By Laura Serrano-Conde
Rome, Feb 17 (efe-epa).- Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday pushed for strengthening Italy’s European connections and implementing reforms the country needs – but has been postponing for years – in his speech to the Senate, which gave him an overwhelming vote of confidence.
In a 262-40 confidence vote, senators including a majority of the ultrarightist Brothers of Italy, but also a number of members of the Five Star Movement, gave Draghi their resounding approval.
Two senators in the 315-seat parliament abstained from voting.
Draghi, who has managed to form a government with the support of all the country’s political forces, was unanimously praised by the leaders of the various parties, who emphasized his ability to get parties with markedly different ideologies to unite for the good of the country.
Among those supporting Draghi is the ultrarightist League of Matteo Salvini, who in 2020 insisted that the European Union was a disappointment and that a referendum on whether or not to continue using the euro would be “understandable,” and the Five Star Movement, which – despite its deep internal divisions – in 2017 proposed a popular consultation on the euro, although more recently this debate has been shelved.
Draghi made one thing clear to the lawmakers: supporting his government means “sharing the irreversibility of the selection of the euro, the view of a European Union that is ever more integrated … Without Italy there it no Europe. But outside Europe, there’s even less an Italy.”
The former president of the European Central Bank and ex-governor of the Bank of Italy insisted that the country foster strategic relationships within the EU with France and Germany, but also with Spain, Greece, Malta and Cyprus, with which Rome shares concerns about how to manage the illegal migration issue.
Italy also must strengthen ties with the United States, participate in improving relations between “the EU and Turkey, a partner and NATO ally,” and work for dialogue with Russia and China, he said.
He outlined a global strategic vision for a country that he said has much work to do on the internal level.
Draghi also slapped the wrist of the country’s political class for postponing for decades necessary reforms and asked them if they are doing everything possible to “promote human capital, education, schools, universities and culture.”
The head of government noted that Italy has to overcome the economic crisis brought about by the coronavirus, which according to many organizations will not recede until the end of 2022, and even so the country will not have recovered completely from the 2008 and 2011 crises.
In answering the question of whether Italy is working for the good of future generations, Draghi said that “It’s a question to which we must give concrete and urgent answers when we’re disappointing our young people and forcing them to emigrate” to find a job, and approving deviations in budgetary spending that shoot the public debt up to stratospheric levels “without having invested our always-scarce resources in the best possible way.”
Rome calculates that in 2020 the country’s debt stood at 158 percent of the GDP because of support provided to companies and families hurt during the pandemic, far above the 60 percent established by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, which has been temporarily frozen.
Draghi’s government must design a detailed plan of reforms and objectives that will enable the 209 billion euros (some $253 billion) that will come to Italy from the European Recovery Fund to be invested in areas that were already decided upon by the prior government: digitalization, ecological transition, infrastructure, training and research, equality and health.
The economist said that Italy needs fiscal reform that imposes progressive tax burdens and fights against tax evasion and which also includes social protection mechanisms that preserve jobs and provide adequate coverage for those who lose theirs.
Returning students to the classrooms under safe conditions will also be prioritized, as well as preserving the environment, he said.
The Italia Viva leader, Matto Renzi – who when he withdrew from the prior government coalition, causing the political crisis that resulted in Draghi’s being tapped to form a new government – applauded the former Central Bank president’s speech, saying that “Now, everything has changed for the better,” while other leaders praised the program of the new premier.
The labor minister and member of the center-left Democratic Party, Andrea Orlando, emphasized that “protecting employment and the fight against social inequalities” will be key for Draghi, while the leader of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, praised “a detailed and high profile speech that looks to the future and in which an Italy capable of lifting itself up and starting afresh is set forth.”
Although the Five Star Movement has lent its support to Draghi, several of the party’s senators rejected the vote of confidence, saying that a technocratic government does not represent the will of Italians, who gave the party the most votes – more than 30 percent of those cast – in the 2018 general elections.