The Italian Political System - Overview. Socioeconomic Forces Late Statehood, The Constitution Fragmented Political Culture and Shifting Regimes Political Institutions A) Executive President Prime Minister Cabinet Civil Service
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Late Statehood, The Constitution
Fragmented Political Culture and Shifting Regimes
B) Legislature — Chamber of Deputies and Senate
C) Judiciary —Constitutional Courts and Magistrates
D) Regional Governments
V) Political Processes
Electoral Systems and Elections
Parties and Party Systems
Historic and contemporary cleavage between the wealth North and a poorer South.
Distinct regional and provincial differences
Late industrialization at the end of the nineteen century in a rural country
Problem of “making the Italians”
In the South, rise of the state hindered by rise of mafia, replacing the role of the state.
Clientelism and nepotism, “knowing the right person”
Foreign invasions in the peninsula from North (Goths, Lombards, Franks) and South (Muslims).
Middle Age: the Italian city-states (one reason of regional and provincial differences).
Rule of France, Spain and Austria in the north
Invasion of Napoleon elicited first Italian patriotism
In nineteen century, authority of the Vatican against the unification (today is still influent).
Risorgimento: the Italian state toke shape between 1859 and 1870 driven by the Piedmont’s industrial elites and southern landowners.
“Independence Revolution” from a medieval to a liberal state
“Kingdom of Italy”, constitutional monarchy (Republicans alienated).
Early 1900s: “Romantic nationalism” and liberal economy.
Victory in WWI but little benefits
Democratization interrupted after WWI with the rise of the Fascist regime lead by Mussolini (1923 – 1943), albeit the king is still there.
1920’s: rise of Mussolini and “scientific nationalism”, economic autarchy, corporatist interest system, totalitarian regime
Elected, consolidated power, established authoritarian rule, abolished non-Fascist parties, freedom of expression banned, alliance with Nazis, racial laws, disastrous imperial enterprise
1929: Mussolini recognized the Vatican as an independent state and as the official Italian church (until 1982).
Institutions merged with the Fascist party.
Collapse of fascist regime and defeat in WWII.
Role of the Resistance by Communists, Socialists and anti-fascist Christian Democrats.
After WWII Italy become a Constitutional Republic with the abolition of monarchy after a close referendum:
Northern Republicans 51%
Southern Monarchists 49%
Regional and provincial differences perpetuated
Christian Democrats, Communists, Socialists and Liberals worked together to write the Constitution.
Banned the Fascist party.
The first part of the Constitution is unchangeable (“the principles”).
Rigid Constitution: processes of amendment is difficult and rare.
Historical unitary state with weak regional power, but recent reforms toward devolution.
Strong parliamentary system, weak executive, mandatory voting participation for citizens (high rate).
Necessity to split the power as much as possible among many actors after a dictatorship.
The first republican government (of a long series) is Christian Democrat.
Stable polity but unstable politics.
Broad political spectrum after WWII: Communists, Socialists, Social-Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Populists, Christian democrats, Neo-Fascists.
Historic conflict between Communists (perpetually in the opposition, “shadow government”) and Christian Democrats (perpetually governing) since post-WWII to the end of 1980s
Growth of powerful Communist, Socialist and Liberal-Christian oriented unions.
After the early 1990s: Communists, Post-Communists, Greens, Socialists, Radicals, Leftist Liberals, Leftist Christian Democrats, Conservative Christian Democrats, Conservative Liberals, Northern League (Independentists for Northern Italy), Post-Fascists, Neo-Fascists.
“The First Republic”: after WWII to early 1990s.
“The Second Republic”: in the early 1990s, massive set of indictments and convictions to top leaders culminating to a series of scandals, resignations and generational change. One-third of Parliaments’ members under investigation.
“The Second Republic”: end of the Cold War and fall of Communism redesigned ideological spectrum.
Fall of the powerful Christian Democrats, Socialist parties and Communist parties.
Fall of prominent Italian politicians.
Only 11% of the 1994 – 1996 representatives were previously members of the Parliament.
Rise of Silvio Berlusconi (center-right) a media tycoon with populist and demagogic tendencies. In 1994 he governed for 7 months while he was able to complete the legislature from 2001 to 2006. He won again elections held in 2008.
1996: the first leftist government in Republican Italy. Historical attitude to play as a opposition force provided fragmentation in front of government responsibilities, incapable to govern.
Rise of Romano Prodi (center-left) a former university professor and a public manager. He had to resign twice after two years in office (1996 – 1998 and 2006 – 2008). He served as President of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004.
President of the Republic has a ceremonial and monitoring power. He can veto laws approved by the Parliament refusing to sign it (ex: media law during Berlusconi government). He can dissolve the parliament after consultations and calls for new elections. Elected by the Parliament. He is the head of army.
Prime minister leads government.
Inhibited by the necessity to maintain the confidence of a majority in both parliamentary chambers.
Inhibited by numerous check and balances coming from the institutional architecture more favorable to the Parliament.
Inhibited because it is not directly elected by the citizens but appointed by the parliament. In the Italian context, it becomes a sort of cynical blackmail.
Reform paralyzed by party, even problems with management of current affairs.
Since the 1990s, early attempts to give the executive more power failed because
of the reminiscence of Mussolini.
the parties responsible for reformation might have to counterproductively reduce their own powers.
