EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

On the 13th of February 2021, Mario Draghi, former President of the European Central Bank, was appointed as Prime Minister of the new Italian government, the 68th in 75 years. Although having a wide range of politician members in his cabinet (15 out of 24), it is mainly technocrats that the ministries in charge of the national recovery plan have gone to.

Will “Super Mario” do, once again, “whatever it takes” (both motto and nickname date back to 2012 when he promised to save the euro from its crisis) to implement his reforms and, in particular, boost the country’s climate policy and get it closer to achieving the European Union’s Green Deal?

An ever-stronger Italian Climate Policy

Experts highlight that Draghi’s appointment could mean a breaking point in Italy’s climate ambition. Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of the Italian climate think tank ECCO, commenting on Draghi’s policy agenda, said “this is the first time that an Italian prime minister has fully embraced – as a top-level and cross-government priority – the notion of environmentalism”.

In fact, in his first address to Italy’s Senate on the 17th of February, Draghi strongly emphasized the connection between climate change, environmental degradation and the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, he directly quoted the Pope’s words – “natural tragedies are the earth’s response to our mistreatment” – and affirmed that he “want[s] to leave a good planet, not just a good currency.”

This year will represent an important milestone for Italy and its climate policy, as it is hosting the G20 leaders’ summit in October – with former Prime Minister Conte’s government having pledged to make climate action one of its three priorities – and, in the same month, it will host a youth leaders climate summit (in recognition of the disproportionate impact that climate change will have on young people) and a pre-COP climate conference in Milan. In November, Italy will be the co-host of the formal UN COP26 in Glasgow, UK. After being postponed from 2020 due to the global pandemic, this year’s COP is believed to be the most important climate conference after the COP21, which culminated with the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

It is expected that the preparations for the summits will not be disrupted by the change in government. If anything, Draghi will likely strengthen Conte’s climate goals. The new Prime Minister, who now carries the burden of leading the G20 out of the pandemic while relaunching green and sustainable growth for the benefit of all, promised to “build back better” by putting “People, Planet, Prosperity” at the core of the G20 programme.

In order to achieve this task, he intends to tweak the National Recovery and Resilience Plan drafted by his predecessor, especially the part dedicated to environmental objectives – to which 37% of the recovery investments must be devoted. The final plan will have to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of April. Mr. Draghi claimed his government would pay close attention to whether Italy’s proposed investment projects could be completed by 2026, when the last of the funds will be disbursed, but added that they should fit into a strategy aiming at 2050 when the EU’s net carbon emissions are meant to reach zero.

New ministry, new momentum?

Another key achievement of Draghi’s government is represented by the creation of the “Ministry for the Ecological Transition” that takes over energy policy responsibilities previously shared with other departments – such as the Environment and Economic Development Ministries. This move gained praise from Spain’s minister for the ecological transition Teresa Ribera, with Portugal, Austria and France having similar ministries. It will be run by a technocrat, Roberto Cingolani, a physicist with a background in robotics and nanotechnology, who will be in charge of deciding how Italy will spend its €82 billion share of the EU recovery funds earmarked for green projects. The country is the largest recipient of the EU’s $672bn recovery fund, receiving €222bn or nearly 30% of the whole package.

The creation of a dedicated ministry to oversee the green transition and the allocation of the funds will be decisive in easing the implementation of the European Green Deal and might become a turning point in the country’s fight against climate change. Although it is to be noted that, among environmentalists, there is some scepticism about the Minister as he has previously praised gas as “the most sustainable resource in the medium and long-term”. However, before expressing a complete judgment, it will be necessary to wait for his first moves in his new role. As Bergamaschi noted, “all eyes will be on his [Cingolani’s] approach to gas”.

Whereas the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the largest-ever decline in global emissions, with Italy reducing its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions by 9.8% compared to 2019, the evidence of a rapid rebound in energy demand and emissions in many economies underscores the risk that CO2 emissions will increase significantly this year. As Italy is the second largest manufacturer in Europe, it is of vital importance for the country to set an example and align, as soon as possible, the post-pandemic recovery with the objectives of the European Green Deal, from sustainable mobility to the circular economy, from renewables to agroecology.

In conclusion, Draghi intends to strengthen not only Italy’s stability, but also the stability of the European Union as a whole, especially as the near future will bring a phase in which the political era of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to an end, the French presidential election is approaching in 2022, and the United Kingdom is now officially out of the Union. Indeed, geopolitical and power relations rarely change because of a single person.

Nevertheless, Draghi is certainly an outstanding figure at both the European and international level and might drive Italy to be the next tip of the balance. Everything depends on the success his government will gain domestically, on how it will use the Next Generation EU funds, and on how it will insinuate itself in the Franco-German axis in order to rediscover its traditional role as a unifier of different European positions (for example on the much-debated issue of strategic autonomy).

It remains to be seen whether the weaknesses that seem to face all technocratic governments, namely the roughhouse of Italian domestic politics and the dependence for their survival on what are often ill-assorted parliamentary coalitions, won’t also strike the new Prime Minister. For now, at least, he has a large majority in the parliament and bold visions to bring to reality.

Charlotte Bufano

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