President calls on Draghi to save Italy

Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante
·1-min read

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has summoned former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi for talks and looks certain to ask him to form a unity government to tackle the coronavirus and economic crises.

Mattarella made his move on Tuesday just minutes after being told talks to salvage the previous ruling coalition had collapsed.

"I have a duty to appeal to all political forces (to support) a high-profile government," said the head of state.

Draghi is widely credited with pulling the euro zone back from the brink of collapse in 2012, pledging to do "whatever it takes" to save the single European currency.

He has largely vanished from the public eye since his ECB term ended in October 2019 but his name has emerged as a potential premier in recent weeks given the health, economic and political turmoil battering Italy.

Draghi made no immediate comment on the presidential summons and it was not initially clear which parties in the deeply fractured parliament would support an administration he headed.

Italy, the first European country to be hit by the virus, has seen more than 89,000 deaths since its outbreak last February, the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world.

Data released on Tuesday showed Italy's gross domestic product shrank 8.8 per cent in 2020 - the steepest annual drop for the country since World War II.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned last week after the small Italia Viva party, headed by former premier Matteo Renzi, quit cabinet in a row over the government's handling of COVID-19 and its recovery plans.

Renzi said on Tuesday negotiations had failed to patch up differences on an array of issues, including health spending, education, justice and infrastructure.