Mario Draghi’s governing bandwagon has been voted in. Expect a bumpy ride

By PiAP’s Principal Investigator Dr. Daniele Albertazzi and the University of Turin’s Dr. Davide Pellegrino. This post first appeared on The Loop, the EPRC’s Political Science Blog on 23/02/21.

On 13 January 2020, Matteo Renzi, leader of the personal, centrist party, Italia Viva (IV), withdrew his ministers from Giuseppe Conte’s second government. This triggered a government crisis that would end Conte’s time as Prime Minister.

Renzi was hoping to drive a wedge between the Democratic Party (PD) and its governing ally the Five Star Movement (M5S), restoring some visibility to his ailing party.

Though Renzi managed to get rid of Conte, he failed to give Italy a government that made a break with the past. Indeed, as the dust has settled, ‘government crisis’ has given way to yet more political continuity.

The usual suspects, sneaking in the back door

New PM Mario Draghi is a former head of the European Central Bank, with no previous direct involvement in politics. This clearly qualifies him as a technocrat. Yet his executive is staffed by many who are not just from the parties backing him, but appear to have been picked by them. Government positions have been gifted to the usual party insiders.

Draghi’s executive is staffed by as many as 15 political figures, alongside eight independents. This mirrors the size of the parliamentary groups that have jumped on his bandwagon. The executive is composed of five ministers from the M5S, and three each from the PD, League and Forza Italia. Parliamentary minnows gain one ministry each. See the table below.

A table show the political composition of Mario Draghi's new cabinet. It lists each new cabinet minister by name and their party affiliation, whilst also stating which party held the ministry prior to Draghi forming a government in the 2nd half of February 2021

Expelled by Renzi’s scheming, some of the usual suspects are taking revenge by sneaking in through the back door. Indeed, almost all ‘political’ ministers in the new government have already served in centre-left and centre-right governments. Several have been allowed to continue in the roles they held under Conte, while a few held ministerial positions years ago under Silvio Berlusconi.

Five Star Movement: anti-establishment no more

This has created an impossible situation for the populist M5S. It has received less than half the ministries it had controlled under the previous government, down from 10 to 4. Now, it must govern alongside ministers from Berlusconi’s hated governments.

Since the 2018 election, the M5S has reluctantly agreed to govern alongside almost all major Italian parties. Worse, it is now backing a former head of the European Central Bank as PM, having repeatedly rejected the idea that ‘technocrats’ be allowed to rule. This is hard to explain to the party’s grassroots. A considerable number of M5S MPs and senators refused to back Draghi’s government in Parliament. Its decision to back Draghi now may lead to a party split.

League: the elephant in the room

Unlike the M5S, the League won’t struggle to gain support from its members and electorate for backing Draghi. This is particularly the case now that the party controls the Ministry of Economic Development (see table). The League will enjoy a seat at the top table as the considerable amount of money coming from the EU via the Recovery Fund will be allocated to various projects. Unlike the M5S, the League’s problem is not ideological but all about competition within the right.

Brothers of Italy can feel smug about its consistent refusal to govern with the left, pointing to the League’s hypocrisy in cosying up to its former enemies

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the populist radical right party Brothers of Italy (FdI), will remain in opposition. She has an effective story to tell the electorate. According to the polls, she has been on an upward trajectory since 2019, much of it at the League’s expense. FdI will now feel smug about its consistent refusal to govern with the left. It can point to the League’s hypocrisy in cosying up to its former enemies.

FdI does not need to grow hugely to claim leadership of the right-wing coalition that fought the 2018 general election. It now attracts 17% of the vote, against the League’s 23%. If, as is likely, the same right-wing coalition as in 2018 is formed for the 2023 general election, and were it to win, then Meloni could, in the event of the FdI securing just one vote more than the League, claim the prime ministership.

As the official opposition in the period to come, FdI will get plenty of television coverage. The party will also chair important Parliamentary committees, including the one overseeing the public service broadcaster RAI.

A thorn in their side

The League is in an impossible situation. It will probably keep ‘one foot in and one foot out of government‘, becoming a thorn in Draghi’s side. The League will obstruct initiatives the right-wing electorate may find tough to stomach, although it lacks the power to block them entirely. For each percentage point the party loses, pressure will mount for the leadership to protest more loudly. If FdI continues to grow, the pressure will be even greater.

