Category Archives: South Europe – Italy

Draghi become Italy’s new Prime Minister; begins unity Gov’t.

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Politicians he met this week said he told them he is opposed to fiscal austerity, despite soaring national debt levels, given the importance of protecting social cohesion.

Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, has agreed to serve as the next prime minister of Italy and unveiled a cabinet that mixed unaffiliated technocrats with politicians from across a broad coalition.

President Sergio Mattarella asked Draghi to be prime minister after party wrangling brought down the previous administration, and set him the task of tackling the coronavirus health crisis and economic meltdown pummelling the country.

Following a week of consultations, almost all the main parties from across the political spectrum have endorsed Draghi, and on Friday he named several prominent figures from these various groups as ministers to cement their support.

Luigi Di Maio, a leader of the Five Star Movement, will remain foreign minister, while Giancarlo Giorgetti, a senior figure in the League party, will be industry minister. Andrea Orlando from the centre-left Democratic Party will be labour minister.

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Technocrats included
However, some key posts went to non-affiliated technocrats, including Daniele Franco, the director general of the Bank of Italy, who was named as economy minister and Roberto Cingolani, a physicist and IT expert, who was handed the new role of minister for green transition.

There were only eight women in the 23-strong cabinet.

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The new team will be sworn in on Saturday, opening the way for debates in both houses of parliament early next week, where Draghi will unveil his policy plans and face votes of confidence – a formality given his cross-party backing.

Draghi received a boost on Thursday when the largest group in parliament, the Five Star Movement, agreed to support the government, meaning it will have such a large majority that no single party will have the numbers to bring it down.

Draghi is tasked with tackling the coronavirus health crisis and economic meltdown pummelling Italy [Yara Nardi/Pool/Reuters]

One of the reasons so many parties have joined forces in the ruling coalition is that they all want to have a say in how Italy spends more than 200 billion euros ($242bn) it is set to receive from a European Union economic recovery fund.

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Draghi, 73, is widely credited with having saved the euro currency during his time in charge of the ECB and he will no doubt be influential now in shaping EU debate on how the bloc should engineer its economic revival.

Politicians he met this week said he told them he is opposed to fiscal austerity, despite soaring national debt levels, given the importance of protecting social cohesion.

He also honoured a pledge to create the powerful new ministry for ecological transition, which combines the environment and energy portfolios, helping win over the Five Star for whom green issues are core concerns.

Policies to fight climate change are required to be a pillar of the recovery plans to be presented by EU countries to the European Commission by April.

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Draghi has also said he will make the coronavirus vaccine programme a priority.

Italy has registered about 93,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe.

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#Newsworthy

Former Bank Boss set to be Italy’s new PM.

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An online vote on whether to take part was delayed earlier this week when M5S founder Beppe Grillo asked Draghi for more details on action he would take on the environment.

With almost all the political parties behind him, Mario Draghi on Friday entered the final straight in his bid to form a new government to lead Italy through the coronavirus pandemic.

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The former European Central Bank chief, called in after the outgoing centre-left coalition collapsed, could visit President Sergio Mattarella as early as Friday evening to be officially named prime minister.

Draghi has spent the last nine days assembling a government of national unity to manage the deadly pandemic that hit Italy almost exactly one year ago, triggering a deep recession.

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After securing the support late Thursday of the final key player, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), Draghi has almost all the main parties on board, from leftists to the far-right League.

“The Draghi government is born,” headlined Rome-based daily Il Messaggero, while Milan’s Corriere Della Sera added: “Draghi in the home stretch.”

The 73-year-old economist must present a list of ministers when he visits Mattarella, but he has kept extremely coy, speaking in public only once since being asked to form a government.

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With the outgoing government due to hold one last cabinet meeting on Friday, there was speculation that Draghi might wait until Saturday before heading to the presidential palace.

Italy has high hopes for its new leader, dubbed Super Mario after vowing to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro single currency in the 2010s debt crisis.

Mattarella asked him to step in on February 3 after outgoing premier Giuseppe Conte resigned following weeks of political turmoil in his M5S-led coalition.

The president emphasised the urgency of moving quickly to fill the political vacuum as Italy’s Covid-19 death toll approaches 100,000 and the country battles its worst recession since World War II.

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Italy is hoping to receive more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) in grants and loans from the European Union’s recovery fund to help it get back on its feet.

But Draghi will have to balance demands for immediate hand-outs against the need for long-term structural reforms in Italy — tensions that brought down the last government.

