Draghi forms new govt blending experts, political operatives

World News

Former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi arrives at the Quirinale presidential palace for talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, in Rome, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Draghi has secured pledges of backing from nearly every party in the Italian Parliament as he wrapped up political consultations aimed at giving the pandemic-ravaged nation a new government. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME (AP) — Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi on Friday accepted the Italian president’s bid to form a new government, announcing a Cabinet of experts mixed with experienced political hands, at once seeking to reassure financial markets and tame a potentially unruly coalition of former rivals.

The formation of a broad-based government of national unity was widely expected after most political parties across the spectrum signaled their support for Draghi. Italy is at a critical juncture as it battles the health and economic consequences of the pandemic, which first struck the country hard almost one year ago.

Draghi also submitted the names of his Cabinet members to President Sergio Mattarella, who has the job of officially naming them. The new government will be sworn in Saturday, followed by votes of confidence in both houses of Parliament, expected early next week.

Draghi arrived at the presidential palace promptly at 7 p.m., finishing his business within 40 minutes. He emerged just long enough to read his list of Cabinet members to reporters, flashing a brief smile but taking no questions before putting his N95 mask back on and going his way.

Draghi said that he has chosen Daniele Franco, general director of the Bank of Italy where Draghi was once the boss, as economy and finance minister. He also confirmed Luigi Di Maio as foreign minister, Roberto Speranza as health minister, Lucia Lamorgese as interior minister, Lorenzo Guerrini as defense minister and Dario Franceschini as culture minister — all keeping their roles in the previous government.

The Draghi-led government includes fierce political rivals, who at least for the moment — and with the promise of 200 billion euros in EU recovery funds — are agreeing to put aside their differences.

They include the 5-Star Movement, the biggest force in parliament which has governed both with Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League and alongside the left-wing Democratic Party. Draghi also has the support of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia and former Premier Matteo Renzi’s Italy Alive Party.

Pointedly, none of the Cabinet posts went to party leaders.

The far-right Brothers of Italy party said it will remain in opposition, after Salvini and Berlusconi broke their right-wing alliance to back Draghi.

Draghi, who is credited with having saved the euro as ECB chief, will have the job of spending the huge pool of EU funds recovery funds to relaunch Italy’s economy, badly damaged by a seven-week near-total lockdown last spring and rolling restrictions starting in the fall.

Some of the pain has been eased by activating existing social amortization programs along with bans on firings and evictions, but some of those are set to expire and experts have long called for an overhaul of Italy’s short-term layoff program.

Draghi, 73, replaces Giuseppe Conte, who resigned after a small party yanked support over the handling of the pandemic. Draghi was tapped after Conte failed to cobble together enough support for a third coalition government.

Known for his reserved demeanor, Draghi has kept out of sight during the political consultations and meetings with prospective Cabinet members — leaving political commentators used to having the inside track guessing until the last minute.

For his 23-member Cabinet, Draghi also transformed the environment ministry into a more developmentally oriented post for ecological transition, tapping Roberto Cingolani, an expert in nanotechnology, to run it. Such a post was sought by the 5-Star Movement, and also responds to the EU requirement that at least 37% of the allocated recovery funds must include environmental goals.

Draghi also created a separate tourism portfolio, separating it from the culture ministry — a clear priority as tourism, worth a full 13% of Italy’s GDP, has been badly damaged by the pandemic. The job goes to Massimo Garavaglia, of the League.

A former head of Italy’s constitutional court, Marta Catabia, has been tapped to run the justice ministry while former Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao will be in charge of technological innovation and digital transition, another priority for the EU recovery funds.

The new government is comprised of fifteen men and eight women, among them nine faces from Conte’s 21-strong Cabinet.

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Barry reported from Milan.

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