A Prime ministers’ departure to celebrate – fun and games in Italy

Image Courtesy of Conway Hall

Boris Johnson isn’t the only Prime Minister in Europe to announce stepping down this torrid summer: Italy’s Mario Draghi also handed in his notice last week. The departure of the former, while understandable and almost inevitable, is a cause of real concern; the departure of the latter is a cause for minor celebration. The joy at Draghi’s departure is most keenly felt by those on the right and those who champion democracy over the imposed technocracies of the anti-democratic EU. While it is indeed ‘a good thing’ that the dreadful Draghi is going, one should not raise one’s hopes too high that this is another manifestation of the onwards and upwards momentum of European populism.

There could hardly be a greater contrast between the ebullient, larger-than-life Johnson and the dry-as-dust Draghi – a bloodless bureaucrat and tedious technocrat. But what connects them both, as with most politicians, is overweening ambition. Not content with being Italy’s prime minister, Draghi now desires to be its president, living in the opulent Quirinale palace that goes with the job. That requires being elected by parliamentarians. He is not very conversant with elections and democracy, having yet to be democratically elected to any of his previous leading posts – Governor of the Bank of Italy, Chair of the International Stability Board and, in his most Sauron-like role, President of the European Central Bank – before being invited to become PM of Italy in February 2021. Oh, and before all that, just to complete the unbreakable corporate-technocratic oligarchy of Europe’s political leaders, he did rather well for himself at Goldman Sachs. (As did Mario Monti, Italian PM 2011-13.)

The resignation, following a vote of no confidence in Draghi’s coalition government and his increasingly autocratic behaviour, prompts a general election. However, that will not be held until late September or early October, during which time Draghi will remain as caretaker PM, rather like our own Boris.  The election won’t be held earlier because Italian politicians, not known for their lack of venal cupidity, would, by official rules, stand to lose out on €50,000 in pension contributions if parliament is dissolved before then.

Similarly to Johnson, Draghi was also hailed as the great hope for his nation, ready to lead it out of its many crises. Business, the EU, the media and the whole establishment were enamoured with Draghi, calling him ‘Super Mario’, investing him with obviously over-optimistic powers to save Italy from its problems, massively intensified by the damage done to Italy in the international financial crisis and collapse of 2008. In fact, what really scuppered Italy was not solely that exigency, but the ones imposed on the country by the EU: crushing consequent austerity and the permanent imprisonment of the Euro. Italy still has not recovered, encumbered by massive debt and with one-third of under-thirties neither in work nor learning. Desperate to break out of the cycle of misfortune, many people thought Draghi fitted in to the recent Italian tradition of state saviours, as also seen in the likes of Silvio Berlusconi (the near-nonagenarian naughty boy still involved in high-level politics) and the smoothie Matteo Renzi. But just like them, Draghi has also failed.

On the surface, a general election looks like a golden opportunity for Italy to reassert its tainted democratic credentials by kicking out the civil servant/banker/technocrat Prime Minister’s government. Some have hailed a bright new dawn in Italian politics, while liberals are alarmed at the prospect of the robustly right-wing Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) soaring in popularity. It is all froth. Just as Italy has seen populist surges from the right before, the end result tends to lead eventually to a semi- or undemocratic government. Technocratic rule is now the norm in Italy. The Dini government of 1994-5 established this precedent, being comprised entirely of ‘experts’ – unelected technocrats one and all. It set a new and troubling paradigm. Too often the Italian compromise of having discontents in the tent peeing out rather than outside peeing in prevails. Even the once radical Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Lega (League) joined in the chorus pleading Draghi not to tender his resignation.

There is a chance for the forthcoming elections to change things, but it is highly unlikely. For whoever is ‘in power’ in Italy is so only nominally, as their strings will be pulled, as usual, in Brussels and Frankfurt by the EU and European Central Bank. And behind them lies Germany. In the UK Johnson’s departure potentially puts Brexit at risk, while Draghi’s removal will not lead to any reduction in the EU’s vice-like grip of Italy. The EU is dangling before Italy €200 billion in post-Covid recovery funds – the largest single contribution to any EU country. Whoever wins the election will have to play by Brussel’s rulebook if they want to receive that slice of largesse. And they do.

