The Quirinal Palace was built in the 16th century as a second papal residence. With the fall of the Papal States and the unification of Italy, it became the seat of the monarchy and then the presidency of the Republic. The Vatican echoes, however, sometimes still resonate in the subtle and firm way of doing of its tenant.
The last few weeks in Italy perfectly illustrate the enormous importance it takes on in moments of greatest fragility. In the midst of chaos and with a fractured Parliament, when the country faces the greatest challenge after the Second World War, Sergio Mattarella (Palermo, 79 years old) is the last frontier of a State that, despite everything, always remains standing.
Mattarella is one of the last representatives of the old Christian Democrats. Brother of Piersanti Mattarella, governor of Sicily assassinated by Cosa Nostra on Kings Day 1980, he was elected by the Italian Parliament in February 2015.
He was the ace in the sleeve of the then Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, to prevent the arrival of Giuliano Amato, which Massimo D’Alema and Silvio Berlusconi had already agreed behind their backs within the so-called Nazarene pact – on the street where the headquarters of the Democratic Party (PD) is located in Rome. Il
Cavaliere, who has already started his maneuvers again and still dreams of occupying that position himself, was fed up with Giorgio Napolitano, whom he considered a dangerous red and wanted to ensure a period of tranquility. But Renzi’s name was imposed. Time has shown that he was wrong thinking that Mattarella could feel in debt.
The relationship, explain those who deal with both, broke when Renzi resigned in December 2016 thinking that elections would be called and he would regain the position of prime minister with more force.
Mattarella, little friend of the palace’s personalist movements, prevented the chambers from dissolving and opted for the figure of Paolo Gentiloni as a relief. It was the first intervention in the legislature to avoid a disaster, as the political scientist Roberto D’Alimonte recalls.
“His power is very relevant: he can dissolve the chambers and appoint the president of the Council and the ministers. In this political phase we have entered a semi-presidential system, not a pure parliamentary one.
When he prevented Paolo Savona from being Minister of Economy [the anti-European bet of the then Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, in 2018], the Italians realized this. The President of the Republic had to explain it on television because it was done too explicitly ”.
Mattarella’s tenure has been hectic and decisive at many times. Four different executives have lived through and was about to form a technical government. But his relationship is good with almost all of his protagonists.
He speaks often with the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte; with the Head of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio ; with Salvini or with Gianni Letta, Berlusconi’s tireless and brilliant advisor, with whom communication is more fluid.
In the Quirinal they recall that the legislature began with an Executive in which one party wanted to get out of the euro – the 5 Star Movement (M5S) – and the other from the European Union – the League. One with Russian instincts and the other inclined to please China. Mattarella managed to contain that drift.
The election of the head of state, set every seven years so as not to interfere with parliamentary electoral cycles, is a crucial moment that determines the flow and character of many political decisions.
Nobody wants to be left without a chair when the music stops playing. For a few weeks, including the duel between Renzi and Conte that threatened a government crisis, the major movements have hidden a goal: to reach 2022 well placed to participate in that decision.
A horizon that keeps together an Executive formed by four parties that have been jumping the seams for some months. “It was that, or allow the next head of state to choose Matteo Salvini,” admits a deputy from the leadership of the PD.
The race has started. But it will be difficult to find a consensus name and some insist that Mattarella could repeat, as was proposed to his predecessor (Giorgio Napolitano). In its environment, however, it sounds “impossible.”
“The president does not want to be elected again,” says a person who dispatches with him. He will be 80 years old when the issue is discussed and he looks too old. Also, they slide, seven years is too long.
“It would have already added 14 and exceeding the 9 that the presidents of the Constitutional Court are allowed would be going too far.” Another thing would be if a two-year formula were produced, something that Mattarella would not ask for.
Furthermore, it would not suit the parties of the left, who would see how they elect a president who could be replaced by the next government —probably from the right— when he came to power.
The two majority partners of the Government, the M5S and the PD, must agree on a name. And Renzi, who maintains the alliance with a good handful of parliamentarians from his party, Italia Viva, will also want to have an opinion and will sell his support dearly.
The PD already has a list of names. The current Minister of Culture and moral reference point among the Social Democrats, Dario Franceschini, sounds. Also the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli (he lets himself be loved) and the former mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni.
There are even those who point to former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, and former ECB Governor Mario Draghi (this would manage to seduce a part of the center-right). But none, of course, is to the liking of the grillinosthat they would want a breakout candidate and preferably a woman. A profile that would fit with Marta Cartabia, former president of the Constitutional Court.
Mattarella’s mandate, all parties admit, has so far been exemplary. “It will be very difficult to find a replacement at this time.” His figure today represents the reserve of a profile and a political character in extinction to occupy a place as silent and decisive as the Quirinal Palace.