The role of the president of the republic in Italy is often described as a ceremonial function. But while much of the talk in Italy’s political crisis in the past week was concentrated on the bitter wrangling between the current prime minister, a former prime minister and potential future prime ministers, it is worth remembering that the president is, in fact, one of the most crucial players when it comes to resolving impasses and forming a new government.
Sergio Mattarella was elected to the post in 2015. He was initially considered a non-partisan, moderate politician and an expert in constitutional law. But when he vetoed the appointment of a eurosceptic finance minister by the far-right Lega party in 2018, people realised that he wasn’t the type to just sit back and let things slide.
Now, for the third time in less than three years, Mattarella has found himself presiding over painstaking, gruelling talks between the country’s hopelessly divided politicians in a bid to cobble together a new coalition government. Just as he has in past talks, Mattarella has resorted to assigning an “exploratory mandate”, this time to Roberto Fico, a Five Star Movement politician who has been given until tomorrow to negotiate a deal between parties in a less formal way. But even that strategy won’t work if the parties aren’t willing participants.
What is clear is that Mattarella has little patience for vainglorious politicians. Over the past few months he’s said that triggering a crisis for political gain is to be condemned – a not-so-subtle swipe at former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who engineered the current crisis by pulling his party out of the governing coalition. This time, Mattarella is hoping that Fico can pick up the pieces and succeed where even the popular former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who last week was forced to resign by Renzi’s actions, could not. If Fico fails, the ball might once again land in the president’s court.