Mario Draghi made his debut at the European Council as head of the Italian government. Firmly and without raising the tone, the new prime minister of Italy immediately put President Ursula von der Leyen’s vaccine strategy at bay. The plan was deemed not reassuring as it lacks certainties. Draghi then urged the EU to take an immediate change of pace in the response to the pandemic and vis-à-vis Big Pharma’s giants, some of which are guilty of not respecting the commitments in the supply of doses.
Draghi’s European debut was anticipated by direct talks with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, a move that reveals his desire to foster a leading Italian role in the fight against COVID-19 alongside Germany and France. After that, the prime minister threw all his weight of respected and well-known international leader on the negotiating table, to dialogue with EU authorities in a way that no other Eurosceptic head of government could ever have adopted. Especially if Italian.
Draghi pressed Mrs. von der Leyen on very concrete issues, aware of the fact that the fight against the virus is a decisive battle for the future of the EU and that as such it requires sharp weapons to achieve victory. For example, the Italian premier emphasized the legal weaknesses of contracts sealed with pharmaceutical companies, invoking countermeasures to their export outside the EU and proposing to temporarily put a stop to the Covax system – that was designed for the donation of vaccines to developing countries but which is clearly out of reach of the capabilities of European countries, which are unable to protect themselves.
The hard line of former ECB president is aimed at turning EU policy around after the failure to coordinate the emergency response last year. At stake is to safeguard the social cohesion of the national communities of the Old Continent, which have reached a breaking point after months of restrictions and closures, as well as the credibility of EU leadership towards citizens.
Surprisingly enough, Draghi’s European battle was intertwined with the poor show staged at home by ruling coalition forces to select undersecretaries and junior ministers for his government. It is difficult not to notice the prime minister’s silence on this issue in the face of his loud resolution on European vaccines. A matter of leadership priorities and balance of power within the executive.
After being excluded from the choice of ministers, the parties fought for nine days in a row over the names of the 39 undersecretaries and deputy ministers needed to complete the government team. The boxes were filled with almost all political figures (20 men and 19 women) but in the name of low profiles, a clear sign of the absolutely marginal role in which Italian parties have slipped during this emergency season in the life of the country.
The turmoil was such as to cause a temporary stop to a special Council of Ministers and to induce the premier to threaten to choose alone in the absence of agreements in the ruling majority. Among the most disputed posts where Interior (won by the League to the detriment of the PD) and Health (the center-right wanted to reduce minister Speranza’influence, but was forced to back off), as well as the Authority on Secret Services (won by the Police Chief Gabrielli) and that of Publishing (assigned to Berlusconi’s Moles). Finally, the centralization of powers in Palazzo Chigi is truly emblematic: the presidency of the Council passes from Conte’s 3 undersecretaries to Draghi’s 9.