The 5 Star Movement lit the fuse and Rome burned.

The political terrain couldn’t be more suitable for the spread of the flames, full of dried branches and bushes. The containment efforts of so many in Italy – starting with the President of the Republic – and abroad, who have sought to prevent the collapse of the Mario Draghi-led government of national unity in such demanding circumstances over the past year and a half, have been futile as the current international one scenario represents. After the gesture of the populist and ideologically amorphous 5-Star Movement “which avoided voting on a motion of confidence last week”, the old instincts of partisan selfishness were unleashed in the Chamber, and both Salvini’s Liga and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia loomed the led project out by Draghi. The atavistic tics outweighed a recent serious commitment to seeking political compromises in a parliament shaped by the ballot box, according to orthodox schemes, in an essentially ungovernable way.

The way out is full of unknowns on this umpteenth night of political drama in Rome. The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, must decide what to do; he has the prerogative to dissolve parliament, and the transalpine country is very prone to surprise and theatrical blows. But it is clear that Italy is stepping into a dark jungle, in a situation of potentially prolonged ungovernability amidst a massive crisis. Stability and efficiency are not in sight in the coming months. New formulas for exhausting the legislature would at least be precarious. The premature return to elections carries the serious risk of throwing a new result of a diabolical government like that which the ending legislature has marked with long months of campaigning and negotiations.

This is a fire with great potential to spread across the European Union due to the size of the affected country and, more importantly, its huge public debt. The European Central Bank is already speaking at an important meeting this Thursday to define measures to prevent risk premiums from rising in countries in difficulty. What happened adds urgency and drama to this complicated exercise. In addition, Rome faces months of dispersal amid such important issues as the energy crisis or the implementation of reforms related to the massive aid the EU is disbursing as part of the recovery package from the pandemic crisis, and will lose ground on issues such as the reform of stability – and growth pact. The instability, the unwillingness to take far-reaching decisions of its third economy, of course, deals a new blow to an EU that is being harassed on a thousand fronts.

The pressure on Draghi to avoid this jungle trip was enormous. The former Fed took note and restated his position after Mattarella’s thwarted resignation attempt last week. He agreed to continue. But he did so by proposing a politically tough, no-concession speech demanding a clear commitment to support an ambitious political roadmap by the natural end of the legislature in the spring. He listed the upcoming reforms, underlined Italy’s position on the international stage and called on the parties to define themselves. “Are you ready?” he asked the parties. It was clear from the outset of the crisis that he was not ready to continue amid turmoil, defections, civil unrest and negotiations driven more by a very long primary campaign than by content and civic interests.

The parties, the majority, replied that they were not ready. The centre-right advocated a reformulation of the majority, a discontinuity of the agenda and members – which excluded the 5 stars – which Draghi found uncomfortable. He rightly emphasized that a government chaired by an unelected personality only makes sense if it is supported by a very broad parliamentary consensus.

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Under his leadership, Italy has launched a remarkable series of reforms “that one likes or dislikes, but could move at least in the face of other times of sad paralysis”, it has staged an economic recovery that will allow it this year to balance the pandemic-related GDP shortfall in 2020 – unlike Spain or Germany, for example – and has played a relevant role in international issues such as the freezing of Russian reserves abroad. He was more on the side of the solutions than the problems. It is fair to fear that today he switched sides and entered a dark jungle, losing the straight line.

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