Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi pose for a picture after the new cabinet ministers swearing-in ceremony, at the Quirinale Presidential Palace in Rome, Italy, February 13, 2021. REUTERS/
Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi was formally sworn in as Italy's new prime minister on Saturday, against the backdrop of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and a crippling recession.
The appointment of the 73-year-old known as "Super Mario" capped weeks of political instability for the country still in the grips of the health crisis that has killed more than 93,000 people.
"I swear to be loyal to the Republic," recited Draghi, as he stood before President Sergio Mattarella in the ornate presidential palace in a ceremony broadcast live on television.
Members of his new cabinet, who include technocrats, veteran politicians and ministers held over from the previous government, each took the oath of office.
Draghi was parachuted in by Mattarella after the previous centre-left coalition under premier Giuseppe Conte collapsed, leading Italy rudderless at a critical time.
He spent the last 10 days assembling a broad-based coalition and on Friday night formally accepted the post of premier in a meeting with Mattarella, after which he publicly revealed the new cabinet for the first time.
On Wednesday, Draghi will be presented to the Senate, the upper house of parliament, followed by the lower Chamber of Deputies on Thursday for a confidence vote that will give the final official blessing to his government.
"Break a leg," read the headline on La Stampa daily Saturday, as an Ipsos poll in the Corriere della Sera daily showed that 62 percent of Italians supported Draghi.
Coalition, for now?
Draghi has the support of a rainbow coalition ranging from leftists to Matteo Salvini's far-right League.
It includes the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Italia Viva -- who made-up the previous government and then fell out over the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
M5S, the biggest party in parliament which began life as an anti-establishment movement, was split over whether to support a government led by an unelected technocrat.
But in an online vote, members backed Draghi by 59 percent, after securing the promise of a new super-ministry for "ecological transition".
That post has gone to renowned physicist Roberto Cingolani, who works at Italian aeronautics giant Leonardo.
The senior deputy governor of Bank of Italy, Daniele Franco, was named as the new economy minister, while Roberto Speranza and Luigi Di Maio stay on at health and foreign affairs, respectively.
Italy has high hopes for its new leader, who famously said he would do "whatever it takes" to save the eurozone in the midst of the 2010s debt crisis.
Although he himself has no political power base, Draghi can count on his experience during years working in the Italian civil service, as well as his banking career.
His arrival was greeted with delight by the financial markets, and Italy's borrowing costs dropped to a historic low this week.
Nevertheless, "it is difficult to overstate the scale of the challenges that Draghi and Italy face", said Luigi Scazzieri of the Centre for European Reform.
The Covid-19 shutdown and waves of subsequent restrictions caused the economy to shrink by a staggering 8.9 percent last year, while more than 420,000 people have lost their jobs.
It is Italy's worst recession since World War II.
The virus remains rife and Conte's cabinet, in one of its last acts, on Friday tightened curbs in four regions and extended a ban on travelling between regions.
Like other European Union countries, Italy has also fallen behind in its vaccination programme, blaming delivery delays.
The country is pinning its hopes on receiving more than 220 billion euros ($267 billion) in EU recovery funds to help get back on its feet.
But disputes over how to spend the money, between demands for longstanding structural reform and short-term stimulus, brought down the previous government.
Draghi's job looks easier than that faced by previous technocrat prime ministers, such as Mario Monti in 2011, who turned to severe, unpopular austerity measures during the debt crisis.
"But spending funds is not enough," noted researcher Scazzieri, adding that the new premier "will find it just as challenging to enact long-called for reforms".