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15 Comments on A Prime ministers’ departure to celebrate – fun and games in Italy

  1. The criticism here of the present Kulturkampf and Gleichschaltung in the land of Leibniz, Bach, Schiller, Clausewitz, Heisenberg and Adenauer is tragically illustrated by Frank Furedi, “Germany has succumbed…”, Spiked Online, 14th August. (Gertrud Scholtz-Klink must be turning in her grave.)

  2. N J – Nothing “boring” here at all – some perennially fascinating topics, we both would agree. Britain had very sound reasons to avoid taking (assumed) leadership in Europe after WWII, but, yes, I agree in the larger sphere of things that short-termism is a recurring problem in British policy. As is dishonesty. Both played their part in Britain’s joining of the EEC in the first place.
    The “Adolf” quip was just that – a light-hearted quip. Apologies that it flopped. German culpability by extension can’t be dismissed: although hesitant, even reluctant, about being involved in another war, the population was generally delighted by the conquest of France. As we know, few events are monocausal and I do have considerable sympathy for some of the views of Taylor, Hitchens, McKeekin et al. But ultimately the pattern of 1870, 1914 and 1939 seems part of a continuum.
    The Bethman Hollweg angle for WWI has recently been argued for, but there remains no consensus. Noa makes a perceptive point about Bethman Hollweg’s foreign policy and modern Germany’s.
    Germany dominates Europe for a number of reasons, some of them not welcome by German politicians. I think cynicism needs to be universally applied and Germany should be as subjected to it as any other country (including, of course, Britain). Germany is obviously not the military power it was pre-war; economically, however, it is now far stronger. And it does throw its weight around. (And why wouldn’t it? Any nation in the same situation would likely do the same.)
    I did enjoy the Mosley quote – something I had long since forgotten. But even better are your comments on ideas in France, Germany and Britain. Made me laugh, not least because of the truth in it.

    • Three more from the never-to-be-published “Wit & Wisdom of Sir Oswald Mosley 1896-1980”:
      1. “Wars are welcome to Labour Party leaders but on three conditions: first, they help the Soviet Union instead of Britain; secondly, the troops have no arms with which to fight; and thirdly, they are not included among the troops.”
      2. “Invade one country and it gets a war, invade six countries and it gets a trade pact.”
      3. “Two rulers run Britain today: King Bank and King Bunk.”

      • British policy towards Germany was clumsy in 1939-40 (Nazi-Soviet Pact) and again in 1949-50 (ECSC Preparation). The Gallic jockey was comfortably astride the Germanic horse when the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street decided to behave like the suffragette on the race course and upset the arrangement. The “Imbalance” of Europe has been the policy of a weak and damaged Britain, from the Eden morphiomania to the Major disaster. From the Brussels frying-pan and into the Beijing fire.

  3. Bethmann Hollweg a monarchist responsible for war who died 100 years ago.
    F-W Steinmeyer an Ebert Foundation member notable for peaceful co-existence foreign policy initiatives all round.
    Boring, I will admit.

  4. German domination of the EU is simply a fact, whatever the reasons for it (they are indeed varied and very interesting). The Euro, locking Germany into low currency valuation and favourable interest rates, has benefitted the always strong export market of the Germans – at the crippling expense of Mediterranean countries, who have suffered hugely as a consequence, Italy being a case in point. There are plenty of centre-left academics and observers who emphasise this, but for Italy in particular see the excellent “First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy” by David Broder. Unsurprisingly, at the height of the EU-imposed austerity regime, many in countries such as Italy and Greece were making unflattering comparisons of Germany with its Third Reich days.
    Merkel’s acceptance of mass immigration followed the failure her family policy, intended to increase the size of the Germany’s homegrown population.
    The culpability for the origins of WWI is indeed disputed, but the blame on Germany is highlighted by a very large and broad band of historians. I don’t think any would exculpate Adolf for WWII!
    Germany’s dominance raises legitimate concerns, not least in many of its – and the EU’s – often undemocratic policies and rule-breaking.