Governing with a heterogenous majority of sworn enemies responsible for managing enormous sums of money from the EU’s Recovery Fund was never going to be easy

So, expect Salvini to engage in much infighting during the months ahead. He will choose his enemies and friends in government with great care. In fact, the show has already begun. Before Draghi’s first speech in Parliament, Salvini attacked the Minister of Health and his collaborators over the possibility of a new lockdown.

Governing with a heterogenous majority of sworn enemies responsible for managing enormous sums of money from the EU’s Recovery Fund was never going to be easy. But the problems besetting the M5S and League make that situation decidedly worse. Infighting between the governing parties looks likely to be a permanent feature of the Draghi government.

“Populist electoral competition in Italy: the impact of sub-national contextual factors” Published

Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Daniele Albertazzi and the Project’s Italy focused Research Fellow Mattia Zulianello have had their academic article “Populist electoral competition in Italy: the impact of sub-national contextual factors” published in the journal Contemporary Italian Politics.  

In the article they investigate:

“…the impact of sub-national contextual variations on the performance of populist actors in a country in which several electorally relevant populist parties exist: Italy. By employing a multi-model Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) of the 2018 Italian general election, it explores the extent to which factors such as the distribution of ‘economic losers’ and the impact of migration, political discontent and societal malaise have influenced the performance of the Lega (League) and the Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-star Movement, M5s). The study shows that, while the League has thrived especially in areas characterized by ‘cultural backlash’, but also in contexts characterized by Euroscepticism and societal malaise, the success of the M5s cannot be explained without reference to poor economic and institutional performances. Moreover, by stressing the advantages of assessing sub-national variations, the study encourages us to move away from one-size-fits-all grand narratives that see some factors (or combination of factors) as necessarily impacting populist performance throughout national territories in a consistent manner.”

You can read the full article here (free to access for a limited time from 18/02/21)


“This is how you fuel resentment towards the political establishment” Daniele Albertazzi Discusses Italy’s Technocratic Governments on Al Jazeera English

On 16th February Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Daniele Albertazzi was quoted in “Cautious optimism as ‘Super Mario’ takes on Italy’s crises” an article by Aljazeera English’s Ylenia Gostoli.

In it he comments on the implications of Italy’s traditions of technocratic government:

“I think it is questionable that every time there is a crisis, Italian politicians pretend to take three steps back and put forward these saviour figures… This is how you destroy the idea of a political class that is accountable towards its electorate for the choices it makes. Politics cannot be there just when everything goes well. Imagine a surgeon leaving the operating room every time things get critical. This is how you fuel resentment towards the political establishment. Politicians pretending decisions that are made are not political decisions, that it’s just the way it should be done.”

The article can be read in full here.

Daniele Albertazzi Comments on the Formation of the New Italian Government in Brazil’s Folha De S.Paulo

On 13th February 2021, the Brazilian news review Folha De S.Paulo published a news feature based around comments from Daniele Albertazzi on the formation of Italy’s new government and how the decision by Matteo Salvini and the League Party he leads to support it, might lead to further realignment on the right of the country’s politics if the Brothers of Italy Party benefit from not backing the technocratic ministry of Mario Draghi.

Daniele Albertazzi summarises his contribution to the article saying:

The League’s “conversion” to pro-EU positions is not really surprising. They have always used “the European question” strategically since the party was founded.

The full article can be read here (in Portuguese)

“Super Mario?” Daniele Albertazzi Provides Comment to the New Statesman on the Formation of Italy’s New Government

Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Daniele Albertazzi is quoted in “Can Super Mario Draghi Save Italy?” an article by Ido Vock, the New Statesman’s International Correspondent published on Friday 12th February 2021. In addition to be available online (see link at the bottom of the page) it also appears in the print edition from that date.

Daniele Albertazzi said:

“There is a tradition of the political parties stepping back at a moment of crisis and putting someone in place precisely because they are not a politician… The message you’re sending is basically that you can only manage the country during good times.” Such maneuvers fuel a culture of political mistrust, he added.

Read the full article here (paywall)

Daniele Albertazzi Provides Comment in the Finance Times on What the New Italian Government Portends for the Country’s Populist Radical Right

On 5th February 2021 Daniele Albertazzi, the Populism in Action Project’s Principal Investigator, provided comment to the Financial Times journalists Miles Johnson and Davide Ghiglione for their article “Mario Draghi’s search for support leaves Matteo Salvini with painful choice”. A piece exploring what the implications of the replacement of the Italian government led by the Five Star Movement aligned Giuseppe Conti, with one led by the non-party “technocrat” Mario Draghi, might be for the country’s populist radical right parties.

