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Renzi and the Worst Reform In evidenza

Mercoledì, 14 Ottobre 2015 09:01

article published in the il manifesto on Oct. 14, 2015

On the evening of Oct. 13, the Italian Senate passed a controversial amendment to the nation’s constitution that would weaken Parliament’s upper house by scrapping the direct election of senators and reducing their number by two-thirds.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says the Senate reform will lead to a faster, more effective government, resolving a growing problem of shifting allegiances in Parliament. But critics and the opposition say the reforms centralize power and upend checks and balances instituted after the fall of dictatorship in World War II. A series of legislative hurdles remain for the bill to become law.

Il Manifesto published an editorial by six prominent Italian legal scholars on the front page of Tuesday’s newspaper, who argue the bill “radically distorts” the 1948 vision for the Italian Republic.

Gaetano Azzariti, Lorenza Carlassare, Gianni Ferrara, Alessandro Pace, Stefano Rodotà, Massimo Villone

The proposed Constitutional amendment dissolves the identity of the Republic that was born of the Italian Resistance.

It is unacceptable both because of the method and the substance; even more so in relation to the electoral law already approved by the Parliament.

Because of the method: The Reform is intended to keep alive a government and a majority that have lacked substantial legitimacy since the Constitutional Court declared the former electoral law unconstitutional. Forcing multiple procedures and regulations into practice has resulted in irreconcilable rifts between the parties in Parliament, heading for the final vote with a temporary and hastily assembled majority — a majority that would have been impossible to obtain without the use of the illegal electoral law.

Because of the substance: The cancellation of the direct election of senators by the people, their drastic reduction (while the number of the Representatives in the House does not change) and composing the Senate of politicians with only a local mandate (and taken from a political class which experience shows is low quality) will cause irreparable damage to the principles of political representation and institutional checks and balances.

This cannot be justified as cost-cutting, which could be better accomplished by other means. Nor can it be justified by the stated intent to build a more efficient Republic. That goal is contradicted by its complex and jumbled legislative procedures and by a state-region relationship that in small ways achieves rationalization and simplification, but more likely will lead to neo-centralism.

The real aim of this reform is to swing the institutional axis in favor of the government.

The evidence for this is the introduction into the Constitution of government dominance over parliamentary work. But it is especially evident in the synergy with the new electoral law (informally called “Italicum”), which radically weakens the House in addition to reducing the number of representatives in the Senate.

Italicum provides for a second ballot, a majority bonus to the first list or party, high access thresholds and a blocked list of nominees — delivering the lower chamber into the hands of the winning party’s leader, even if only by a few votes.

The negative effects will spread throughout the system of checks and balances, including in elections for head of state, of the members of the Constitutional Court and of the Supreme Court of the Judiciary.

The rigidity of the Constitution is also weakened: Although constitutional amendments will still require bicameral approval, the required votes are virtually guaranteed to the government in the House, while the Senate comprises members without any substantial legitimacy to participate in the delicate operation of changing the fundamental law.

When the anti-fascist Constituent Assembly met to form the Italian Constitution, they found common ground in the essential goals of equality and social justice, the protection of freedom and rights. On this political project was built an institutional architecture based on democratic participation, political representation and the balance of power.

The Renzi-Boschi Bill now radically distorts the institutional system of the 1948 Constitution, and attempts to address a difficult time of economic crisis by concentrating the power of the government, reducing democratic participation and gagging dissent.

The government’s argument that says this proposal applies only to organizational profiles is unacceptable. The impact on popular sovereignty and representation, on democratic participation and the right to vote is unquestionable.

More generally, the institutional framework is crucial for the implementation of the rights and freedoms contained in the first part of the Constitution, as was evidenced by the disastrous reform of Article 81 of the Constitution.

We must therefore fight against this amendment to the Constitution. We must prevent a majority vote when it comes up for the second consideration and then wage a referendum battle like the one in 2006, which abrogated, by a vote of the Italian people, the reform — equally shocking — approved by the center-right coalition under Silvio Berlusconi.

Gaetano Azzariti, Lorenza Carlassare, Gianni Ferrara, Alessandro Pace, Stefano Rodotà, Massimo Villone

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