As a result, sometimes economic or political crises were developed by technocrats-dominated cabinets, with cabinet ministers co-opted from outside parliament and political arena.
Is the core power.
Bicameral: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have equal powers, unique case among Western countries.
It appoints the Prime Minister and either house may remove a government by a majority no-confidence vote. Schizophrenic governments’ turnover
Great power to shaping legislative outcomes and making and unmaking governments.
Great use of secret ballots increased uncertainly and disloyal votes.
Reliance on a strong system of specialized committees that enact much legislation.
Reform toward a unicameral congress failed essentially because parties did not want to lose filibuster and bargain power.
Source: Spotts, Wieser (1986). “Italy, A Difficult Democracy”, Cambridge University Press.
Legal system based on Roman law.
Constitutional Court which possesses judicial review powers concerning matters of constitutionality.
On one hand, local judges (magistrates) played a leading role in unveiling the enormous scandal at the beginning of the 1990s, discovering extensive illegal financing of political parties, corruption, fiscal evasion, parties’ links with mafia.
Magistrates are relatively insulated by the parties.
However, Berlusconi says that judiciary is under political control and against him so he felt legitimated to pass a law granting him immunity.
The law was firstly considered unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court but some weeks ago passed.
Escalation of judicial activism or preservation of legality?
Is too much control of politics over the judiciary beneficial?
Historical unitary state with weak regional power.
Constitutions made provisions for regional governments but regions were created only in the 1970.
Differences in performance
The “Red Belt” regions in Northern Italy (Emilia, Tuscany)
Recent reforms in the 1990s toward a “quasi-federal” system especially to grant regions the power to talk with the EU to obtain funds, even bypassing Rome.
Architecture in line with the EU structure.
Northern League is pushing for devolution (and eventually secession) between Northern and Southern Italy.
High turnout around 90% (vote was mandatory)
From 1946 to 1993 proportional representation in both chambers with multimember districts
Encouragement of small party and factionalism in big parties
1991 - referendum to reduce preference voting and reform in 1993.
Compromise among parties: each Italian voter has two preferences, one for the party, one for the candidate.
Three-fourth of the representatives was elected in single-member constituencies using a first-past-the-post system
The rest was proportional, with threshold of 4% for parties.
However, the party system remained fragmented.
In 2005, three months before the end of the legislature, Berlusconi’s center-right coalition passed a new flawed electoral law with the purpose to make difficult governing for new executive (…Prodi resigned after two years).
That law worked also for the last elections
Multiparty System (dozens of parties) with quarreling intra and inter-factions dissolving any possible coalition.
From 1947 to 1992, the Christian Democratic party dominated every Italian government. Big party factionalized.
The Communists formed the major opposition, never governing but “shadow government”.
No alternation in power despite the “historic compromise” from 1976 to 1979, when Christian Democratic Party and Communists were close.
The most powerful actors (Italian “partitocrazia” means power to the parties”)
No respect for the electoral programs, low accountability, public opinion and electorate frustrated.
Able to control the state administration toward servicing their own clienteles and demanding payoffs from prospective clients. Material favors supplied in exchange of political support.
Absence of meritocratic selection, closeness to mafia and corruption
Diffuse incompetence and inability in the public sector
Systematic division of seats among all parties
High expectations toward a change of political culture in order to hire bureaucrats with specialized studies (Anglo-Saxon model)?
Shift to a two-coalition politics or two-party system?
In the 1990s
Until the 1980s
Majority (47% enough on 90.5%)
New Parliament (total 90.5%)
From Fascist corporatism to consociational system, limited pluralism.
Traditional interests linked with Catholic action have lost influence due to secularization of Italian society.
Network of small, family-run business
Neo-corporatist representation between Confindustria (industry confederation) and unions divided ideologically,
After WWII public business: Institute for Italian reconstruction (IRI) and National Hydrocarbons Agency (ENI) but recent privatization.
Predominantly legislative (shifting coalitions, filibusters)
Chronic weak executive (60 govts in 60 years)
The President of the Republic checks the political process
After WWII Communists opposed the European integration, however it was a way to reconnect Italy in the IR after the nationalistic and autarchic politics of Mussolini.
Sub-national reform from regional to quasi-federal instilled by the possibility to easily achieve EU structural funds and activity of Northern League Party.
Lack of political willing due to party fragmentation, more concerned with the management of internal fight than European affairs.
Berlusconi, ambivalent attitude. On one side, politics of “shaking hands to anybody” and enrollment in European People’s Party. On the other side, calls for Europe of the Nations, Euroskepticism, Trans-Atlantic orientation, sometimes offensive and bizarre.
Technically, it is the sixth industrialized country and a founder of the European Community, however:
Lost the grip on the EU
It is not able to play as a major power because its lack of a large empire, late and uneven industrialization, political chaos.
Zero economic growth, possible recession. Spain equaled Italian GDP, Greece expected too. Role of regional power in the Mediterranean is challenged.
Women lagged behind, “machist” political culture.
Demographic ratio saved by immigration (otherwise negative).
Close to last country in terms of public debt.
Mafia still too powerful in Southern Italy, with political ramifications in Rome (and Brussels) and economic connections with Northern Italy.
Example: garbage in Naples, political chaos and mafia power.