The Irish Times take on the Italian presidency: Mario Draghi’s decision

Without formal candidates, with opaque multi-round voting and intense behind-the-scenes negotiations, the process of selecting a new Italian president is not unlike a papal conclave. The outcome of the ongoing maneuvers to find a successor to Sergio Matterella, whose mandate is due to end on February 3, could have serious consequences for Italian politics – and for the European Union.

The main candidate is Mario Draghi, the current Prime Minister. During his 11 months as head of government, the technocrat has provided the stability he desperately needed after a period of crisis that culminated in the Covid-19 pandemic. He oversaw a successful vaccination campaign, restored market confidence and engaged Italy in a program of structural reforms aimed at reviving the flagging economy. The former head of the European Central Bank oversaw the disbursement of 191 billion euros in loans and grants under the EU’s 750 billion euro recovery fund. Italy is the largest recipient of funding under the scheme, which is backed for the first time by common EU debt, so the EU has a big stake in Draghi’s success.

As president, he would retain broad powers, with the final say in appointing prime ministers and a key role in managing political crises. But if, as many believe, Draghi is what keeps the current national unity government going, would his departure for the Quirinal Palace cause the administration to collapse? It’s a question that has rattled the political establishment, where tactical maneuvering is underway ahead of a third round of presidential voting.

Keeping the 74-year-old in his current role would please Brussels and avoid the immediate prospect of an election, but it would not guarantee stability. For Draghi, not winning the presidency, after hinting at his interest in the role, could weaken his position. And with little chance of him staying beyond the 2023 election, his authority will begin to wane as Election Day approaches. Moving upstairs may be his best chance to retain his relevance and power in Italian politics.

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