A crisis is brewing on the streets of Europe
Mario Draghi’s defenestration has left the Italian — and indeed international — establishment reeling in horror. This is not surprising. When he was nominated as Italy’s prime minister at the beginning of last year, Europe’s political and economic elites welcomed his arrival as a miracle. Virtually every party in the Italian parliament — including the two formerly “populist” parties that won the elections in 2018, the Five Star Movement and the League — offered their support.
The tone of the discussion was captured well by the powerful governor of the Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca (PD), who compared Draghi to “Christ” himself.
Everyone agreed: a Draghi government would be a blessing for the country, a final opportunity to redeem its sins and “make Italy great again”. Draghi, they said, simply by virtue of his “charisma”, “competence”, “intelligence” and “international clout”, would keep bond markets at bay, enact much-needed reforms, and relaunch Italy’s stagnant economy.
Alas, reality hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations: Draghi leaves behind a country in tatters. The latest European Commission macroeconomic forecast predicted that Italy will experience the slowest economic growth in the bloc next year, at just 0.9%, owing to a decline in consumer spending due to rising prices and lower business investment — a result of rising borrowing and energy costs, as well as disruptions in the supply of Russian gas.
Italy is also experiencing one of the fastest-growing inflation rates in Europe — which is currently at 8.6%, the highest level in more than three decades. Interest rates on Italian government bonds have also been steadily climbing ever since Draghi came to power, rising four-fold under his watch; today they stand at the highest level in almost a decade.
And this “polycrisis” has taken its toll on Italian society: 5.6 million Italians — almost 10% of the population, including 1.4 million minors — currently live in absolute poverty, the highest level on record. Many of these are in work, and that number is bound to increase as real wages in Italy continue to fall at the highest pace in the bloc. Meanwhile, almost 100,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are at risk of insolvency — a 2% increase compared to last year.
So much for “Super Mario”, then. Of course, one could argue that other countries are experiencing similar problems, but it would be a mistake to let Draghi off the hook. He has been one of the staunchest supporters of the measures that led to this situation, having been a driving force in pushing for tough EU sanctions against Moscow — sanctions that are crippling Europe’s economies, while leaving Russia largely unscathed.
Draghi even boasted about the bold measures adopted by Italy to wean the country off Russian gas — the result being that Italy is now the country that pays the highest wholesale electricity prices in the entire EU. The absurdity of these policies becomes apparent when we consider his attempt to reduce Italy’s dependence on Russian gas by reviving several coal-fired power plants — coal that Italy largely imports from Russia.
Worse still, Draghi did little or nothing to shield wage-earners, households and small businesses from the impact of these policies. Indeed, the few “structural” measures enacted by his government have all been aimed at promoting privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation and fiscal consolidation — such as opening up for privatisation those few public services that had remained outside of the scope of the market, further “flexibilising” labour, putting private beaches up for public tender for the first time in decades, or attempting to expand taxi services to include ride-sharing operators like Uber, sparking massive protests.
For anyone who has an inkling of Draghi’s ideology, this is hardly surprising. As I’ve argued before, Mario Draghi is the bodily incarnation of “neoliberalism”. Neither is it surprising that those policies haven’t delivered, given that the EU’s neoliberal logic, based upon privatisation, fiscal austerity and wage compression — which Draghi has played a crucial role in implementing since the early Nineties — is the main reason Italy is in such a mess to begin with.
Draghi also further strengthened the EU’s stranglehold over the Italian economy by relentlessly peddling the narrative that Italy desperately needed the European Covid recovery funds to kickstart its economy, and that in order to access those funds it needed to diligently implement the reforms demanded by Brussels.
Yet in macroeconomic terms, the funds in question are a pittance, and nowhere close to what would be needed to have a meaningful impact on Italy’s economy. But they come with very strict conditionalities. This is ultimately what the EU’s Next Generation EU “recovery fund” is all about: increasing Brussels’s control over the budgetary policies of member states and strengthening the EU’s regime of technocratic and authoritarian control.
And who better than Draghi could be trusted with locking such measures in place? As he himself noted, the “reform path” laid down by his government meant that “we have created the conditions for the [EU recovery] work to continue, regardless of who is [in government]” — thus ensuring that future governments wouldn’t stray from the path of righteousness.
Draghi, however, doesn’t just leave behind him a scorched economy but also a deeply fractured and divided society.
He is the man responsible for devising the most punitive, discriminatory and segregational mass vaccination policies in the West, which not only excluded millions of unvaccinated people — including children — from social life, by extending vaccine passports to practically all public spaces, but also restricted many people from working. He also helped make the unvaccinated the target of institutionally sanctioned hate speech, such as when he infamously claimed: “You don’t get vaccinated, you get sick, you die. Or you kill.”
All this might offer an indication of why a recent poll showed that 50% of Italians weren’t happy with the government’s work. And yet, in spite of these rather unimpressive results, when Draghi initially announced his intention to resign, the Italian establishment went into an apoplectic fit.
In what will go down in history as one of the most pathetic demonstrations of the sycophantic conformism of Italian society, almost every professional category you can think of rushed to launch their own appeal begging Draghi to stay on — not only wealthy businessmen, as was to be expected, but also doctors, pharmacists, nurses, mayors, university deans, NGOs, progressive intellectuals and even the CGIL, the country’s largest union.
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Thomas Fazi is a writer, journalist and translator. His latest book 'Reclaiming the State' is published by Pluto Press
Will Europe erupt? (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)