Italy and Europe after Draghi’s exit

The Ukraine’s war and its European  consequences. The problematic future of the Italian  political asset.

Mario Draghi's resignation as prime minister in Italy, after the majority of the Senate has denied the vote of confidence,  cannot be considered an extraordinary event. Italy is used to frequent changes of government. Suffice it to recall that there have been seven governments in the last ten years. After all, elections were scheduled for next spring. Which means that the role of the Draghi government would essentially be exhausted by the first months of next year. Nothing actually upsetting if not an anticipation of the natural deadline.

1.   This can be a benevolent and comforting interpretation. But the near future looks much more complicated and uncertain. The next elections will present important changes in two respects: the first is that the Five Star Movement,  who was the main support of the Draghi’s government, will present itself as an opposition party.  The second is the novelty of the advent of the far-right Fratelli d'Italia (Brother of Italy) party,  which could become  the first party or, in any case, the main competitor of the Democratic Party.

The rightwing alliance ,including Berlusconi party Forza Italia,  Matteo Salvini's League, and Giorgia  Meloni head of Brother of Italy, could constitute a new government. In this case Meloni, leader of a far-right party, could aspire to lead it: an unprecedented picture in Italian political history, after the end of the Second World War.

2.   Although in different forms, governance novelties have  also occurred in other large countries of the European Union. The German government,  led by the social-democratic Olaf Scholz, lives in a condition of substantial difficulties. At the  recent meeting in Kiev of the major eurozone countries - Germany, France and Italy - the German chancellor, in his reserved speech, had proposed a solution to the current war in Ukraine , recognizing the definitive passage of Crimea to the Russian Federation, and an agreement  on Donbass region.  A proposal that remained without follow-up. The meeting concluded with a statement of support for Ukraine, stating its right to decide if and when to negotiate. Basically, a prosecution of the war.

In any case, Germany’s official stance of support for Ukraine is not without significant differences. The Greens, the second party in the government coalition,  is openly opposed to any agreement with Russia. Although a significant part of the industrial sector - an essential part of German economic growth and the trade balance surplus - was in favor of a negotiation. The research of a negotiation was also sustained by the fact  that the growing shortage of Russian gas was severely affecting both production and households.

The position in favor of a negotiation was not a novelty. Angela Merkel, for 16 years at the helm of Germany, had struck with Russia a deal for the  second gas pipeline, bringing the flow of Russian gas to China to over 100 billion cubic meters per year. Last autumn's meeting in Moscow between Merkel and Putin had reiterated the importance of cooperation between Germany and Russia in trade, investment and the gas supply. The meeting had ended with an important agreement, and with Putin offering a large bouquet of flowers to Angela Merkel – testimony of a relationship with distant roots, dating back to 2001 when Merkel was at the head of the CDU, the conservative party, but not yet Chancellor of Germany.

3.   After Merkel's withdrawal - France had worked for a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian question. There have been countless talks between Macron, the French president, and Putin. The issue was still once the placement of the Donbass  provinces within a regional reorganization of  Ukraine.  A possible and reasonable solution as in Western Europe it is the case of Catalonia in Spain, or the regional and linguistic division between Flemings and Walloons in Belgium.  A European example of a possible and reasonable solution for Ukraine as well. Macron's attempts were unsuccessful. Putin was convinced that every possibility of an agreement had already been tried together with Merkel, and the attempt had failed. For the head of Kremlin the matter had passed into the hands of the United States.

4.   The United States maintained its position, along with Ukraine’s head Zelensky , convinced that war in Ukraine would have provoked the destabilization of the Russian regime, and the possible end of Putin's leadership. An objective that, after four months of war, appears to lack any realistic perspective. In effect, the contrary is  happening.

The Donbass, the vast and rich Ukrainian north-eastern region, is practically passed into Russian hands, while the conflict spreads close to the province of Odessa, the main port of the west of the Black Sea. From a political point of view, the new strong relations that Russia has established with China are the most important event.

New gas pipelines one already active, and a second destined to pass through Manchuria, operational in the coming years, will make China the most important importer of Russian gas. At the same time, new key relations have been established with India, which quadruples Russian gas flows.

In other terms, Russia has found important outlets for its gas, while in Western Europe there are growing supply difficulties with serious consequences for industrial production, services and households.

5.   It is in this context that the next  elections of  25 September in Italy will profoundly change the Italian political scenario. While the center-left parties are divided, the right-wing coalition will face the elections together, increasing the chance of its success . It is not an isolated case. It is a matter of fact that the European political picture has already changed.

In Germany,  chancellor Scholz, as we have seen, has moved in the direction of a negotiation with Russia. The attempt was blocked by the division within the ruling coalition, but the question remains open.

In France, Macron, even though head of a minority government , according to the French constitution, is responsible for foreign policy. Given that the opposition is in favor of a negotiation with Russia, Macron may be forced to move with greater determination in that direction.

The foreign policy of the new Italian rightwing coalition has to take into account that a remarkable part of Italian electors is in favor of a negotiation with Russia to end the Ukraine conflict. A position that - after the exit of Di Maio and a group of followers - will also be at the center of the leftwing Five Star movement.

It is difficult to foresee a change in the current US policy towards Russia. The strategic is  to consolidate the European consensus, to overturn the current course of the conflict.  But, In the meanwhile, the war meets difficulties also in the United States. President Biden currently has the lowest popular support in the recent history of American presidents after less than two years after taking office. And, according some current polls, Democrats could lose the majority in the House with the next November election.

Every forecast is subject to deep incertitude . Europe is divided among nations and often within each of them. It is difficult to foresee all the possible consequences of the current war in Europe and at worldwide level. In any case, it was an avoidable war. While it is difficult to predict the timing and conditions of its solution. 

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (