«Super Mario», the assault on populism

 In Economy

Much is expected from Mario Draghi… And maybe not only in Italy.

Once more time in the history of the country, a technocrat/providential man has entered the Chigi Palace, the residence of Italy Prime Ministers. Already nicknamed “super Mario” since his mandate at the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi has succeeded in rallying, on his name and on the composition of his government, the near unanimity of the two Houses of Parliament.

His main mission is to prepare a reform and investment plan that will meet the conditions set out by Brussels and its European partners, for the allocation of funds intended for it under the European Recovery Plan. With 200 billion euros pledged (or about 11.5% of the country’s estimated nominal GDP for 20211 ), Italy is to be the first beneficiary of this European windfall,.

Mario Draghi awarded the most important positions to the most seasoned and devoted technocrats he has.

This will require not only time for Mario Draghi, but the assurance of strong support from the main political and influential forces in the country – whether directly or indirectly represented in Parliament. Time is running out for him. In principle, the new Prime Minister has two years before the general elections of 2023. Meanwhile, the presidential election – by indirect suffrage – next year, if it leads to the re-election of outgoing President Mattarella, would strengthen his position and would give him the moral support, which he will need. He will then have to cement the National Union from which he has just benefited for his appointment.

As might be expected, Mario Draghi has assigned the most important positions to the most seasoned and dedicated technocrats he has. He can also count on important intermediaries at the European Commission, starting with Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commissioner in charge of economic affairs. But he also knows how to manage subtle political arbitrations, leading to reserving seats for representatives of the main parties whose support he needed.

Elected on a promise and for a mission – as broad as it is – when it remains for him to detail his program of action, Mario Draghi, here as elsewhere, has been able to impose his priorities: to ensure the broadest possible commitment before setting out the modalities to achieve it. If he has yet to prove himself, his speech in Parliament leaves no doubt about Italy’s European involvement. Perhaps even more so than his predecessor, the other “super Mario” Monti in 2011, Mario Draghi needs the start of a decline in so-called populist parties. Already the curious Lega – 5 stars alliance had lead in the wing. Giuseppe Conte, from his ranks, was quite detached from it and succeeded in establishing himself as a real leader during the Covid-19 crisis, while the Lombardy of Matteo Salvini was particularly affected by the pandemic, without its representative demonstrating any skill in managing the crisis.

By asserting that Italy cannot be without Europe, nor Europe without Italy, the Italian Prime Minister recalls the place of his country in the continental concert.

A recent study intends to take stock of the rise and perhaps now the fall of populist parties. Since about the beginning of the 2010s, their common features, their ideological foundations, the correlations between their political influence, economic shocks and the political organization of our regions, as well as their achievements and their impact on the economies and societies of the countries where they came to power2 are thus put into perspective.

Thus, Mario Draghi’s accession to power marks a turning point in Italian political life which, I believe, will go beyond its borders. It is part of the broader dynamic that Joe Biden intends to instill in his allies, for example, by telling them that “America is back”. Yet Biden’s America may have learned from the populist appeal and this means wanting to be more pragmatic and concerned with the most fragile. By affirming that Italy cannot be without Europe, nor Europe without Italy, the Italian Prime Minister reasserts Italy’s commitment and the place of his country in the Continent.

As Angela Merkel prepares to leave her post and Emmanuel Macron is soon to be campaigning for reelection, it is at the European level that Mario Draghi may have to display the full measure of his leadership.

1 According to the latest OECD forecasts.

2 «The Political Economy of Populism» Sergei Guriev, Elias Papaioannou, october 13, 2020, dedicated to Roberto Alesina


Original French text and Cartoon ©Barret from Allnews.ch dated Feb 23rd.

1 26’384 deceased identified in April 25, 2020.

2 MES, European Mechanism of Stability.




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