Mario Draghi – POLITICO

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THE POLITICAL TECHNOCRAT

The most powerful person in Europe – Italy

Italians are not used to their prime ministers staying long, but many hope that Mario Draghi will be the exception. That’s because the former head of the European Central Bank in Rome has kept a steady hand on national politics, keeping the country on an even keel in its attempt to end the pandemic while trimming the sails with a series of economic reforms .

With no party affiliation, Draghi rules Italy as a technocrat, giving a country that has long been under its weight in the European arena its significant appeal. Since Brexit, the European Union has lacked a third ruler against Paris and Berlin. With Draghi, Italy has a leader who can pull the country into the heart of European affairs – just as the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel has given him room as de facto head of the EU, at least in economic matters. This is especially true if Draghi can cement a working alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel’s successor Olaf Scholz that forms a centrist trio that could dramatically change the way Europe ticks.

Draghi is no stranger to adversity. He lost both parents in his teenage years, which forced him to adjust to growing up early. This was followed by his studies at MIT as an economist and a position at the World Bank. He then worked at the Italian Ministry of Finance, Goldman Sachs, the Bank of Italy and the ECB. The inconspicuous, academically minded 74-year-old is best known for stabilizing the financial markets as ECB President in 2012 by declaring that he would “do anything to save the euro”. True to its word, it has been found to be sufficient. The euro held up during the financial crisis and the debt crisis.

Draghi is now under pressure to deliver again. Italy receives the largest tranche of the European Commission’s NextGenerationEU reconstruction fund. It is well on the way to raising € 191.5 billion in grants and loans to carry out a series of reforms that Brussels hopes will put the country on a growth path. If Draghi can deliver where so many prime ministers have stalled, he might be remembered as the one who finally found the recipe to rescue the country from more than 20 years of economic doldrums. Equally important, it demonstrated the effectiveness of the EU’s decision to dispose of joint debts to help countries recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Its success is by no means guaranteed. Draghi’s role as a political outsider is also a disadvantage. Without a political group of his own, he stands outside the major European political families and is excluded from their chase before the summit. “He’s a fantastic general, but a general without troops,” said an EU diplomat in Brussels. His first few months as prime minister also revealed a naivety in dealing with geopolitics. It took months before he called an argument with the stubborn Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan, a central figure in the conflict in Libya, a “dictator”. He has also put himself in the middle of great power politics after convening a G20 summit just to prevent China and Russia from sending their leaders.

In addition, he works against the clock. Italy has to hold general elections by 2023, a competition Draghi almost certainly wouldn’t run – and as a man without a party, he would fight to win anyway. Meanwhile, the Italian right-wing extremist is rising in the polls and threatening to withdraw its agenda. His name was briefly circulated as a possible presidential candidate, a largely ceremonial role that primarily serves as a guarantor of political stability and constitutional order. The post, which has a seven-year term, must be filled in January. That said, the Italian parliament could be forced to choose between Draghi’s leadership of the country for the next few months or from above for the rest of the decade.

Check out the full POLITICO 28 Class of 2022 and read the editors’ letter to explain the mindset behind the ranking.


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