The State of Italian Democracy

How the globalization downturns of 2008 and 2020 have produced an impact on the Italian democracy.

by Marco Mari
23rd May 2023


This paper is about the consequences of global crises on nation-states and, in particular, on how the globalization downturns of 2008 and 2020 have produced an impact on the Italian democracy.
Since both crises led to the collapse of the incumbent Italian governments and the appointment of technocratic prime ministers (Monti, 2011 and Draghi, 2021), the research will ground on the historical account of the selected period (2008-2022) a comparative analysis between the different leadership styles and political strategies of these two governments and the application of theories and cause-effect relationships that have been studied by prominent international scholars in the field of globalization, democracy and its mild degenerations such as populism and technocracy.
An additional consideration will be given to the role of the center-right parties and their conservative coalition, whose decline started with Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation at the beginning of the analyzed period and ended with Giorgia Meloni’s victory in the 2022 general elections.
As the paper will point out, Italy represents a comprehensive case of all these theoretical connections and an interesting playground for political scientists that are interested in studying the future of democracy in the globalized world.


The Italian Republic represents an interesting case to investigate how globalization downturns might impact the functioning of democratic institutions.

Being a large export-driven manufacturing economy[1] with a very high GDP/Debt ratio[2], Italy is in fact a country highly exposed to global crises with economic implications, which happened to put a special pressure to incumbent governments and their political leaders. The following analysis will focus on the period between the last two major global crises, represented by the 2008 collapse of financial markets and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

In this period, Italy went through a season of political instability, with the establishment of nine different governments, six of which have been supported by bipartisan parliamentary coalitions and two led by technocratic prime ministers. In the same timeframe, Italy experienced the decline and the renaissance of the right-wing conservative coalition, the upsurge and the collapse of populist parties and leaders as well as a fragmented and hung parliament as the result of both 2013 and 2018 general elections. Only the recent affirmation, in September 2022, of Giorgia Meloni resulted in a clear majority in both Italian chambers, exactly 11 years after Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation in the midst of a dramatic debt crisis.

In the following paragraphs, the paper will expand on the historical background of this period (2008-2022) focusing on the two moments in which incumbent governments collapsed due to the pressure of globalization downturns and causing the appointment of cabinets led by technocratic prime ministers.

This account will be filtered through the theoretical lenses of several prominent scholars, whose studies on democracy and globalization are instrumental to assess why and how the 2008 and 2020 global crises impacted the Italian democracy. These theories will also inform a comparative analysis of the two technocratic cabinets, pointing out how the different leadership styles of Mario Monti in 2011 and Mario Draghi in 2021 might have had sorted an influence on the rise and the decline of populism.

In this period, Italy went through a season of political instability, with the establishment of nine different governments, six of which have been supported by bipartisan parliamentary coalitions and two led by technocratic prime ministers. In the same timeframe, Italy experienced the decline and the renaissance of the right-wing conservative coalition, the upsurge and the collapse of populist parties and leaders as well as a fragmented and hung parliament as the result of both 2013 and 2018 general elections. Only the recent affirmation, in September 2022, of Giorgia Meloni resulted in a clear majority in both Italian chambers, exactly 11 years after Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation in the midst of a dramatic debt crisis.

In the following paragraphs, the paper will expand on the historical background of this period (2008-2022) focusing on the two moments in which incumbent governments collapsed due to the pressure of globalization downturns and causing the appointment of cabinets led by technocratic prime ministers.

This account will be filtered through the theoretical lenses of several prominent scholars, whose studies on democracy and globalization are instrumental to assess why and how the 2008 and 2020 global crises impacted the Italian democracy. These theories will also inform a comparative analysis of the two technocratic cabinets, pointing out how the different leadership styles of Mario Monti in 2011 and Mario Draghi in 2021 might have had sorted an influence on the rise and the decline of populism.

Theoretical Framework

The pressure of globalization downturns might lead countries towards two alterations of the traditional party democracy[3]: technocracy and populism.

