Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday promised sweeping reforms to help rebuild Italy following the coronavirus pandemic, as he set out his priorities ahead of a mandatory confidence vote in his government of national unity.
Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, was sworn into office at the weekend at the helm of a broad-based administration that has the backing of parties from across the political spectrum, to guide Italy through the coronavirus crisis and an economic slump.
In his maiden speech to parliament, Draghi said his main duty was to “fight the pandemic by all means and to safeguard the lives of our fellow citizens” and he called for unity among politicians and citizens.
Draghi said his government would also look to the future with a series of reforms aimed at fostering long-term growth in the eurozone’s third largest economy, which is mired in its worst recession since World War Two.
“Today, unity is not an option, unity is a duty. But it is a duty guided by what I am sure unites us all: love for Italy,” Draghi told the Senate.
His immediate concerns will be ensuring a smooth vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and re-writing plans for how to spend more than 200 billion euros ($240 billion) of European Union funds aimed at rebuilding the economy.
To guarantee the money is well spent, Draghi signalled that he wants to overhaul the public administration, which is throttled by red tape, and the justice system, one of the slowest in Europe.
If he succeeds, Draghi will not only help revive Italy after the worst recession since World War Two, but will also give a boost to the whole EU, which has long fretted over chronic sluggishness in the euro zone’s third largest economy.
Draghi is among Europe’s most respected figures after his eight-year stewardship of the ECB, and his nomination as prime minister has been hailed by investors – as reflected in Italian bond sales on Tuesday that drew record demand.
However, he faces daunting challenges, not least keeping together his disparate coalition, which includes political foes with vastly different views on issues such as immigration and welfare.
With a vast parliamentary majority on paper, Draghi looks set to waltz through Wednesday’s confidence vote in the Senate and a similar vote in the lower house on Thursday, the final step needed for the government to exercise its full powers.
The confidence vote in the Senate is due to start at 11 pm (2200 GMT) on Wednesday.
Below are some of the highlights as the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi unveiled his policy programme in the upper house Senate on Wednesday:
“The main duty to which we are called, all of us… is to fight the pandemic by all means and to safeguard the lives of our fellow citizens. A trench where we all fight together. The virus is everyone’s enemy.”
“The government that I have the honour to lead, especially in a dramatic situation such as the one we are experiencing, is simply the government of the country. It does not need any further adjectives to define it.”
“Today we have, as did the governments of the immediate post-war period, the possibility, or rather the responsibility, to launch a new reconstruction. … This is our mission as Italians: to hand over a better and fairer country to our children and grandchildren.”
“Governments in Italy have been short on average, but this has not prevented us from making decisive choices… It’s the quality of the decisions that counts, the courage of visions, not the days.”
“In recent years our attempts to reform the country have not been entirely absent, but their concrete effects have been limited. Perhaps the problem lies in the way we have often designed reforms: partial interventions dictated by the urgency of the moment, without a comprehensive vision that requires time and expertise.”
“When we will come out of the pandemic, and we will come out of it, what kind of world will we find? Some people think that the tragedy we have been living in for more than 12 months has been similar to a long power cut. Sooner or later the power will be restored, and everything will restart. Science, but simply common sense, suggests that this may not be the case.”
“In just 12 months, scientists have worked a miracle. It has never happened before that a new vaccine could be produced in less than a year. Our first challenge is to get enough of it and distribute it quickly and efficiently. We need to mobilise all the energies we can count on – civil protection, the armed forces, the many volunteers.”
“Speed is essential not only to protect individuals and their communities, but now also to reduce the chances of other variants of the virus arising.”
“On the basis of the experience of the past months, we must open a wide-ranging debate on the reform of our health care. The central point is to strengthen and redesign local healthcare, creating a strong network of basic services.”
“In the coming weeks we will strengthen the (Recovery Plan), in particular with regards to the objectives concerning the production of energy from renewable sources, air and water pollution, the high-speed railway network, energy distribution networks for electric vehicles, hydrogen production and distribution, digitalisation, broadband and 5G networks.”
“The (Recovery Plan) will set targets for the next decade and for the longer term, with an intermediate milestone for the final year of the Next Generation EU, in 2026.”
“We will also ensure that the employment momentum of the (Recovery plan) is sufficiently high in each of the six years, including 2021.”
“(EU funds) will have to be spent with a view to improving the growth potential of our economy. The share of additional lending that we will request through the main component of the programme, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, will have to be modulated according to public finance targets.”
“The Ministry if Economy and Finance will be responsible for the Recovery Plan, with the very close collaboration of the relevant Ministries that define sector policies and projects. Parliament will be kept constantly informed of both the overall framework and sector policies.”
ROLE OF THE STATE
“The role of the state and the scope of its interventions will have to be carefully assessed.”
“In our international relations, this government will be strongly pro-European and Atlanticist, in line with Italy’s historical roots: the European Union, the Atlantic Alliance and the United Nations.”
“Italy (will) need to better structure and strengthen the strategic and indispensable relationship with France and Germany.”
“We will continue to work towards a more virtuous dialogue between the European Union and Turkey, a NATO partner and ally.”
“It’s not a good idea to change taxes one at a time.”
EUROPE AND THE EURO
“Supporting this government means sharing the irreversibility of the choice of the euro, it means sharing the prospect of an increasingly integrated European Union that will arrive at a common public budget capable of supporting countries in times of recession.”
“There is no Europe without Italy. But, outside Europe there is less Italy. There is no sovereignty in solitude.”
“With regards to justice, the actions to be carried out are mainly those foreseen by the European Union… increase the efficiency of the civil justice system, getting rid of backlogs, adopting simpler procedural rules, filling vacancies of administrative staff… promoting the fight against corruption.”
“Not only must we quickly return to a normal school schedule, … but we must do everything possible, using the most appropriate methods, to make up for the hours of face-to-face teaching lost last year. … The annual school calendar needs to be revised.”
“It is necessary to invest in the training of teachers in order to align the educational offer with the demand of the new generations.”
“Globalisation, digital transformation and ecological transition have been changing the labour market for years and require continuous adjustments in university education.”
“Our social security system is unbalanced, not sufficiently protecting people on temporary contracts and the self-employed.”
“We want to leave behind a good planet not just a good currency.”
“The answer to climate change and the pandemic will have to be a combination of structural policies that ease innovation, financial policies that facilitate access to capital and credit, and expansionary monetary and fiscal policies that make investments easier and create demand for new sustainable activities.”
“True gender equality does not mean a pharisaical use of the required by law: it requires a level playing field between genders.”
“Today, unity is not an option, unity is a duty. But it is a duty guided by what I am sure unites us all: love for Italy.”
Main Photo: Italian premier Mario Draghi during his address to the Senate ahead of a confidence vote, in Rome, Italy, 17 February 2021. EPA-EFE/ROBERTO MONALDO / POOL