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Broad support
Leaders of M5S, the biggest party in parliament, had indicated early on that they would support Draghi’s efforts to form a broad-based new government — but the membership was divided.

An online vote on whether to take part was delayed earlier this week when M5S founder Beppe Grillo asked Draghi for more details on action he would take on the environment.

The vote was rescheduled for Thursday after the party claimed it had been promised a beefed-up minister “for ecological transition” — and members voted by 59.3 percent to back Draghi.

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The economist would have probably been able to form a government even without the M5S, but “it is important for him to set off with the broadest possible parliamentary majority”, noted Federico Santi, an analyst at Eurasia Group.

Italy has been without a fully functioning government for almost a month since former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from Conte’s coalition, which also included the M5S and centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Conte eventually resigned on January 26. Mattarella gave the M5S, the PD and Renzi time to patch things up, but when that failed, called in Draghi.

Draghi’s arrival was greeted with delight on the financial markets — Italy’s borrowing costs dropped to a historic low this week — but the task facing him is huge.

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The EU is expecting Rome’s plan on how to spend the recovery funds in April, while unemployment — at 426,000 higher than one year ago — risks rising further later this year if an existing freeze on job dismissals is not extended.

Another priority is speeding up Italy’s coronavirus vaccination programme, which made a promising start in December but has since slowed, against a backdrop of rising concern about the spread of new variants.

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#Newsworthy

Former Prime Minister, Berlusconi ‘hospitalised after a fall’

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Berlusconi looked frail as he reappeared in public after months holed up in southern France, where his daughter has a villa.

Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi spent the night in hospital after an “accidental fall” at home, a spokesman for the 84-year-old billionaire said Thursday.

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Berlusconi tripped while staying at his residence in Rome, and was bruised on one side. Following the accident, he was taken to his home city of Milan for a hospital check-up.

Italian former Prime Minister and leader of center-right party Forza Italia (Go Italy), Silvio Berlusconi speaks on the set of the broadcast “Porta a Porta”, a programme of Italian channel Rai 1, on January 11, 2018 in Rome. / AFP PHOTO / Alberto PIZZOLI

“He was discharged this morning and he is at home, working, to take part in remote voting for the European Parliament,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Berlusconi, who has dominated public life in Italy since the 1980s as a businessman and three-time prime minister, was elected to the EU’s parliament in 2019.

He had travelled to Rome on Tuesday to meet former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, and offer his support to the economist as Italy’s next prime minister.

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Berlusconi looked frail as he reappeared in public after months holed up in southern France, where his daughter has a villa.

In September, the media magnate spent almost two weeks in hospital with coronavirus. He was hospitalised again for a few days in January after suffering heart problems.

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#Newsworthy

Rally spikes behind Mario Draghi in Italy Gov’t talks.

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The League will have to overcome its reluctance to work with the PD and possible reservations about Draghi personally.

Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi on Saturday wrapped up the first round of talks aimed at forming a new Italian government, hoping to drag the country out of its economic and Covid-19 crises.

Summoned by President Sergio Mattarella this week after prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s coalition collapsed, Draghi — dubbed “Super Mario” for extricating the eurozone from its debt crisis early last decade — has already rallied some political players behind him.

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The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the small Italia Viva outfit of centrist former premier Matteo Renzi — the man behind the collapse of the last government — had promised support, as well as Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia (FI).

On Saturday, the far-right League led by Matteo Salvini — one of two heavyweight anti-establishment parties alongside the Five Star Movement (M5S) — signalled its readiness for the economist to form Italy’s 67th government since World War II.

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“We stand ready. We are the biggest political force in the country, we are a force that should be in government… unlike some, we don’t think we can get ahead by always saying no,” Salvini said after meeting Draghi.

Italy’ Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks to media on Colonna square as he leaves Palazzo Chigi in Rome on February 4, 2021. – Former European Central Bank chief urged Italy’s splintered parties on February 3 to get behind him as he tries to form a new government amid political turmoil. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“I prefer to be on the inside and in control,” he said.

While he did not reveal any conditions for joining a government, the former interior minister said his final decision would come after a second round of talks next week.

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‘Confidence in Europe‘ –
Time is ticking as Italy must present plans for how it will spend around 200 billion euros ($241 billion) from the EU’s pandemic recovery fund — the largest share for any single country — by the end of April.

Draghi “already has the confidence of Europe and the markets. Soon he will receive parliament’s confidence,” daily Il Corriere della Sera predicted.