As described by Stiglitz[4], globalization often forced countries to give up part of their sovereignty to follow the conditions required by international financial operators, both private and intergovernmental (such as the IMF). In times of crisis, Italy has recurred to technocratic leaderships to better respond to such a pressure, with prime ministers that adopted very different postures towards the role of parliament and so of democracy. If technocracy has often been Italy’s prime answer to face the internal repercussions of global downturns, at least on one occasion this solution caused a prolonged reverb to the rise of populism and the parliament’s stability.

As pointed out in the work of Mudde[5], populism often represents the opposition to undemocratic liberalism, a description that might suit what happened with Monti’s unmediated democracy[6] and the following successes of the Five Star Movement and the League, whose political platform have been based on a strong opposition to fiscal austerity measures and to Legge Fornero’s[7] reform of public pension funds.

If one hand the Monti government well explained how a technocratic and unmediated response to a global crisis might push a country into the arms of populist forces, Italy’s last decade offered the world also an example of the reverse sequencing. As described by Caramani[8], if populist movements offered Italian voters a more responsive proposition to the will of the people, once these forces finally achieved their power – electing Italy’s first ‘proud populist’ prime minister[9] – their consensus started to decline as first a new rise of bond yields in 2019 and then the management of the pandemic in 2020 made a techno-bureaucratic approach persuasive again in the eyes of public opinion. As Giuseppe Conte, then Italy’s prime minister and current leader of the Five Star Movement, resigned in 2021 – a second technocrat-led cabinet ended the populist interregnum and as described in the concluding paragraphs of this paper, it has been followed in the subsequent general elections by the first clear parliamentary majority since 2008.

From a theoretical perspective, the Italian populist interregnum offers the chance not only to define technocracy and populism as political consequences of globalization downturns but also to assess a set of cause-effect relationships that shaped the transition between two different historical phases of the Italian democracy. While several political commentators saluted the rise of populist movements in 2013 and 2018 as a signal of the beginning of Italy’s third republic[10], this paper chooses to define this period as a populist interregnum where political leaders and parties have been the actors and subjects to the influence of supranational institutions[11], different interpretations of mediation in democracy[12], responsible of economic dislocation[13], proponents of ‘shifting the blame’[14] tactics and advocates of responsive and responsible[15] recipes to transition the country between two phases of its democratic history. As both the beginning and the conclusion of the historical background will point out, an additional factor to be considered when assessing the impact of globalization downturns in Italian democracy in the 2008-2022 period is the role of conservative parties

Historically defined as a conservative and catholic country[16], it might not be a coincidence that one of the most chaotic political phases of the Italian Republic equaled with the demise of the center-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi in 2011 and it’s probably ending with the rise of the new conservative, albeit right-wing, party led by Giorgia Meloni. As described in the studies of Ziblatt[17], also with Levitsky[18], conservative parties played a pivotal role in the democratization process of European countries such as the UK, Germany and of course Italy.  As the comparative analysis of the two 2011 and 2021 Italian technocrat-led cabinet triggered by globalization downturns will point out, these peaks of political instability and the populist interregnum in between coincided with a period of weakness of the conservative platform, in which its leaders definitely used technocracy and populism to shift the blame and restore a political credibility.

Historical Background

As mentioned, the proposed analysis is centered on the period between the two global crises of 2008 and 2020, which both triggered in 2011 and 2021 the collapse of the incumbent governments[19] and the establishment of technocrat-led cabinets.

While in the following paragraphs both these technocratic experiences will be examined through the application of theories on factual events, it is important to contextualize from a global standpoint which have been the major episodes in Italian politics during this 14-year period.

2008 – 2011: Italy in the Great Recession

Italy arrived at the eve of the Great Recession with a brand-new government and a combination of structural political and economic critical factors that had been building up for years. At the April 2008 General Election, the center-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi won a large and clear parliamentary majority, but the newly appointed government soon got distracted by the Prime Minister’s legal troubles[20] and his rivalry with the main coalition partner Gianfranco Fini. In the meanwhile, despite the high ratio of public debt to GDP, and in absence of structural reforms related to the job market and public pension funds, Italy struggled to ignite a much-needed economic growth and when the Global Recession started the EU began to mount pressure on the Italian institutions to face its systemic issues and operate cuts on public spending.

