Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament on Thursday, triggering a snap election following the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier in the day. The national election will take place on September 25.
Mattarella branded the developments as “inevitable” following the political upheaval faced by the European Union’s third largest economy over the last 24 hours.
In a short address from his residence at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Mattarella thanked Draghi and his ministers “for their efforts over the past 18 months.”
“The political situation that has been determined has led to this decision,” he added. “The discussion, the vote, and the manner in which this vote was cast yesterday in the Senate made clear the loss of parliamentary support for the government and the absence of prospects for forming a new majority. This situation made the early dissolution of the chambers inevitable.”
Mattarella said the period Italy is going through “does not allow for any pauses”, in the statement issued at the end of his meeting with Senate President Elisabetta Casellati and House Speaker Roberto Fico.
“I have the duty to emphasize that the period we are going through does not allow for pauses in the interventions that are indispensable to counteract the effects of the economic and social crisis and, in particular, of the rise in inflation, which, caused above all by the cost of energy and food, entails heavy consequences for families and businesses,” he said.
Draghi’s resignation comes after several key parties in his coalition – the powerful 5-Star movement, the largest party in the country’s coalition government, center-right Forza Italia and the far-right League – boycotted a confidence vote in the government Wednesday night.
The centrist leader’s resignation came despite his popularity among many inside the country and support from world leaders, who view him as an important European voice in standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine.
Draghi’s resignation not only presents a challenge for the future of Italy – but also for Europe.
A political pandora’s box
Draghi, a prominent economist unaffiliated with any political party, became prime minister in February 2021, leading a cabinet of ministers from across the country’s vast political spectrum.
He’s the fifth prime minister to lead the country in just eight years, following the resignation of Giuseppe Conte in early 2021 over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The former European Central Bank chief won the moniker “Super Mario” for saving the euro during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. He worked closely with finance minister Daniele Franco to prepare a reforms plan for Italy that will allow it to obtain a 209-billion euro package from the European Covid-19 recovery fund.
However, last week, 5-Star withdrew its support in a parliamentary confidence vote on an economic package designed to tackle Italy’s cost-of-living crisis.
Draghi had previously said he would not lead a government that did not include 5-Star. Meanwhile, the hard-right League and centre-right Forza parties have dismissed the possibility of staying in government with 5-Star, leaving the government on the brink of collapse and sending the FTSE MIB, Italy’s main stock market, down more than 2.5%.
With Draghi’s resignation and its government dissolved, Italy will now have to wait for elections to pass any reforms and to pass its 2023 budget. The crisis will affect ordinary Italians, as without a functioning government, Italy will not be able to access billions of euros from the EU’s Covid-19 fund.
A blow for Ukraine
Draghi has been a key figure in the West’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. He was one of the first European leaders to propose sanctions against Russia, including targeting its oligarchs and ratcheting up pressure on its central bank.
He has also supported Ukraine’s bid for EU candidacy.
Last month, he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on a visit to underline his support, alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, despite a growing backlash in Italy over sanctions and aid to Ukraine.
In his last address before his resignation, Draghi warned the Senate that turmoil in Italian politics could leave an opening for Russia. “We need to block Russian interference in our politics and society,” he said.
Emmanuel Macron hailed Draghi as a “great Italian statesman,” in a statement published following his resignation on Thursday.
The French president went on to call his Italian counterpart “a great European, a trusted partner and a friend of France” with whom he had “built a sincere and trusting relationship over the past few years.”
He also drew attention to Draghi’s commitment to the European Union, saying that Draghi’s Italy had been an “unfailing supporter in providing European responses to our common challenges, particularly in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
Russia is watching
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio believes that Draghi’s political enemies have created an opportunity for Russia, telling Politico last week: “The Russians are right now celebrating having made another Western government fall.”
He added, “Now I doubt we can send arms [to Ukraine]. It is one of the many serious problems.”
Rome’s attitude toward Moscow could shift after the elections, with Putin sympathizers among those vying for power.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League Party who has made many trips to Moscow, famously posted a selfie of himself wearing a t-shirt adorned with Putin’s face from the city’s Red Square prior to the invasion. And Putin ally Silvio Berlusconi, who also sits in the center-right coalition, could rattle the Western European alliance.
A headache for Italy and Europe?
Draghi’s resignation also comes as Europe is facing some of its biggest challenges in years – and is facing a risk of recession.
Annual inflation in the European Union jumped to 9.6% in June. It reached 8.6% for the 19 countries that use the euro.
And the wildfires that have swept across Spain and France could also put a dampener on economic activity.
With Italians now facing an early election, investors fear that right-wing factions in the country could gain increased support at the ballot box, raising questions about EU cohesion at an important juncture.
Italy’s center-right is led by Euroskeptics including the League’s Salvini and the Brother of Italy party’s Giorgia Meloni, though some parties in the coalition have taken a softer stance on the EU. And while the Democratic Party is expected to maintain its pro-Europe position, it is not expected to govern.
Meanwhile, the 5-Star Movement is made up of both Euroskeptics and EU supporters, but it’s not expected to do well in upcoming elections either.
CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Julia Horowitz, Camille Knight and Zahid Mahmood contributed reporting.