The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Italy’s Mario Draghi resigns; new elections are set for September

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi submitted his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on July 21. (Italian Presidential Palace/Reuters)

ROME — Italy’s rancorous government collapse was finalized Thursday morning, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigning and new elections called for September.

Although Draghi tried to hold the government together after his first offer to resign was rejected by Italy’s president last week, his effort ended instead with recrimination and deepened divisions, bringing a crashing end to a period of relative political unity in the European Union’s third-largest economy.

The snap elections set for Sept. 25 favor a grouping of parties from the center right and far right.

For a year and a half, the centrist Draghi led a broad, left-to-right government, and he marshaled his reputation — built as Europe’s former top central banker — to increase Italy’s influence in Brussels and vouch forcefully for a hard European line against Russia in its war in Ukraine.

But leaders of several coalition parties signaled that they preferred something else.

“It’s over,” Draghi ally Matteo Renzi said Wednesday on the Senate floor, as three major coalition members, chafed by a day of testy negotiations, announced they wouldn’t participate in a make-or-break confidence vote.

Italy in crisis as president rejects premier Draghi’s offer to resign

Based on pure numbers, Draghi prevailed in the vote. But because the Five Star Movement, the League and Forward Italy decided not to take part, they effectively torpedoed the unity government.

The collapse became official Thursday morning, when Draghi met with President Sergio Mattarella and informed him of his resignation, once again. This time, Mattarella’s office said the president had “taken note” of the resignation and had asked Draghi’s government to remain in place as a temporary caretaker.

What comes next for Italy, after elections are held, could be very different.

The next government is likely to bring together a grouping of nationalist and center-right parties, including some that have held Euroskeptic and pro-Russian views. In recent days, some politicians loyal to Draghi had warned that Italy’s crisis was playing into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it’s unclear what sort of approach these parties would take once in power. Giorgia Meloni, whose nationalist Brothers of Italy is the country’s most popular party and lone opposition group, has vocally backed Ukraine against Russia.

“We must consider what [Draghi’s departure] would mean for the resistance to Putin,” Enrico Letta, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, said in a phone interview. “Draghi has been and is a point of reference for all European leaders.”

Many political experts had expected that Draghi would be able to persuade parties to recommit to the coalition. When he tried to resign last week, in response to a revolt over a bill by the Five Star Movement, Mattarella urged him to return to Parliament and test his coalition one more time.

But by midafternoon Wednesday, fractures were evident everywhere: between Draghi and the right, between the right and the amorphous Five Star Movement, with the parties blaming one another for the breakdown. The parties, in recent months, had been increasingly at odds. Italy, under any circumstance, is required to hold a national vote by early next year — giving the parties incentive to differentiate themselves in the lead-up.

“The desire to move forward together has gradually faded,” Draghi said in a Wednesday morning Senate address.

In that address, occasionally raising his voice, Draghi celebrated the government’s work in helping Italy through the worst of the pandemic emergency and, more recently, in scrambling to obtain alternative energy sources amid the war in Ukraine. But he also issued a stern message, asking the coalition parties to recommit and end any attempts to subvert the government agenda. It was his effort to ensure that were he to shepherd his coalition to the finish line, it wouldn’t be messy.

“We need a new pact of trust — sincere and concrete,” Draghi said. “Are you ready to rebuild this pact?”

But he didn’t go out of his way to entice the populist Five Star Movement by mentioning its pet projects. And he took a veiled dig at the nationalist League, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has voiced support for striking taxi drivers, whose protests Draghi called “violent” and “unauthorized.”

It soon became clear that the odds of a deal were faltering.

Before the confidence vote, parties from the far right and the center right had said in a joint note that they were all right with Draghi as leader — so long as the Five Star Movement wasn’t a part of the government. But Draghi had said he wanted to preside only over the widest possible coalition — including the Five Star Movement. Because he was unelected — handpicked by Mattarella to lead a unity government during a 2021 period of government crisis — he said he needed the widest possible backing to carry on.

In times of crisis, Italy’s president plays an outsize role. After previous government breakdowns, Mattarella has helped the country patch together new coalitions and avoid snap elections.