In the summer of 2011, an unprecedented series of bond yields rises put new pressure on the Italian government – which on the 5th of August received a formal request from the leaders of the ECB to proceed with structural reforms in order to receive financial coverage and support. The personalistic structure of Berlusconi’s party and the weaknesses of its conservative coalition made it impossible for the government to change the course of an inexorable decline and in November 2011, under the institutional pressure and moral suasion of the EU, the Italian Head of State and the country’s industrial and financial establishment, the Prime Minister resigned offering his support to the creation of a technocrat-led cabinet.

2011-2013: Mario Monti’s all-technocrats government

Straight after Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation, Mario Monti was given the task to form a new government by the Head of State Giorgio Napolitano. Monti, an economist and former EU Commissioner, chose to capitalize his wide and bi-partisan majority with the appointment of an all-technocrats government with the declared goal to face the structural reforms that Italy, and the EU, had been waiting for years. Pressed by the financial crisis, Monti spent a big chunk of his political consensus on the unpopular pension funds reform. At that moment the fear of a state default brought both parties and the public opinion to give almost unconditioned trust to the new Prime Minister, who announced cuts to the retirement plans and the postponement of the retirement age. 

Monti’s honeymoon with the country lasted for a few weeks. As the cabinet was about to proceed with other structural reforms to complete and balance the demands that had been posed to the pensioners, the all-technocrats government suddenly got stuck – suffering from its political inexperience and shattering its liberalizations and job market reforms on the strong opposition of guilds and unions. While Monti’s austerity measures have been useful to calm the markets down and improve the country’s relationships with its fellow EU partners, the cabinet’s unfinished reform plan resulted in economic and political dislocation, paving the way for the upsurge of populist movements.

2013 – 2019: Italy and the rise of populism

When in 2013 Italians headed back to the polls for the due General Elections, the media and political observers had a clear winner in their mind: Pier Luigi Bersani and his center-left progressive coalition. While the conservatives’ coalition was still under the control of Berlusconi’s personalistic faded leadership, the great novelty represented by the Five Star Movement seemed to be nothing more than a well-orchestrated provocation and definitely not a threat to the centrality of institutional parties.

As it happened with other populists’ upsurges, the predictions of the establishment have been proven wrong – with the resulted outcome of an hung parliament and a new tri-partisan political system[21]. This scenario produced a prolonged season of grand-coalition governments, where weakened institutional parties that were used to strongly oppose each other found themselves forced to cooperate, also attempting to address those structural reforms that the Monti cabinet left unfinished. Between 2013 and 2019 Italy had five different governments in just seven years, three of which have been led by members of the Democratic Party[22] and two by Giuseppe Conte, a law professor without previous political experience and an unfamiliar face for the vast majority of the Italian people who was selected in 2018 by the populist grand-coalition formed by the Five Star Movement and the League to lead their government[23].

2020 – 2022: Italy and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Notwithstanding his inexperience and lack of fame, Giuseppe Conte soon proved to be an able political operator. In 2019, just one year after the beginning of his populist government, when the leader of the League Matteo Salvini challenged his leadership, Conte has been able to stay in power by switching his right-wing populist party with the institutional and center-left Democratic Party. While this event might be seen as quintessential Italian political transformism, it has been the trigger of the populist decline, since both the League and the Five Star Movement began declining in their consensus, joining the other institutional parties[24] in the club of Italian weakened parties.

Under this political scenario the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When the first cases emerged in February 2020, the 2nd Conte government was already on the brink of collapse. A few weeks before, Matteo Renzi, former Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Party parted ways with his original movement and created a new personalistic party called Italy Alive. Only the emergence of an unprecedented health crisis abstained the Florentine politician from his Machiavellian intentions of calling a no-confidence vote for Conte, whose political leadership instead received new strength from the state of crisis in which Italy entered together with the rest of the world.  But while the politics of lockdown resulted in a successful task for the Prime Minister, once the government was required to put in place the vaccination roll-out, the fragilities of the Conte cabinet remerged and Renzi landed his long-awaited final blow.

