Could Mario Draghi be the new president of the Republic?

photo_camera mario draghi

With only three months to go before the election of the new President of the Republic for the 2022-29 seven-year term, what could be called the "war for the Quirinal" has already begun. Names and names are being bandied about, although in reality the presidential elections show that far fewer people have a real chance of becoming Italy's new head of state than one might think. 

Less than a year ago, before Mario Draghi received from President Mattarella the "incarico" to form a government (3 February), the former governor of the Bank of Italy (2006-11) and also governor of the European Central Bank (2011-18) was an almost certain candidate to succeed the veteran Sicilian jurist and politician. But everything was precipitated when Draghi was less than a year away from that possible election: Matteo Renzi brought down the centre-left coalition that held the government, Mattarella took the decision to seek a "high profile" government; and the final consequence was a call to Draghi, who accepted the presidential commission and ten years later had already formed the third and foreseeably last government of the 18th Legislature. 

Now the time has come to find a successor for Mattarella who, at the age of eighty, wants nothing to do with a second consecutive term in office, and who longs to retire as soon as possible to his native Palermo. But, in Draghi's case, circumstances have changed, and very much so: his government is making a real comeback in "record" time, can achieve GDP growth of more than 7% this year (compared to the 8.9% lost in 2020) and has just presided, in style, over the G-20, turning Rome for a few days into the world's economic capital. 

Draghi meets the necessary profile to be the new president of the Republic: a convinced Europeanist (it was he who saved the single currency), as were Ciampi, Napolitano and Mattarella; prime minister, as were Segni, Leone, Cossiga and Ciampi; former governor of the Bank of Italy, which Ciampi also was; a man of proven honesty and international prestige; and with a high level of approval among both the political class and the transalpine population. He even meets the age requirement: he has just turned 74, just one more than Mattarella had when he was elected president in January 2015 and within the age range (between 60 and 75 years of age) in which the tenants of the Quirinal Palace, the seat of the presidency of the Republic, have traditionally moved at the time of receiving the presidential election. 

From there, once the formal requirements have been fulfilled, come the reasons for the "no" to his presidential election, which, in my opinion, outweigh all of the above. The first and most important reason is that removing Draghi from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers to make him the Head of State would lead to an almost immediate call for elections, since there have never been two non-political governments in a row and there is no figure of his stature to head a new Executive (not even Daniele Franco, the current Minister of Economy and Finance). And it goes without saying that the party with the second largest number of MPs (Salvini's Lega) has been calling for early elections for years, as have Meloni's Brothers of Italy. This would make it very difficult to form a new "maggioranza" government


And here comes the main stumbling block: the particularity of this legislature. After the "referendum" held in September 2020 on the "taglio" or reduction in the number of parliamentarians, which meant that the Lower House, from the next general election, would go from 630 to 400 members, and the Upper House from 315 to 200, it seems clear that practically half of the current parliamentarians will not be able to revalidate their seats. A third will certainly not repeat because the fact is, as we have just recalled, that the two Houses will be reduced by a third of their members, and to this must be added those who will see their party lose representation (the clearest case is the Five Star Movement, which is facing its latest and umpteenth debacle), plus those who are due to retire; those who are in the second or third levels of each party; and those who are at odds with the leaders of their respective parties, and who, consequently, will be left off the electoral lists. 

So for all of them it is best for Draghi to remain prime minister (and not president of the Republic) until the end of the legislature, scheduled for March 2023. And it so happens that it is precisely these parliamentarians (together with the representatives of the regions, who represent around 10% of the total electorate) who, by secret ballot, are to elect the new head of state in the first week of February 2022.  

But it is also Draghi himself who probably does not have the slightest desire or intention of succeeding Mattarella. This PhD in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has already worked for a full decade for the Directorate General of the Treasury (during the nineties of the last century) and, as we said, has also been governor of the Bank of Italy and the ECB. Married with two children, he probably has a similar situation to Mattarella: he wants to retire definitively from public life (by the way, he owns up to ten mansions, so there's no shortage of "retirement places") after so much time spent in public life. When elections are called in March 2023, and it will probably take between a month and a half and three months to form a government, Draghi will be about to turn 76, the ideal time for such a retirement. 

On the other hand, appointing Draghi as President of the Republic would, in practice, render him useless in a very substantial way: he would cease to manage European funds in order to be the guarantor of the proper functioning of national institutions. And it seems clear that if Draghi is making the superhuman effort to put himself at the head of the national government it is because he has seen in the so-called "Recovery Fund" a unique opportunity to modernise the country's increasingly stagnant productive apparatus, which since 2000 has led to recession or rickety growth, along with an enormous increase in public debt, being the constant and common notes. And he will not leave until, as he has said, Parliament withdraws its confidence in him, which, at least for the moment, does not seem likely to happen. He does not want to leave his work unfinished and going to the Quirinal would mean doing so. 

One thing must be made clear about whether Draghi is elected or not: how unpredictable Italian politics can be. Nobody expected Leone to be president, and he was (1971); even less the veteran Pertini, who was going on holiday in 1978 when he was called to become the new head of state; nor was it expected that it could be Scalfaro, a second-rank Christian Democrat (DC) whom "Tangentopoli" and "Cosa Nostra" turned into an impromptu president of the Republic in 1992; even less was the veteran communist Napolitano, always in the shadow of Togliatti, Berlinguer and Ingrao, who in the end was not only elected in 2006, but even revalidated his mandate in 2013; and what about Sergio Mattarella, who at the time of being elected head of state (2015) was giving lectures to university students in his native Sicily. So at this point the bet is that Draghi will not be president of the Republic, for the reasons outlined above; but, if he is, let it not be said that he has not been warned by the writer of these lines. The answer to all this, in less than three months. 

Pablo Mart√≠n de Santa Olalla Saludes is Professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book Historia de la Italia republicana, 1946-2021 (Madrid, S√≠lex Ediciones, 2021).