Italy’s 5-Star opens slightly to Draghi ahead of government talks

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ROME, Feb 4 (Reuters) – Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi started consultations on Thursday on forming a new Italian government as the largest party in parliament, the 5-Star Movement, softened its initial hostility to his appointment.

With Italy in the middle of a health and economic crisis, the head of state gave Draghi a mandate on Wednesday to form an administration after the previous coalition government, which included the anti-establishment 5-Star, collapsed in acrimony.

Outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in his first public comments on the political tumult, wished Draghi well and said he hoped the next government would have a political nature and not comprise only unaffiliated technocrats.

The words of Conte – himself not a member of any party but close to 5-Star – were seen as a signal that his cabinet allies should consider working with Draghi, one of the most respected institutional figures in both Italy and Europe.

Given its large presence in parliament, the 5-Star could play a crucial role in the coming days. Traditionally opposed to technocrat governments, it was instinctively hostile to Draghi when he was first given the nod.

However Luigi Di Maio, the outgoing foreign minister and senior 5-Star politician, urged caution on Thursday.

“In my opinion, the 5-Star Movement has the duty to meet (Draghi), listen and then take a position,” he said. “It is precisely in these circumstances that a political force shows itself to be mature in the eyes of the country.”


Draghi is not due to talk to 5-Star until Saturday when he will wrap up his consultations and decide if he has sufficient backing to form Italy’s 67th government since World War Two.

Financial markets have cheered his sudden arrival on the political scene, hopeful he can spearhead long-awaited reforms to boost growth in a country that has long underperformed its European peers, weighing down the whole euro zone.

Draghi is a famously reserved figure and has not said anything in public about the possible make-up of his cabinet.

One option would be to rely on the parties that made up the outgoing coalition, but he is more likely to seek broad cross-party support, given the huge challenges facing Italy.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi suggested he might be ready to help out – a move that could cause a rift within the right-wing opposition bloc.

Praising the decision to appoint Draghi, Berlusconi said in a statement he had “a high institutional profile around whom we can try to build substantial unity”.

One of Berlusconi’s allies, the far-right Brothers of Italy, has ruled out backing Draghi, while the largest party in the bloc, the eurosceptic League, has sounded at best lukewarm, saying early elections would be the best option for the country.

Matteo Renzi, the head of the small Italia Viva party which triggered Conte’s downfall by withdrawing from the cabinet, has offered Draghi unconditional support and said on Thursday a new government could take office next week. (Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones)

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