In March 2021, Renzi had the ministers that were members of his party resign from the Conte cabinet, causing the collapse of the incumbent government and paving the way, 10 years after Monti, for a new technocratic government led by the former ECB Chairman Mario Draghi.

As the following paragraphs will point out, Mario Draghi’s technocratic leadership has been very different from his predecessor Monti. While also Draghi benefited from a super parliamentary majority[25], the newly appointed Prime Minister decided to maintain a strong political connotation to his cabinet. Draghi invited all the grand-coalition partners to be present in the government, reserving for technocrats only part of the roles[26] and thus increasing the electoral accountability of his coalition and its supporting members. If this attitude might have been facilitated by the fact that there was no ‘blame to shift’ since the government has been installed in a phase of extraordinary spending instead of austerity-led cuts, it is also true that Draghi’s political foresight emerged in another important aspect that turned out as strategic for the future political stability of the country.

During his tenure, Mario Draghi established a special relationship with the sole member of its opposition – the right-wing conservative Giorgia Meloni. This special relationship turned out to be of strategic importance not only for a peaceful transition of powers when Meloni won the elections in 2022, but also guaranteed the proactive support of the Italian government to the Ukraine resistance at the outbreak of its aggression by the Russian forces. Meloni, unlike her fellow right-wing coalition partners Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, has strongly advocated against the actions of Russian regime since the beginning of the 2022 Ukrainian invasion, winning sympathy from the national and western establishment. The firm upholding of Italy’s Atlantic collocation and the respect for Mario Draghi have been instrumental both for the country’s stability and for Giorgia Meloni’s clear electoral affirmation – given the doubts raised by national and international commentators on her post-fascist past. Time will tell whether Mario Draghi’s political calculations have been right or wrong. For sure his parliamentary acquaintances have been more respectful of democracy and its formalities than his technocratic predecessor, with the result after his tenure not only of a successful overcoming of the 2020 globalization’s downturn but also of a restored party-democracy and the prospect of a re-institutionalized conservative front[27].

Theoretical highlights from the historical events

Italy’s 2008 Globalization Downturn and its all-technocrat response

Looking back at the 2008-2011 Italian debt crisis that followed the Great Recession, it appears that the two main triggers of the technocratic response to the globalization’s downturn have been the weakness of the conservative center-right coalition and the influence exercised by supranational institutions like the EU, the ECB and the IMF. When the bond yields peaked in 2011, Berlusconi’s reputation within the country and the fellow EU partners was very weak due to his legal troubles and his quarrelsome coalition has been unable to offer the steady and alternative leadership that was required by the need of structural reforms. This political weakness, in a culturally conservative country[28], created a political vacuum that has been filled by the rise of the populist parties which proposed an anti-establishment and anti-EU political agenda[29]. Monti’s alignment with the supranational establishment has been seen first as reassuring, given the fears of a state default, but then as the sign of an emerging economic dislocation given the fact that the uncompleted reforms of his cabinet hit the lower classes more than the upper ones (public pensions fund reform).

Given the need of unpopular reforms, the majority of political parties met Monti’s unmediated democracy approach with a warm welcome – benefiting from their distance and lack of political accountability during the term of the technocratic cabinet and soon putting themselves closer to the popular opposition. Several parties of the parliamentary grand-coalition sidelined in fact with guilds and unions when these opposed Monti’s liberalization plans, quenching de facto the reformist approach of the government and shifting the blame on the Prime Minister and his all-technocrat cabinet. Beyond the exclusion of parliamentary political representatives in his cabinet, Monti also choose to isolate himself from the representatives of socio-economic groups while proposing far-reaching reforms – another factor that fueled the populist upsurge in the country.

Lastly, with a decision that could still be viewed as a confirmation of Monti’s unmediated democracy or as a quest for that popular mandate that he missed, at the end of the legislature the Prime Minister announced the creation of a centrist and personalistic party and his electoral bid for the 2013 general election. Despite the predictions of the mainstream media, Monti attracted only a small portion of the electorate[30], contributing to the creation of a hung parliament and demonstrating that the ‘blame’ finally shifted on him.

