Italian PM Draghi vows sweeping reforms, calls for unity ahead of Senate vote

Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday promised sweeping reforms to help rebuild Italy following the coronavirus pandemic, as he set out his priorities ahead of a mandatory confidence vote in his government of national unity.

Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, was sworn into office at the weekend at the helm of a broad-based administration that has the backing of parties from across the political spectrum, to guide Italy through the coronavirus crisis and an economic slump.

In his maiden speech to parliament, Draghi said his main duty was to “fight the pandemic by all means and to safeguard the lives of our fellow citizens” and he called for unity among politicians and citizens.

Draghi said his government would also look to the future with a series of reforms aimed at fostering long-term growth in the eurozone’s third largest economy, which is mired in its worst recession since World War Two.

“Today, unity is not an option, unity is a duty. But it is a duty guided by what I am sure unites us all: love for Italy,” Draghi told the Senate.

His immediate concerns will be ensuring a smooth vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and re-writing plans for how to spend more than 200 billion euros ($240 billion) of European Union funds aimed at rebuilding the economy.

To guarantee the money is well spent, Draghi signalled that he wants to overhaul the public administration, which is throttled by red tape, and the justice system, one of the slowest in Europe.

DAUNTING CHALLENGES

If he succeeds, Draghi will not only help revive Italy after the worst recession since World War Two, but will also give a boost to the whole EU, which has long fretted over chronic sluggishness in the euro zone’s third largest economy.

Draghi is among Europe’s most respected figures after his eight-year stewardship of the ECB, and his nomination as prime minister has been hailed by investors – as reflected in Italian bond sales on Tuesday that drew record demand.

However, he faces daunting challenges, not least keeping together his disparate coalition, which includes political foes with vastly different views on issues such as immigration and welfare.

With a vast parliamentary majority on paper, Draghi looks set to waltz through Wednesday’s confidence vote in the Senate and a similar vote in the lower house on Thursday, the final step needed for the government to exercise its full powers.

The confidence vote in the Senate is due to start at 11 pm (2200 GMT) on Wednesday.

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