IItaly is now heading towards an uncertain political future. Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank who saved the euro zone almost exactly a decade ago by publicly pledging to do “whatever it takes” to guide Europe through its debt crisis sovereign, has given up hope of seeing Italy through its present period of turmoil. Italy must now weather the storms created by the human and economic losses of the pandemic and the energy and security crises created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine with someone else in charge. Draghi will remain in his post until Italy can hold national elections before the end of September, but his job leading Italy’s rare unity government will remain unfinished.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway, the downfall of Draghi’s coalition came gradually, then suddenly. He agreed to form a government in February 2021 – Italy’s 19th government in 33 years – only with support from left and right. Given the crisis created by COVID-19 and the urgent need for help from the EU, most other major parties agreed. The center-left Democratic Party, the anti-establishment populist Five Star Movement, Matteo Salvini’s staunch nationalist Lega and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia have all signed on.
Over the past 17 months, sniper fire within the coalition has made Draghi’s life more difficult, but the need for relief funds from Brussels and fears that another election could unleash chaos have kept the things together. Leaders of right-wing parties who thought they could win a future election knew that a national vote had to take place no later than next spring.
But in June, the coalition began to crumble. An increasingly hostile rift within the Five Star Movement, and then between Five Star and Lega, prompted ultimatums. When Five Star threatened to leave the government, it was hoped that Draghi would remain prime minister with a tighter coalition. But when Lega and Forza Italia insisted the price of their continued support would be a more right-wing government instead of a unity coalition, Draghi resigned.
This upheaval comes at a terrible time for Italy. This upcoming election will mark the first time in decades that a national vote will take place in the fall, a time usually reserved for passing a budget. And Italy must pass a budget to implement the reforms demanded by the European Commission in return for a pledge of 200 billion euros in grants and loans from the EU’s pandemic relief fund. That process will now be delayed as the Italian president dissolved parliament ahead of the September election. Instead of fighting inflation, looking for ways to get through a tough winter without Russian energy supplies and helping consumers by fighting inflation, Italian leaders will play politics, trade insults and issue threats. policies. Even after the votes are counted, it will take weeks to form a new government and put it in place.
Who will be the biggest beneficiary of this chaos? For now, polls suggest an alliance of Italy’s right-wing parties will form the next government. Salvini’s Lega and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia will have seats at the table. But the big winner is likely to be the one major party that has refused from the start to support Draghi’s government, the Nativist Brothers of Italy.
And that means Italians could be about to elect Giorgia Melon their first female prime minister. At 45, Meloni is almost 30 years younger than the man she hopes to replace as prime minister, and her experience in government is limited, but her right-wing ideas are deeply rooted. As a teenager, she joined the Italian Social Movement, a party inspired by fascist leader Benito Mussolini. As a member of the right-wing National Alliance, she became youth minister in a Berlusconi-led government in 2008. She held that post, the only government post she held, for three years.
In 2014, she became a founding member of the intensely anti-immigrant Brothers of Italy. Advocacy for “God, Homeland and Family” and promises to keep migrants out will likely feature in his campaign speeches. His position on Europe will be much more nuanced. In the past, she has pushed for EU treaties to be changed and for Italian law to prevail over EU rules. But she has never favored an Italian exit from the EU, and at a time when European money is crucial for Italy’s recovery and despite the occasional colloquial reference to ‘Brussels bureaucrats’, she is likely to downplay Euroscepticism of his party. Draghi promised Europe that his government would liberalize competition laws and rewrite tax rules. Meloni knows that unless the next government is prepared to deliver on some of these promises, Italy will face major cuts in EU funding. Meloni is also unlikely to upset the EU consensus in favor of Ukraine. She condemned the Russian invasion and supported Draghi’s efforts to provide Ukraine with arms and other support.
The candidacy of Giorgia Meloni for the post of Prime Minister is not certain. Infighting between right-wing parties and sharp swings in public opinion during the election season could still shake things up. But Italy’s next prime minister will not have Mario Draghi’s crisis management experience or his penchant for problem-solving transcending party politics. This is bad news for a country too used to political turmoil.
More Must-Try Stories from TIME