ROME – Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank who is largely credited with helping to save the euro, accepted a mandate from Italy's president Wednesday to try to form a unity government that would guide the country out of the pandemic and through economic recovery.

"To overcome the pandemic, to complete the vaccine campaign, to offer answers to the daily problems of the citizens, to relaunch the country are the challenges we face," Draghi said after meeting with President Sergio Mattarella. He said he had accepted Mattarella's appeal because the emergency "requires an answer equal to the seriousness of the situation."

Until as recently as Tuesday, the idea of Draghi replacing Giuseppe Conte as prime minister remained a pipe dream for the many Italians frustrated with a governing coalition that seemed paralyzed by ideological schisms and incompetence. Tuesday evening, Mattarella summoned Draghi and appealed to "all the political forces in the Parliament" to support a "high-profile government" to meet the historic moment.

He made it clear that Conte's tenure was over and that the new players, potentially political leaders proposed by the parties supporting Draghi or an all-star cast of politically unaffiliated economists, judges and scientists, were ready to take the stage.

Draghi immediately began consultations with party leaders in an effort to form a new government. "I am confident that from the exchange with the parties and the groups in the Parliament and from the dialogue with the social forces," Draghi said Wednesday, "there will emerge unity and the capacity to give a responsible answer to the president's appeal."

Draghi has served in past Italian governments, was a director of Italy's treasury and knows well the machinery of government at both the European and Italian level.

A government led by Draghi could emerge in two ways. If he succeeds in finding broad parliamentary support, he could govern from a position of strength until the next scheduled elections in 2023.

If he fails to find sufficient support, he could be the head of a transitional government with limited scope — probably focused on the vaccine rollout and managing relief funds from Europe — before leading the country to early elections.