Wolfango Piccoli of consulting firm Teneo agreed.

“The question has somewhat shifted from ‘if’ Draghi could form a government to ‘how’ this government will be constituted, meaning which parties will be part of the coalition.”

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Draghi’s final weekend meeting was with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which had backed Conte to the hilt with its roughly one-third of MPs and senators.

But saying he had always worked “for the good of the country,” Conte on Thursday promised not to be an “obstacle” to Draghi and wished him “good luck!”

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The League will have to overcome its reluctance to work with the PD and possible reservations about Draghi personally.

The former central banker personifies a European elite that the nationalist, anti-immigration party and its counterparts across the bloc love to hate.

– Pandemic havoc –
After finishing his first round of talks with politicians Saturday, Draghi will meet civil society groups like unions on Monday before tackling the political parties again later next week.

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While the wrangling goes on, the European Union’s third-largest economy is ailing from the effects of coronavirus after shrinking 8.9 percent last year — one of the sharpest drops in the eurozone single-currency area.

A harsh lockdown in March and April brought activity to a near-standstill after Italy became the first European nation to suffer a coronavirus wave.

So far Italy has recorded more than 90,000 Covid-19 deaths — the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain — and 2.6 million cases.

The more contagious British coronavirus variant has also been detected in some people testing positive.

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If Draghi fails to secure a parliamentary majority or loses MPs’ backing after taking office, Italy could hold early elections, probably in June.

But Mattarella, who would make such a call, said Tuesday that he wanted to avoid going to the polls while the country suffers through its health and economic shocks.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Vatican museums reopens Monday.

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The entire country remains subject to a night-time curfew however, while table service at bars and restaurants must end at 6:00pm.

The Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, said they will reopen on Monday after being closed for 88 days due to coronavirus restrictions — the longest closure since World War II.

The world-famous collections will open their doors to the public from Monday to Saturday, but visitors must pre-book tickets and will be given timed entry slots.

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Curators used the closure, sparked by Italian government measures introduced to stem the spread of Covid-19, to carry out maintenance and refurbishment works.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 1, 2020 people visit the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) which reopened to the public in The Vatican, while the city-state eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. – (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

That included careful dusting of 15th-century frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, which normally attracts six million visitors a year.

“The Pope’s Museums await you with pleasure!” a statement said.

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The news comes amid an easing of coronavirus restrictions, with all but five Italian regions put in the low-risk “yellow” category from Monday.

That allows bars and restaurants to reopen during the day, alongside museums.

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 24, 2020 shows a view of the deserted entrance of the closed Vatican Museums in the Vatican during the lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 (new coronavirus) pandemic. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Rome’s Colosseum and the Forum were also set to reopen on Monday, although they are to remain closed on weekends.

The Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia and regions of Umbria, Puglia and the autonomous province of South Tyrol are the only areas still subjected to tighter curbs in mid-risk “orange” zones.

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Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the pandemic early in 2020.

A nationwide lockdown, the collapse of the tourist trade and widespread closures since then have plunged the economy in a deep recession, while almost 88,000 people with the virus have died.

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#Newsworthy

Italy: PM, Conte to resign, Tuesday.

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Shortly before the announcement on Conte’s resignation, Five Star said it would stand by Conte.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte intends to hand in his resignation to the president on Tuesday after a morning cabinet meeting to inform his ministers, according to his office.

The prime minister, who has been in office since June 2018, hopes President Sergio Mattarella will give him a mandate to form a new government with broader backing in Parliament, according to media reports.

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Conte lost his majority in the upper-house Senate last week when the centrist Italia Viva party led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi quit the country’s coalition government in a dispute over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement Conte “will inform his ministers of his intention to resign” at a meeting convened for 9am (08:00 GMT). “He will then go to see President Sergio Mattarella,” it added.

Mattarella, as head of state, can accept the resignation, possibly asking the prime minister to try to form a more solid coalition that can command a majority in Parliament. The president could also reject the offer. But he has frequently stressed the need for the nation to have solid leadership as it struggles with the pandemic, with its devastating effects on Italy’s long-stagnant economy.

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Conte, a lawyer and university professor, has led a long-bickering centre-left coalition for 16 months. Before that, for 15 months, he headed a government still with the populist Five Star Movement, the parliament’s largest party, but in coalition with the right-wing League party of Matteo Salvini. That first government collapsed when Salvini withdrew his support in a failed bid to become prime minister himself.