Daniele Albertazzi reflected that:

“This is a difficult moment for Salvini… There are many in his party that will be very supportive of someone like Draghi trying to kickstart the economy. It is very clear from polling data that Meloni is a big threat to Salvini, and she is taking most of her support from the League.”

The full piece (paywalled) can be read here.    

Daniele Albertazzi Comments on the Survival of Italy’s Conte Led Government for Politico

Daniele Alberttazi, Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator, provided commentary on the survival of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government following a confidence vote for web-publication Politico.

He told Rome based news reporter Hannah Roberts, who wrote the website’s news feature that:

“He has played his cards very well. He may not have the genius of the post-war leaders, but he has shown the instincts to hang on. He was right not to resign and to ask for support in parliament.”

You can read the full news feature, which includes in-depth discussion of the background both to the vote, and Conte’s position in Italian politics, here.

“Populism and New Patterns of Political Competition in Western Europe” Edited by Daniele Albertazzi and Davide Vampa has Been Published

Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Dr. Daniele Albertazzi has edited a book in Routledge’s Extremism & Democracy series with Davide Vampa. Entitled Populism and New Patterns of Political Competition in Western Europe it was published today (14th January 2021).

The purpose of the book is described in the following terms:

This book analyses how party competition has adjusted to the success of populism in Western Europe, whether this is non-populists dealing with their populist competitors, or populists interacting with each other. The volume focuses on Western Europe in the period 2007–2018 and considers both right-wing and left-wing populist parties. It critically assesses the concept and rise of populism, and includes case studies on Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Italy. The authors apply an original typology of party strategic responses to political competitors, which allows them to map interactions between populist and non-populist parties in different countries. They also assess the links between ideology and policy, the goals of different populist parties, and how achieving power affects these parties. The volume provides important lessons for the study of political competition, particularly in the aftermath of a crisis and, as such, its framework can inform future research in the post-Covid-19 era. This wide-ranging study will appeal to students and scholars of political science interested in populism and political competition; and will appeal to policy makers and politicians from across the political spectrum.

You can order a copy here.

Has Coronavirus Taken The Shine Off Italy’s Prime Minister Conte?

Defying a series of domestic crises and an unstable governing coalition in Italy, Giuseppe Conte (pictured) could become one of the country’s top 10 longest-serving Prime Ministers after 1945.

He has won credit from analysts, and from many Italians, for an honest and straightforward approach to the Coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 38,000 in the country.

But now Conte may become a political victim of the crisis.

In a Financial Times overview, the Populism in Action Project’s Dr. Daniele Albertazzi explains that Conte, a law professor, benefitted from the combination of competence and his status as an outsider among career politicians.

“Like many other leaders in Europe, Conte has enjoyed [an] increase in popularity, but he has also played it well. He has grown and he has surprised people,” Albertazzi says.

However, PiAP’s principal investigator continues, “But this time is different to February or March. The economy is going to be hit very badly, and people are getting very tired of restrictions.”

He cautions that Conte’s popularity is likely to take a battering in weeks to come.

We saw this with [economist and former Prime Minister] Mario Monti. People who come in from outside of politics are always quite attractive at the start, as Italians loathe the political classes. But then people quickly get sick of them as well.

Daniele Albertazzi Quoted in Politico EU Article

Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Daniele Albertazzi provided expert insight and analysis for the Politico EU article “Italy’s 5Stars wage war on themselves” (08/10/2020).

This news feature piece by Rome based correspondent Hannah Roberts interviews activists in the Five Star Movement to get a sense of the ongoing controversy within the party over how Davide Casaleggio, the son of Five Stars’ co-founder Gianroberto Casaleggio, is making use of the position and power he has inherited within the movement following the death of his father.

As the person who ultimately controls the party’s online  decision making platform “Rousseau”, Casaleggio has extraordinary personal power, including over electoral candidate lists and internal votes, the rebels say. He also holds members’ personal data, including on how they have voted. Controversy as to how he is using this power has led a number of MPs and other elected representatives to quit the party, and prompted protests by activists and supporters at all levels of the organisation.

Commenting on the ongoing controversy in the movement Daniele Albertazzi reflects that this is a:

Defining movement [for the Five Star Movement]. A party cannot be managed by a private company. When they were setting up and growing it was easy to rely on a private company and the only way to achieve what they did in such a short time.

Now support is shrinking, they need to make some decisions about where they are going and who is going to take them there.