And Now for Mario Draghi’s Next Trick . . .

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Former president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi delivers a speech at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Feb. 3.



Photo:

Pool/Zuma Press

Mario Draghi

is often credited with pulling off the near-impossible conjuring trick of saving the euro during the last decade’s serial sovereign debt crises. So wish him luck as he now attempts a similar David Copperfield act as Italy’s new Prime Minister. He’s going to need it.

Mr. Draghi was summoned Wednesday by Italian President

Sergio Mattarella

to form a government because almost no one else can.

Giuseppe Conte’s

government—his second coalition in two-and-a-half years—collapsed last month amid infighting over how to spend €209 billion in Covid-19 stimulus money from the European Union. Mr. Draghi’s appointment is Rome’s last hope of pulling together a new government to avoid snap elections.

Why Italy wants Mr. Draghi is easy enough to see. His tenure as president of the European Central Bank makes him one of Europe’s most respected politicians, a reputation he has bolstered in retirement by avoiding raucous domestic Italian politics. His gravitas might help him build support among Italian politicians for a new coalition, and it will reassure markets and European leaders that a responsible adult is steering the ship in Rome.

Why Mr. Draghi wants the job, however, is a mystery for the ages. He understands exactly what ails Italy’s economy—which we know because he spent his entire time at the ECB begging Rome and other European governments to implement supply-side tax and regulatory reforms. He also presumably understands the political forces that have kept those reforms from happening. Only patriotism can explain why he’s volunteering for such a thankless and futile job.

All the more so since his appointment itself points to a fundamental dysfunction in Rome. We say almost no one else can form a government because one other politician probably could:

Matteo Salvini

of the right-wing League. His coalition of center-right parties was the plurality winner in 2018’s election, and polls suggest the League and aligned parties would fare well if Italy held the snap election it probably needs.

Yet every other politician seems to think keeping Mr. Salvini out of office is more important than any other objective, including democratic legitimacy. Whatever the merits or otherwise of Mr. Salvini’s policy views, keeping a popular party out of power is no recipe for stable government.

Mr. Draghi’s appointment is a last-ditch attempt by the rest of Italy’s political class to forestall an election that might see Mr. Salvini take power. Mr. Draghi already did his part for Italy when as ECB chief he rolled out monetary measures that have suppressed Rome’s borrowing costs to preposterous lows relative to the government’s indebtedness.

If he can’t succeed now against Italy’s myriad obstacles to reform, the next steps will have to be political. And if anyone is going to implement reforms—or do anything else—it will have to be a politician who has actually won an election.

Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Allysia Finley, Kyle Peterson, Mary O’Grady and Dan Henninger. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the February 4, 2021, print edition.

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