It was nearly nine years ago that Mario Draghi first burst onto the world stage. The Italian-born Draghi, who had recently taken over as the President of the European Central Bank, declared that he would do "whatever it takes' to save the Euro from speculative attacks. "And believe me," he added, "It will be enough."
That statement, on July 26 2012, and the policies to back it up, were aimed at helping multiple European countries — Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece — survive a severe debt crisis that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. Many came to see Draghi's bold action as an essential turning point in the Eurozone — and the stuff to earn the dapper economist a place in the history books.
His skills in crisis management for the European economy also explains why Draghi, 73, was hand-picked last month by a wide range of Italian political leaders to step in to rescue his native country as a caretaker Prime Minister in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.
Yesterday, Draghi's first major decision as Italy's leader had a different flavor than his famous "whatever it takes' line: blocking the shipment to Australia of 250,000 Italian-made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The same day, large swathes of Italy were put under new coronavirus restrictions and experts said the new variants risked again overwhelming the country, exactly one year after it became the first Western epicenter of the pandemic.
The Italian government said the shipment was blocked because Australia was doing relatively well to contain the spread of the virus, and because of AstraZeneca's long-running delays to deliver vaccine doses to EU countries.
The decision comes as most European countries have stumbled in their vaccine rollouts, particularly compared to other Western nations such as the U.S., Israel and notably the UK following Brexit. Draghi is the first leader of an EU country to apply new rules to give member states teeth to fight back against unfulfilled orders by the manufacturers of the different vaccines.
Today's health crisis is of course very different from the debt crisis of nine years ago — it's far too early to tell whether Draghi's vaccine strategy will also be vindicated by history. But for Europe, there's a certain déjà-vu in seeing its own particular vulnerability to the latest illness spreading around the world. "Whatever it takes…" and whatever that means for a continent still trying to figure out how to be stronger than the sum of its parts.