    • The main problem with the EU is the dominance of woke, not the theoretical policy of a united continent self-sufficient in food, raw materials, technology and a large market. Britain avoided taking a post-WW2 lead along with the former five white Dominions when Germany was still divided and the Gaullists were pro-British and friendly to a Europe-Africa co-operation. But then wrong turnings, unintended (?) outcomes and short-term gimmicks have characterised UK politics since 1930 if not before. The Germans are a gifted and traditionally hard-working people at the geographical centre of Europe, but a numerical and declining minority. If I may quote Mosley, who opposed WW2, the Germans like to march together in one direction, the trick is to point them in the right one. But I would say to generalise on “essentialism” that the French like to be divided by ideas, the Germans like to unite behind one Idea, while the English don’t like ideas all that much. Salvador de Madariaga’s “Portrait of Europe” is a Spanish liberal view, still fresh in its analysis of Germany and the other nations, with the danger to all Europe (including the UK) now coming from China, Islam, African emigration and Russian chauvinism, not National Socialism.

      I did not suggest, and do not think, that “Adolf” had no responsibility for WW2, but suggest a look at varied studies by A J P Taylor, Udo Walendy, Peter Hitchens, Sean McMeekin and (yes, even) David Irving, among others, for an understanding of a complex issue. As for the consequences for “silly old England”, enough to consult the books by the sadly recently deceased Correlli Barnett.

  5. A good article, Mr Monkton. Italy, like the rest of the EU nations who surrendered financial control to the Euro are slowly learning the harshest reality, that they also gave political control to Germany, via Brussels, when they did so.

  6. The EU is clearly becoming a collection of broken, bankrupt states controlled by a despotic Teutonic hegemon. The loss of two wars in the twentieth century only delayed and failed to prevent the inevitable logic of destiny.

    • Yes, Noa, let’s have another war on our industrious and intelligent Germanic cousins, and gas or sterilise any survivors, and ban their music and science. Use the H-bomb this time. Smash up their motorways, destroy the remnants of their fairy-tale villages, and finish the job started by Theodore Kaufman, Henry Morgenthau and Ilya Ehrenburg.

      • What, exactly, is it in my post that leads you to conclude I want a third war with Germany? I could find nothing of the sort when I re-read it. However the German domination of Europe, now nearly complete under its neo-Communist Government,will as Ukraine shows, be niether pleasant or peaceful for its neighbours.

        • @ Noa
          Recovery from the loss of 2 world wars seemed to disappoint or annoy or alarm you. (The idea that the “Teutons” were solely responsible for WW1 and WW2 is today maintained only by historians like the neo-con Andrew Roberts and the paleo-left Richard Evans.) The present state of Germany is largely the result of racial guilt and anti-nazi propaganda drummed into its population incessantly since the Allied occupation. Neither Kaiser nor Fuehrer would have invited the immigration welcomed by Merkel, nor the birth-strike in face of China and Russia criticised by Thilo Sarrazin or Germar Rudolf. Are the woke maniacs in Brussels “Teutonic”? Is Alice Bah Kuhnke a German? Is the “EU Anti-Racism Plan 2020-2025” a product of the same nation as Kant, Fichte, Herder, Hegel, Goethe, Nietzsche, Spengler, Heidegger, Arnold Gehlen or Konrad Lorenz?

          • “Is the “EU Anti-Racism Plan 2020-2025” a product of the same nation as Kant, Fichte, Herder, Hegel, Goethe, Nietzsche, Spengler, Heidegger, Arnold Gehlen or Konrad Lorenz?” Pretentious and irrelevant and
            Yes, of course it is. Though the intellectual stock was somewhat diminished by… events.
            Leaving aside the leftwing seizure of power in German government, Germany’s foreign policy today could easily have been conceived by Bethman-Hollweg.
            James Monktons post above is a more mature and genuinely informed analysis of Germany’s relationships with the EU and the European nations.

  7. Fratelli d’Italia?
    How about Brothers of Britain?
    Oh no, Sexist AND Racist, Xenophobic AND Islamophobic…to the dungeons ASAP!