Pleas pile up in Italy for PM Draghi to rethink exit

·3-min read

ROME (AP) — Pleas were piling up Sunday in Italy aimed at persuading Premier Mario Draghi to stay in office instead of resigning as he tried to do last week after being let down by a populist coalition partner.

Hundreds of mayors have signed an open letter. Union leaders and industrialists, who often have opposing agendas, have been united in pressing Draghi to keep on governing. Italy and other European nations are facing soaring energy costs, steep inflation, surging COVID-19 cases and the war in Ukraine. In addition, a severe drought is parching Italy.

By Sunday afternoon — three days after populist 5-Star Movement senators boycotted a confidence vote tied to an government energy relief bill — more than 80,000 citizens had signed a “Draghi stay” online petition, launched by former Premier Matteo Renzi, who heads a small centrist party in Draghi's 17-month-old government.

”Let's mobilize ourselves in every way to bring back Draghi to Chigi Palace (the premier's office),'' Renzi tweeted.

The letter originally grouped 11 mayors, including from Rome and Milan, but soon gained support from several hundred mayors of cities and towns, state TV said Sunday. The mayors cited the problems of everyday citizens as some of the “good reasons” Draghi should stay put. Financial markets consider the former European Central Bank chief as a pillar of solid fiscal governance for Italy, which is receiving billions in European Union pandemic recovery funds.

If Draghi has been moved by the entreaties, he wasn't saying.

The premier has been holed up in a countryside home mulling over what he'll tell Parliament on Wednesday. President Sergio Mattarella, who last week rebuffed Draghi's resignation, told him to lay out the political situation before lawmakers.

Clearly not budging was Giuseppe Conte, Draghi's predecessor, who triggered the crisis by having his 5-Star lawmakers walk out of the Senate vote because it contained a provision to build an incinerator in trash-choked Rome that the populists oppose.

Depending on support from his coalition partners ranging from the left to the right, Draghi had been forging ahead with economic and other reforms that are a requirement for Italy to receive 200 billion euros ($200 billion) in EU pandemic recovery funds.

His steadfast support for Ukraine, including sending military aid despite grumbling by the populists, has earned him statesman status in Europe.

Conte, whose left-leaning ruling coalition crumbled in 2021 amid pandemic struggles, over the weekend refused to pledge unwavering support for Draghi's national unity government. After huddling for hours with his squabbling Movement, Conte demanded that Draghi give the 5-Stars “guaranteed conditions of respect” and said his lawmakers could vote “from time to time” in favor of government measures.

Five-Star Sen. Gianmauro Dell'Olio insisted Sunday that if Draghi "wants to offer us peanuts, I don't believe that it's opportune for us to carry on with this government."

Ultimately, Mattarella must decide what to do if Draghi on Wednesday insists on resigning.

Mattarella could dissolve Parliament, triggering an early election as soon as late September. He could also see if there is political support for a limited-agenda government to stay in place until Italian lawmakers pass the national budget, necessary by year's end.

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