The Populist Interregnum

Techniques of unmediated democracy have also been adopted by Monti’s successors. Despite their 2013 electoral success, the Five Star Movement chose to stay out of the creation of a grand-coalition leaving the ground to a renovated center-left-to-center-right series of cabinets.

While the Letta and Gentiloni cabinets have been seen as transition governments at the beginning and the end of a troubled legislature, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gave a new impulse to the country structural reform process. In doing so Renzi chose a revolutionary communication style, very direct with the citizens but with very little consideration for intermediate bodies. While effective from a social and economic standpoint, his reforms of the job market, the public education system and lastly the Constitution soon became very unpopular and were viewed as new marks of a rising economic dislocation. While Renzi’s jobs act provided a renewed dynamicity to the economic growth of the country, unions and populists’ opposition contrasted the diminishment of workers’ rights and benefits and labeled the Constitutional reform proposal as the premise of an autocracy. These social tensions gave a new edge to the populists’ upsurge, resulting in the 2018 electoral victory of the Five Star Movement and the League. Initially at two different sides of the political spectrum[31], the two populist parties decided to form an all-populist coalition government and tried to put in place their will-driven agenda to provide responsive solutions to widespread popular malaise. Among their most debated measures there was the so-called Citizens’ income, a form of universal basic income that tried to reverse present economic dislocation and whose social benefits have been recognized also by Mario Draghi while proposing an unwelcomed reform[32].

Italy’s 2020 Globalization Downturn and the emergence of political technocracy

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the Italians love affair with populists had already begun to fall. After the sudden switch of the coalition partner, Five Star Movement’s Giuseppe Conte embarked on a very different, pro-EU and progressist political trajectory. His repositioning definitely helped the fortunes of his cabinet while negotiating with the fellow partners of the EU the extraordinary funds of the pandemic recovery plan[33], but once the vaccination rollout struggled to speed up, the general public opinion definitely tilted towards a bureaucratic and reason-driven political sentiment. As mentioned, Matteo Renzi caught the popular sentiment and in February 2021 triggered the government crisis that led to Conte’s resignation and the appointment of Mario Draghi’s cabinet.

Draghi showed himself as a savvy political operator, abandoning the unmediated approach of his technocrat predecessor and demanding political accountability to his parliamentary grand-coalition whose parties have been represented in the cabinet. With this move, both institutional and populist parties had no chance to shift the blame to an emergency-cabinet – but it is also true that the political and international conditions in which this government operated have been substantially different from the previous technocratic experience of 2011. While Monti had very narrow spending margins and had to align with EU’s austerity policies, the Draghi government benefited from a season of extraordinary expenditure led by the revolutionary decision to create a special common debt to fund investments in the modernization of the member countries’ infrastructures[34]. As mentioned, Draghi interpreted his role with a warmer approach also towards the representative of social-economic groups. While this time structural reforms were needed to get EU funds instead of resulting as an outcome of austerity spending cuts, Draghi did not abolish the highly debated measure of the Citizens’ income but instead proposed to improve it. This attitude helped the country contain economic dislocation even under the effects of the pandemic globalization downturn, and probably muffled the electoral attractiveness of populist forces.

Lastly, Mario Draghi proved to be consistent to his reluctance of unmediated democracy with his cabinet’s final act. As soon as the members of the Five Star Movement didn’t show up to express their confidence vote at parliamentary session in July 2022, Draghi resigned and refused to continue his political experience under a reduced – while still large – majority. Draghi’s political philosophy included a special attention to the role of the small parliamentary opposition, which during his term has been represented by the sole right-wing conservative party Brothers of Italy led by Giorgia Meloni. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Draghi received the support of this party for the aids that Italy provided to the Kiev’s government in a moment when former pro-Russian movements such as the League and the Five Star Movement distinguished themselves for their embarrassed hesitation. These events helped Giorgia Meloni to conclude the repositioning of her post-fascist party as an institutional conservative force, gaining the leadership of the right-wing coalition and winning the September 2022 general election. It is interesting to notice that the 14-year period of Italy’s technocracy and populism as response to globalization downturns ended with the political affirmation of a conservative coalition that, while renewed, still shares a lot with the one led by Silvio Berlusconi in 2008. This event too could provide evidence of the strategic importance of conservative parties for the well-functioning of democratic institutions. And while is too soon to assess whether Giorgia Meloni will succeed in maintaining her conservative profile, it has to be noted how Draghi’s political technocracy is continuing to produce effects given the technocratic profile that several top ministers of the new government seem to share[35].


