The hypothesis of an election of Mario Draghi as President of the Republic is arousing not only the inevitable attention of political forces, but also of the most attentive observers and scholars of our institutions. Marco Damilano in L’Espresso of 6 June underlined how, if the election were to go through, “a de facto reform” would be implemented, it would be “the beginning of a transformation of the Republic towards semi-presidentialism”.
He’s right. Indeed, I would be more radical. For some years now the functioning of our Republic has resembled that of a semi-presidential republic with indirect election. The expression is deliberately provocative. It does not pretend to describe the nature of a constitutional order, but limits itself to pointing out similarities of operation. On a strictly constitutional level, the differences in the Italian situation compared to a properly semi-presidential model were clearly highlighted on the occasion of the birth of the Draghi government by Nicola Lupo on federalismi.it on 24 March last. But the political fact of an increasingly decisive role of the Quirinale in Italian politics, completely in accordance with the constitutional dictate, but certainly more marked than in other seasons of the past, is undeniable and, in view of the expiry of the mandate of Sergio Mattarella, it cannot be ignored. Being the President of the Republic today means having to exercise, or have to be ready to exercise, which is the same, very important functions on the internal and external front. Not a role of mere representation.
The reasons for this transformation are known on the domestic political front.
The by now structural instability of the political framework and political mores has produced a frenetic succession of different governments, of ever new parties, of perennially dissatisfied and restless political personnel in a whirlwind of complicated electoral laws and failed constitutional reforms. It is not surprising that, in the midst of this constant shaking, the presidency of the Republic has represented a stable point of reference for political forces, institutions, citizens, not only on a moral level, as a source of words of wisdom, of continuous messages of reconciliation and responsibility, but on the concrete political-institutional level, through initiatives capable of creating governability against the destructive fury.
At least since the late seventies, in the public debate, two hypotheses are facing each other to give stability to the government in our country: on the one hand, the presidential or semi-presidential hypothesis, on the other, the hypothesis of a rationalization of the parliamentary form of government by strengthening the powers of the premier. The second path has always enjoyed greater support, but any attempt to make some reform in that direction (through constitutional reforms or electoral laws), apart from the so-called Mattarellum, has been systematically boycotted. For each of the reform attempts it can be said that it was badly done, but the outcome is evident. Having failed that road, the system reinforced the other hypothesis: entrust the task of guaranteeing stability to the presidency of the Republic. Without reforming a comma, but using all the prerogatives of the Constitution to allow it to perform this function. And, luckily for us, the Quirinale has been able to play this role of stabilizing the government very well even in times of dramatic financial or pandemic crisis.
But there is a second front, in addition to the internal one, which explains this transformation. And it is the international one. Italy is one of the few countries that conceives of politics as a dramatic art that takes place entirely on the country’s theater scene. And it is truly unique because the Italian Republic, from its birth, owes the defense of its borders, the sustainability of its economy, the protection of people’s rights, democracy and the rule of law (in short, the three pillars of every political unity) to a complex system of international relations (NATO and European institutions), to which the Italian people have freely decided to join.
It is clear that in an integrated system, each member must do his part in a way that is consistent with the objectives and strategies of the system to avoid jeopardizing not only his own stability but that of his partners. In an integrated system, the risk of financial failure is an overall risk. The opening of our information and defense systems to countries in competition (or in tension) with our allies is an element of collective insecurity. Offenses against fundamental rights and the rule of law in one part of the system can fuel illiberal and undemocratic spirals as a whole.
In recent years we have witnessed the manifestation of all these risks in Italy and, constantly, the presidency of the Republic has represented not only the element of internal stability, but of external reliability, keeping the bar straight on the European and Atlantic position of the country. , despite the geopolitical waltzes of some political forces or the economic and financial unreliability of some government structures. To stay in the last few years, the crisis of the Conte 1 and Conte 2 governments and the birth of the Draghi government amply testify to the importance of the international context. With this, the Quirinale has by no means assumed the function of “political direction” that belongs to the government (based, in view of article 49, of the citizens’ vote), but has vigorously carried out the function of “constitutional direction” of Italian politics , that is, to keep Italian politics within the framework of its major decisions, that is, the constitutional framework and the international treaties.
The Draghi government is the perfect expression of this line. “A high-profile government that does not have to identify with any political formula”, as Mattarella said, exactly means a government that does not have a political address but which makes its own the constitutional address of the country, its fundamental law, its great strategic choices. Draghi embodies this task and in the short months of his action he has been able to bring the government back with authority and determination within the system of international relations to which we are part. We have seen him successfully conduct the delicate negotiations with Europe, putting an end to the perplexities of others with a “I guarantee” that no one else could have afforded. We have seen him at the center of the positive resumption of dialogue and collaboration between the United States and Europe. All this makes him the person who can best perform the functions of President of the Republic in this season in which the international situation is very delicate: on the one hand, the emergence of a new “cold war” or in any case of a situation of tension between East and West, on the other hand, the strong indebtedness of the country requires maximum guarantees at the highest levels.
On the other hand, his government, outside and above any “political formula”, could not last in this form. Once the pandemic is over, as we hope, the government must be able to return to express a clear political direction determined by the vote of the citizens in a framework of loyalty to the major choices. This does not at all mean that the legislature should end immediately after the election of the new President of the Republic. On the contrary, it is necessary to use the rest of the legislature to put the country back on track, (hopefully) definitively overcome the health emergency, support the economic recovery and make reforms. There he included some things that could also be done on an institutional and electoral law level.
With Draghi at the Quirinale the legislature could continue along this line and the political dialectic would have time to express itself in view of the elections of 2023. The League’s willingness to support Draghi’s candidacy for the presidency of the Republic should not be dropped. The alternatives are all more difficult or uncertain. And Italy, as never before, would need to have, at least in a key position, an element of stability and undisputed international prestige.
Michele Nicoletti is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Trento