ITALY'S INSTITUTIONS - HOW OUR COUNTRY WORKS

Monday, 25 May 2020 15:01 Written by
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Marcello talks about Italy's institutions, in comparison with other countries

When I lead tours, many travellers ask me about Italy’s institutions, sooner or later you end up talking about politics and so they want to know about our political system, the rules that the Italian Republic has set to govern itself. Everyone, even outside the US, knows about the President of the United States, many probably know how he is elected and the powers he has, and they know that in the US there are two Chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, the latter having a federal basis, 2 senators for each of the 50 states. All of you know that Great Britain is a monarchy where the Queen has no power but only represents the unity of the nation. The power is exercised by Parliament, by one Chamber in particular, the House of Commons, with an electoral system that automatically indicates the Prime Minister. Germany is a Federal Republic, the Prime Minister (Kanzlerin) is simply the leader of the coalition of parties with the majority in the main Chamber, the Bundestag. There is also a federal Chamber, its legislative function is limited to certain areas that concern the interests of the Lander.

Few, however, even the most passionate connoisseurs of Italy, know how Italy is governed. Italy is a democratic, representative Republic with a written constitution (for example, Great Britain does not), which was enacted in 1947, 2 years after the end of WWII. A year earlier, in 1946, a popular referendum had been held in which the majority of the population had chosen to abolish the monarchy (I will tell you the story later on in the series “The Darkest Hour”). Our system can be defined “balanced”. More simply, there is a Parliament, elected by the citizens, that appoints (and controls) the Government; the 3rd power, the Judiciary, is independent of the other 2 organs. There is, however, the 4th power, and this is why we say it is “balanced”: the President of the Republic is “super partes”, as the Romans would say, that is, above the parties. He has been placed, as a representative of the nation and its unity, alongside the other 3 powers, to control and facilitate the functioning of the entire system, and implement the principles established in the Constitution.

In the Italian parliamentary system, there are 2 Chambers, the Chamber of Deputies with 630 Deputies and the Senate with 315 Senators (maybe too many, there will be a referendum soon to reduce this number), both last 5 years unless the President of the Republic decides to call early elections. In the Senate, there are also some life members: the former Presidents of the Republic and some personalities, not more than 5, appointed by any President of the Republic among the citizens with very high merits in the scientific, artistic and literary social fields (among them the architect Renzo Piano, the Nobel Prize Carlo Rubbia and Liliana Segre, who was deported to Auschwitz in 1944). The system is "perfect" because every law must be passed in the same form by both Chambers: it is a guarantee that legislative work is carried out with more accuracy and reflection, avoiding hurried decisions in moments of excitement (and I assure you we’ve had a lot). But it is also a system that produces laws at a slow pace: if one of the two Chambers changes just one word, the law must be approved again in the new form by the other Chamber.

In the general elections, any Italian citizen being at least 18-years-old can vote. To vote, you must be registered in the Electoral Registers and present an electoral certificate at the polling station. Voting is personal, meaning that proxy vote is not allowed, as well as voting by mail, which is widely accepted in other states for various categories of citizens.

The electoral system is proportional with some corrections. If you are American or English, this is something very far from your experience. You may have 2 or 3 parties, we never had less than 10. There’s a joke that says, when you have 2 Italians, you have 3 political parties. This system guarantees representation, but even little parties have the power to condition the Government, that’s why we’ve had 66 governments since 1945. We always talk about how to change our electoral rules, but I think the proportional system is in our DNA, we will never change it. Having just 2 parties, Democrats and Republicans or Tories and Labour, is just unthinkable to us, we need to find the very party which reflects our ideas, and still when we vote everybody says: “I am voting for the least worst”.

The Government depends on the majority in the Parliament, same as in the UK and Germany, but not as in the US; in other words, it rules only if it supported by the majority of MPs and Senators. When the Government no longer has a majority, the Prime Minister (we call him the President of the Council of Ministers) submits his resignation to the President of the Republic, who decides whether there is a possible alternative majority, otherwise he calls new elections. The President of the Republic signs all laws, and may not agree with the text of a law and ask Parliament to review it, but if the Parliament sends it back, he is obliged to sign it. His main task is to control and facilitate the functioning of the entire constitutional mechanism, however he never intervenes directly in the political debate. The President of the Republic in charge is Mr. Sergio Mattarella. He is the first President who did not participate in the Partisan movement against Fascists and Nazis in WWII, but he had a brother killed by the Sicilian Mafia. He is a very calm and thoughtful person, and for this he is highly esteemed by the vast majority of the population. All in all, whenever something goes wrong, we always turn to the President of the Republic.

Read 564 times Last modified on Friday, 05 June 2020 07:42
Marcello Cordovani

Marcello Cordovani is the founder and co-owner of VITORITALY. He is also the Tour Manager of the private tour of Italy

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