In Focus

Who will be Italy’s next president?

Prime Minister Mario Draghi is front runner as parliament sets January voting date

Italy’s parliament will begin voting this month on what pundits have described as “one of the most consequential political decisions of 2022”.

Roberto Fico, president of Italy’s lower house, said in a statement posted on Facebook that the vote to choose the country’s next president would kick off on 24 January.

The winning candidate will replace Sergio Mattarella, whose seven-year mandate concludes in February, and will be in charge of appointing Italy’s next prime minister.

1

Why it matters

“As the EU’s third-largest economy, what happens in Italy matters”, said Politico’s Brussels Playbook. 

Given the amount of power wielded by the Italian president, the election “could herald the end of the national unity government and unsettle investors betting on a continued economic recovery”, said the Financial Times (FT).

The president is selected by a total of 1,009 electors, from the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, as well as 58 regional representatives. In the first three rounds of voting, electors post a secret ballot, and a candidate needs to secure a two-thirds majority to win.

Should voting reach the fourth round, only an absolute majority is required.

2

What can the president do?

Although the role is largely ceremonial, the president’s “formal powers include appointing the prime minister and other members of the government”, said the FT. 

“The head of state also plays a big behind-the-scenes role in ensuring stability and respect for Italy’s EU and international obligations.”

And following “a succession of political crises, the role of the president of the republic has become increasingly important”, said EUobserver

“Presidents of the immediate post-war period had a lower profile, the leading role was played by the political forces," Marco Follini, who served as deputy PM under Silvio Berlusconi, told the site. But “over time, the function of the president has become more and more crucial”. 

This shift is “partly because presidents have chosen to interpret their mandate in a way that is not merely notary-like”, Follini continued. 

“And partly, and most importantly, I would say, because the parties that dominated the political arena until a few years ago have lost much of their influence.”

3

Who is in the running?

The favourite to win the presidency is the current PM, Mario Draghi, who was called upon to form a government of national unity last February after the center-left coalition led by Giuseppe Conte collapsed.

Former European Central Bank president Draghi last week signalled that he would be willing to become head of state, saying his unity government had already completed much of its agenda. “We have created the conditions for the work to continue, regardless of who is there,” the 74-year-old told a press conference.

Draghi “​​has widely been credited with restoring stability to Italy” and “is in pole position for the role” of president, said Politico.

But removing him as PM “would be seen as deeply unsettling”, in part because he “is responsible for managing Italy’s colossal €200bn slice of the EU’s €800bn recovery fund”, the site added.

Another possible candidate for the presidency is ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, who is infamous for a string of controversies but has the backing of the centre-right. Draghi “demurred” when asked recently “if he thought Berlusconi was a viable candidate, saying it's not for him to evaluate possible heads of state”, euronews reported.

The other tipped potential candidates are less well known outside of Italy. The possibles include former Christian Democrat president of the Chamber of Deputies Pier Ferdinando Casini; European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni; and former PM Giuliano Amato, an 83-year-old Europhile who helped draft the European Constitution. 

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