ROME – Italian Premier Mario Draghi said Wednesday his government has accomplished most of what it set out do to in fighting the pandemic and restoring economic growth — signaling for the first time that he may be ready to run for the Italian presidency and return the running of the government back to political parties.
Italian media have been speculating for weeks about Draghi’s possible presidential ambitions, given that the seven-year mandate of President Sergio Mattarella expires in February and the broad-based support that Draghi had enjoyed as premier from Italy’s fractious political parties has begun to erode.
The Italian presidency has limited powers and is largely ceremonial. But the president plays a key role in resolving political impasses, and having the internationally respected Draghi in the Quirinale Palace would send a signal of Italian stability and credibility for seven more years.
Draghi, 74, didn’t respond directly Wednesday when asked repeatedly about his future at a year-end news conference.
“My personal destiny matters absolutely not at all,” he said. “I don’t have particular aspirations of one type or another. I’m a man, a nonno (grandfather) if you like, at the service of institutions.”
But he stressed that neither he nor his government were essential to Italy’s continued fight against the pandemic or its implementation of its 261 billion-euro ($294 billion) recovery plan, which envisages billions in investments in sustainable development, digital transformation and structural reforms.
“We have created conditions so that work on the (plan) can continue,” he said. “The government has created these conditions, independent of who will be (in charge). People are always important, but the other aspect is that it’s also important that the government is supported by the majority” in parliament.
Just this week, the Financial Times opined that Draghi would serve Italy best by moving into the presidency, since his government could last at most a few more months before political forces get “election fever” before a scheduled 2023 parliamentary vote.
The other leading candidate for president, who is backed by the center-right, is ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Draghi demurred when asked Wednesday if he thought Berlusconi was a viable candidate, saying it's not for him to evaluate possible heads of state.
The Italian president had called on Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, to lead a broad-based government in February after a political crisis that saw the collapse of Giuseppe Conte’s government. It was a delicate moment in which the country needed to assert credible and stable leadership to persuade the European Commission to entrust it with billions in pandemic recovery grants and loans, and “Super Mario" was seen as having the gravitas in Italy and European capitals to get the job done.
Draghi recalled that his government had been born at the request of Mattarella, and said it had done “much of what it was called to do,” thanks to the support of the political forces that backed it, from the center-left Democratic Party to the center-right Forza Italia.
He noted that Italy, where the outbreak first erupted in Europe in February 2020, has vaccinated more than 85% of over 12s, and that economic growth is predicted at about 6% this year, after losing nearly 9% last year. Italy is currently seeing a rise in cases, but is still faring better than most other Western European countries.