The 2008 and 2020 globalization downturns definitely provoked profound effects on the Italian democracy but as evidenced by the historical and theoretical analysis of the paper, this variable intertwined with another one: Italian political leaderships. As an element that has been at the center of the transition theory of 20th century democratization[36], even in this compressed and contemporary historical timeframe the different political leadership styles defined the trajectory of the Italian democracy’s transformation between the Global Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. As countries don’t live in vacuums but have been increasingly become more interdependent due to globalization, the Italian case might represent a blueprint not only about how supranational influences might impact the democratic functioning of nation-states, but also provide some guidelines to international political leaders on how bureaucratic reason-based and populist will-based approaches interact with each other in times of social and economic crises. In addition, given the fact that this case has been about a member of the EU, it has been possible to notice the relationship between supranational political demands and the role of internal sovereignty. While the monetary and financial leverage has definitely been a factor in determining the fall and the rise of Italian governments, in the same period the internal dynamics of Italian party politics and social fabric proved decisive in embracing or resisting the foreign influence.

The experience of the Draghi government seems to have put the Italian party-democracy back on track, and it is up to its political leaders to determine whether or not it will remain on track beyond the next globalization downturn.


[1] In 2019, Italy has been the 9th largest exporter of trade goods in the world, registering a trade surplus of 50 EUR billions. Source: World Bank,

[2] In 2021, Italy scored a GDP/Debt ratio of 150,8%. Source: Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, May 2022.

[3] Caramani, Daniele. “Will Vs. Reason: The Populist and Technocratic Forms of Political Representation and Their Critique to Party Government.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 111, no. 1, 2017, pp. 54–67.

[4] Stiglitz, Joseph E. Globalization and Its Discontents. 1st ed., W.W. Norton, 2002.

[5] Mudde, Cas “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019).” Government and Opposition (London), vol. 56, no. 4, 2021, pp. 577–97.

[6] Garzia, Diego, and Johannes Karremans. “Super Mario 2: Comparing the Technocrat-Led Monti and Draghi Governments in Italy.” Contemporary Italian Politics, vol. 13, no. 1, 2021, pp. 105–15.

[7] Legge Fornero brings the name of the Labor Minister of the Monti Government, Elsa Fornero – an economist expert of social security who supervised Monti’s first response to the markets during Italy’s 2011 debt crisis.

[8] Caramani, v. supra, note [3].

[9] Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s Prime Minister from 2018 to 2021, declared in Parliament “If populism means giving sovereignty back to the people, we proudly claim to be populists”. Source: Comunicazioni del Presidente del Consiglio Conte, Camera dei Deputati, 21 Dicembre 2018.

[10] Italian political pundits are used to define the period that goes from the foundation of the Republic (1946) to the Mani Pulite scandal (1994) as the First Republic. Following this event, that caused the collapse of the Italian Christian Democratic Party and the Italian Socialist Party, a new bi-polar system also called Second Republic emerged led by the figures of Silvio Berlusconi, a media tycoon and founder of the Forza Italia party, and a center-left coalition headed by Romano Prodi, former President of the EU Commission. This second phase is commonly defined as the Second Republic, which for many ended with Berlusconi’s resignation in 2008.

[11] v. supra Stiglitz, note [4]

[12] v. supra Garzia and Karremans, note [6]

[13] Rodrik, Dani. “Why Does Globalization Fuel Populism? Economics, Culture, and the Rise of Right-Wing Populism.” Annual Review of Economics, vol. 13, no. 1, 2021, pp. 133–70. In this article, Rodrik describes how economic dislocation determines voters’ preferences for policies and leaders.

[14] Wratil, Christopher, and Giulia Pastorella. “Dodging the Bullet: How Crises Trigger Technocrat‐led Governments.” European Journal of Political Research, vol. 57, no. 2, 2018, pp. 450–72. In this research, Wratil and Pastorella point out that when countries face dire times and the need for unpopular decisions, institutional parties are happy to leave the stage to technocrat-led cabinets to which shift the blame.

