The new President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, was sworn in on Tuesday in the Lower House in Rome and immediately vowed to be an “impartial referee” of Italian politics for the next seven years.
The former minister and Constitutional Court justice, who was elected Italy’s 12th president on Saturday, called on the political “players” to help him.
Mattarella had a brief conversation with Premier Matteo Renzi before going to Rome’s Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) monument to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. The 73-year-old then went to the presidential residence, the Quirinal Palace, for his installation ceremony. The plight of ordinary Italians suffering due to the prolonged economic crisis was at the forefront of Mattarella’s thoughts on Tuesday. “The long crisis has caused injuries, created marginalisation and solitude,” said the former member of the once-dominant but now-defunct Christian Democrat (DC).
“It has increased injustice. It has created new poverty. “We have to avert the risk that the crisis hits the social pact sealed by the Constitution”. Mattarella made an appeal to “all the country’s forces” to unity, which he said risks being “fragile and distant”. Those comments, along with the vow to be an impartial arbiter, were interpreted by some commentators as an attempt to reach out to the political parties that did not vote for him to become head of State, such as Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). Three-time premier Berlusconi, who was ejected from parliament in 2013 after a definitive tax-fraud conviction, was invited to attend the installation ceremony, as was M5S leader Beppe Grillo who, however, declined.
In the speech, Mattarella also seemed to give backing to Premier Matteo Renzi’s ambitious programme of economic reforms and his revamp of Italy’s political institutions. “The urgency of institutional and economic reforms derives from the duty to give effective responses to the community,” he said.
He said another priority was approval of “a new election law” to replace the dysfunctional one declared unconstitutional in 2013. Renzi’s government is pushing a bill for a new election system – the result of a deal with several other parties including Berlusconi’s opposition, centre-right FI – through parliament.
He gave great stress to the need to fight the mafia and corruption too. He said corruption had reached “unacceptable levels” in Italy. “Corruption devours resources that could go to the public, impedes the correct working of market rules and… penalises the honest and capable,” he added.
Mattarella, who is a member of, and was nominated by, Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), talked of “repudiating war” and “guaranteeing peace” and of the need to recall the Partisans who fought Fascism in World War II. The new president said that terrorism was a threat to “coexistence”, but stressed that it cannot be combatted by individual states closing up. Mattarella vowed to give the “utmost commitment” to help solve the case of two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused in India of killing two Indian fisherman during an anti-piracy mission in 2012.
The president also said the European Union must be “more attentive, committed and show more solidarity” with respect to Italy’s problems in dealing with waves of migrants who arrive from North Africa every year. “Italy is doing its bit,” he said.
The speech received high marks from politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. “Essential, concise, without rhetoric” Napolitano said of the 35-minute address. “A beautiful speech,” said Renzi. “Simply Mattarella: sensitivity, sobriety, values. I give him top marks,” said former PD secretary and ex-government minister Pier Luigi Bersani. The leader of left-wing opposition party SEL and Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola highlighted the “beauty and clear compactness of the speech”. “It did not disappoint the expectations of politics and the country, of those who expected to hear words they could identify with,” Vendola said. Berlusconi described Mattarella’s swearing-in speech as “fitting and respectful of the Constitution”. “I don’t know him in person but he seems a good person,” he added.