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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government could collapse as early as Thursday

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government hangs by a thread. He's been leading a national unity government for the last two years and said he would only govern with broad backing in Parliament. Well, in a confidence vote in the upper house, three leading parties withheld that backing, plunging Italy into political turmoil.

Reporter Adam Raney joins us from Rome. Hi there.

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ADAM RANEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what happened today.

RANEY: Well, Ari, this was actually the second confidence vote in less than a week. And Draghi was called, asked to go to parliament - the upper house, the Senate - by the president, Sergio Mattarella, to explain what he would need to continue because the president had rejected his resignation last week. And what Draghi came out and said is he needed all the members of his unity government to give him just that - unity, to back the work that he wanted to do to solve Italy's problems.

He said he was moved by an outpouring of support from Italians in recent days. Over the past few days, you had some 2,000 mayors across the country say, let's not rock the boat. Let's keep Mario Draghi. Italy's facing way too many problems to have uncertainty at the top levels of government right now. You also had people protesting in plazas across the country. Even doctors saying the spike in COVID meant that they needed to make sure that the government was solid so that the care they needed to deliver would be easier to deliver.

But after that speech earlier today in the upper house of parliament in the Senate, there were all these backroom negotiations, and a later vote showed that the parties were either fed up with Mario Draghi or fed up with each other and not enough of them were willing to give him support. I might add, of course, he had a majority of the votes cast, but dozens, as you mentioned, just didn't vote.

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SHAPIRO: Why is his support imploding? What's the subtext here?

RANEY: Well, there's a lot of political turmoil kind of in the background here. You have all these parties who really don't have much in common in this unity government. And the subtext of that is this government includes one party, the Five Star Movement, which is - when it was elected a few years ago, was the largest - the party to win the most seats, that is, in parliament. But its popularity has just evaporated recently.

And its former prime minister, who's in this national unity government, is often ignored, he feels, by Draghi. So he kind of played some political brinkmanship last week. He wouldn't get on board with this early confidence vote. Draghi submitted a resignation that was rejected. But it showed that Draghi just couldn't bring this party along. And meanwhile, when he couldn't bring them along, the other parties were like, well, yeah, let's get rid of that party. So it created all this infighting and turmoil at the highest levels of government.

SHAPIRO: You said Italy faces a lot of problems. We're talking about Europe's third-largest country, a country that has more debt than any other in Europe. What is at stake here?

RANEY: Well, to begin with, Italy is set to continue to receive the largest amount of what are called EU recovery funds, nearly $200 billion worth - or 200 billion euros. And to keep receiving tens of billions in more euros, they need to pass some reforms. And many feel Draghi was the only prime minister that could push these reforms through right now.

Meanwhile, the ongoing war in Ukraine - Italy has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and an opponent of Russia in this conflict. And some are worried without Draghi there, the policy might be kind of weak and unclear because some of the parties are losing interest in that and want to get the economy back on track. And also, there's a drought punishing the north. Italy's agricultural industry's just on the ropes with the worst drought in 70 years. So these are huge problems to be solved.

SHAPIRO: That's Adam Raney reporting from Rome. Thank you very much.

RANEY: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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