A.n this Tuesday the “semestre bianco” begins in Italy. The last six months of the term of office of Italian presidents are referred to as the “white semester” in Italy. According to Article 88 of the Constitution, the President may no longer dissolve parliament and call new elections during the last six months of his seven-year term in office. The constitutional fathers of 1947 had taken this precaution out of concern about a “small legal coup”, as the Sardinian communist Renzo Lanconi put it at the time: Since the president is not elected directly by the people but by the two chambers of parliament, a head of state could shortly before Prevent the election of a successor at the end of his term of office with the dissolution of parliament and thus extend his term of office.
The provision is considered out of date and superfluous, because the office of President in Italy – similar to Germany – primarily has a representative function. An Italian head of state, currently Sergio Mattarella, could hardly usurp more real power through the unauthorized extension of his term of office. In any case, the operative executive power lies with the Prime Minister, and this is additionally strengthened in the “semestre bianco”. Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi does not have to fear early elections for the time being.
The goal is herd immunity in September
Thanks in part to the old rule, Draghi, who has led a broad coalition of almost all the relevant parties from right to left since February of this year, can count on relatively calm governance. Of course, the non-party head of government is already firmly in the saddle. According to polls, 70 percent of Italians are satisfied with Draghi’s administration. The Prime Minister and Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, who is also non-party, have just pushed through a judicial reform in a hurry, thereby fulfilling an important condition for the disbursement of the first tranche from the EU reconstruction fund in the amount of a good 200 billion euros for Italy.
Draghi is determined to give the last faltering vaccination campaign a new impetus in order to achieve the goal of herd immunity by autumn. The vaccination requirement for Italy’s health workers has been in place since May, it should come soon for teachers so that teaching can be fully face-to-face again in September. The certificate known in Italy as the “Green Pass” for those who have been vaccinated, recovered and tested will become compulsory in more and more areas by mid-September. The protests of vaccination skeptics and opponents of the “Green Pass”, which will soon be required everywhere except in local passenger transport, have so far not reached the level of force in Italy, for example, in France. Draghi’s argument that only an efficient vaccination campaign will prevent further closures and restrictions is accepted by the vast majority of Italians.
The economic growth of five percent predicted for the entire year 2021 as well as encouraging figures from the labor market further strengthen Draghi’s position. By the end of the year, the head of government in Rome wants to further improve the investment climate with a tax reform and a further boost to more competition in telecommunications and energy supply.
Does Draghi want to go to the presidential palace himself?
For Draghi, it is convenient that on the left the dispute between the Social Democrats and the left-wing populist Five Stars continues, while on the right the leadership battle between former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini from the right-wing national Lega and Giorgia Meloni from the opposition “Brothers of Italy” is coming to a head. The local elections in autumn will show whether the pendulum swings even further to the right or whether the left can reverse its negative national trend. The fact that Draghi stands above the fray in the fragmented parliament makes him almost unassailable. A serious challenger is not in sight for the time being.
With a view to the election of a new president in February, Draghi has several options. He himself is traded as the successor to President Mattarella in order to secure his political legacy with a prime minister according to his own ideas. Or Draghi gets the election of a head of state according to his wishes – for which Justice Minister Cartabia is traded – in order to secure his own term as head of government until the end of the legislative period in March 2023. Mario Draghi is the master of the procedure in Rome – in the “white semester” and beyond.