[15] v. supra Stiglitz, note [3]

[16] Carioti, Antonio. “Ma l’Italia è sempre stato un Paese di destra?” Corriere Della Sera, October 31, 2022. In this interview Simona Colarizi, a leading scholar of Italian contemporary history, describes how during the First and Second Republic phases a Christian-conservative majority has always emerged as electoral turnout. After the 40 years of governments in which the Christian Democratic Party has always been the pivot of governmental coalitions, Silvio Berlusconi appealed to the same constituency as well as the center-left Democratic Party with his then popular leaders Romano Prodi and Matteo Renzi.

[17] Ziblatt, Daniel. Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy in Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

[18] Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. First edition., Crown, 2018.

[19] Both in 2011 and 2021 the incumbent governments were the same of the time when the crises globally hit. Definitely not a given in Italian politics! As described later in the two cases, the lag between the time in which the crises emerged globally and then produced political consequences in the Italian context is related to when the country effectively suffered the internal financial and systemic downturns.

[20] Silvio Berlusconi has been at the center of countless legal controversies, related both to his industrial and political affairs.

[21] At the Chamber of Deputies, the center-left coalition gained 29,55% of the votes, the center-right coalition gained 29,18% of the votes and the Five Star Movement alone achieved 25,56% of the votes. Source: Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

[22] Letta Government (2013-2014), Renzi Government (2014-2016), Gentiloni Government (2016-2018).

[23] The 2018 General Election saw the collapse of the Democratic Party, which gained less than 18% of the votes and the relative victory of the Five Star Movement with 32,68% of the votes. The conservatives’ coalition underwent a change of leadership, with the League that overcame Berlusconi’s party as first party of the center-right. After such a result, the League temporarily broke its coalition agreement to form an all-populist coalition with the Five Star Movement.

[24] Among all, the Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia which have both been central in the establishment of the technocratic cabinets and the non-populist grand-coalitions that emerged in the populist interregnum.

[25] The Draghi government has been supported by all the political forces that were present in Parliament with the sole exception of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

[26] Beyond Mario Draghi, only 8 ministers out of 23 had a technocratic profile.

[27] Time will tell whether Giorgia Meloni’s proclaimed conservatorism is a genuine attempt to innovate the center-right coalition or just a cover-up of her post-fascist roots. So far Meloni succeded in Linz’s pro-democracy Litmus Test, with a formal respect of the Italian constitution, the condemnation of violent episodes committed by neofascist and far-right groups, a positive relationship both with her predecessor Draghi and the leader of the opposition Letta and no registered serious attacks to media and civil liberties.

[28] v. supra Carioti, note [16]

[29] In the populist interregnum both the Five Star Movement and the League proposed the exit from the EU and the return to the Italian Lira.

[30] Mario Monti’s Civic Choice gained just 8,30% of the votes at the 2013 general elections.

[31] The Five Star Movement always run in the General Elections without being part of coalitions, whereas the League has always been part of the center-right one with the sole exception of the 1996 vote.

[32] In Mario Draghi’s last speech at the Italian Senate on 20th July, 2022 – held in occasion of the no-confidence vote of the Five Star Movement that caused the Prime Minister’s resignation, the technocratic leader said: “The citizens’ income is a good thing, but when it doesn’t work it becomes bad.”

[33] The EU Recovery Plan, also known as Next Generation EU, is an extraordinary economic recovery package which has been adopted by the European Council on December 2020 to support EU member states which have been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

[34] Italy has been granted 191,5 EU billions to support investments in areas like digitalization, ecologic transition, health and education.

[35] The ministries of Internal Affairs, Health, Job and Social Security are currently led by technocrats. The Ministry of Economy and Finance is also led by a centrist member of the League and among Draghi’s top ministers.

[36] As described in the works of Huntington, O’Donnell and Diamond political leaderships can represent either the driving force or a barrier to the institutional reforms, to the growth of the middle class and to the protection of rights and freedoms of civil society that are instrumental to successful democratic transitions.