Italy has had 66 governments since World War II and administrations are regularly ripped up and then pieced back together in tortuous, behind-the-scenes talks that open the way for cabinet reshuffles and policy reviews.

However, once a prime minister resigns, there is no guarantee that a new coalition can form, and always a risk that early elections might end up as the only viable solution.

Earlier, MPs in the prime minister’s own coalition warned he would face defeat in Parliament this week in a vote over a contested report on the justice system, which could only be averted by handing his resignation.

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Conte had resisted resigning so far for fear that he might not be reappointed. Instead, he tried to draw wavering senators into his camp with vague promises of a new government pact and possible ministerial positions.

However, his efforts have floundered and MPs from the co-ruling Democratic Party (PD) said he needed to stand down and open formal negotiations in order to win time to create a new coalition.

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Trying to allay his fears of a political imbroglio, PD MPs said they would support him to lead a new cabinet.

No affiliation

Conte has no direct party affiliation but is close to the largest coalition group, the Five Star Movement.

“We remain at Conte’s side,” said a statement from the party’s leaders in both parliamentary houses, Davide Crippa and Ettore Licheri.

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It has also made clear that it does not want any attempt at reconciling with Renzi.

“He is a problem and cannot be part of the solution,” said Stefano Patuanelli, industry minister and a Five Star politician.

Renzi has indicated he would return to the coalition on the condition that Conte accepted a string of demands.

Looking to put pressure on waverers, the main ruling parties have warned that snap elections – two years ahead of schedule – will be the only way out of the impasse unless a solution is rapidly found.

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A recent reform cut by one-third the number of parliamentary seats up for grabs at the next national ballot, meaning that many of the current MPs are unlikely to win re-election, whatever the result.

This means that there will be no rush in Parliament for a vote, putting pressure on party leaders to find a compromise.

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#Newsworthy

[Italy] Boat conveying nearly 370 migrants reaches Lampedusa.

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A fishing boat carrying nearly 370 migrants landed overnight on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the country’s news agencies reported on Sunday, as a nearby humanitarian ship carrying another 350 people sought a port of disembarkation.

Italy has been struggling in recent months to deal with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants to its southern shores, a task complicated by security measures imposed by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The boat carrying 367 people, which was in danger of sinking due to high winds, was escorted by the Italian coast guard and police to the island’s port, ANSA news agency said.

They were met at the port by a demonstration organised by the far-right, anti-immigrant League party.

The migrants, whose nationalities were not known, underwent temperature checks before they were taken to an emergency reception centre on the island which now houses some 1,160 people, 10 times its maximum capacity, Lampedusa’s mayor, Toto Martello, told ANSA.

About 30 other small boats, mostly from the Tunisian coast, had already reached the island since Friday carrying some 500 migrants, the Italian press reported.

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“Lampedusa can no longer cope with this situation. Either the government takes immediate decisions or the whole island will go on strike. We can’t manage the emergency and the situation is now really unsustainable,” Martello told ANSA.

Nello Musumeci, the right-leaning leader of sister island Sicily, on Sunday wrote on Facebook that he would ask the government for a meeting on the “humanitarian and health crisis”.

“Lampedusa can’t do it anymore. Sicily cannot continue to pay for the indifference of Brussels and the silence of Rome,” he wrote.

– ‘Traumatic injuries’ –

The Italian coast guard on Saturday also transported 49 people who had been rescued in the Mediterranean by the MV Louise Michel, a vessel funded by the street artist Banksy.

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The 150 other passengers on that ship were transferred late Saturday to the humanitarian rescue boat Sea-Watch 4, which now has some 350 people on board and is looking for a port of disembarkation.

The crew of the vessel chartered by German NGO Sea Watch and medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wrote on Twitter that it was treating people for “fuel burns, dehydration, hypothermia & traumatic injuries”.

The German-flagged Louise Michel had said it needed aid after helping a boat carrying at least one dead migrant in the sea that divides Africa and Europe.

Its crew said the 31-metre (101-foot) ship had become overcrowded and unable to move, warning that some of the migrants had fuel burns and had been at sea for days.

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The rescued migrants later said three people had died at sea before the arrival of the Louise Michel.

Banksy, who keeps his identity a secret, explained in an online video that he had bought the boat to help migrants “because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans”.

Thousands of people are thought to have died making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean to flee conflict, repression and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, attempts by migrant boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe have increased this year, up 91 percent from January to July over last year’s figures, to more than 14,000 people.


#Newsworthy…