to demands from the right, Draghi was told that Forza Italia, the League and 5Stars would not back him in the crucial vote of confidence he had called.
Berlusconi’s allies returned to Villa Grande after Draghi’s speech. Meloni, the 45-year-old leader of the opposition Brothers of Italy party, has repeatedly called for talks with Salvini. She was pushing for her fellow leaders to withdraw from Draghi’s coalition and call an election.
On Wednesday evening, the vote finally took place. Draghi won but had lost support from the right and the 5Stars. Afterwards, Salvini returned to Berlusconi’s villa for what was clearly a celebratory dinner.
Yet despite their victory, the right now fears it will also be blamed for bringing down Draghi in order to trigger a vote that polls suggested it would win. Draghi was a popular prime minister who had been urged by world leaders as well as thousands of ordinary Italians to stay.
Spokespersons for Forza Italia and the League denied plotting to impeach Draghi, insisting they only wanted him to lead a new government.
A League insider said the party only made its decision to pull out after Draghi’s “very tough” speech offering “no concessions” on Thursday. “That definitely influenced the decision,” the person said. “We wanted to stay in government, but not at any price.”
As for Draghi, he is apparently reconciled to his fate, according to a person familiar with the matter. He will spend the next few months leading an interim administration until a new government is formed. After conspiracies and ultimatums – and pan-fried fish lunches – the man nicknamed Super Mario would be “serene”.