Emanuele Filippo Ventura
During the last two months, the whole attention of the media, the political parties and of every citizen in Italy has been on the December 4, 2016 constitutional referendum. The question to which millions of Italians will answer this Sunday is regarded by some as misleading, because it differs from the content of the actual constitutional reform, even though it is strictly about this reform. Here is a translation of it from Italian:
“Do you approve the text of the constitutional act concerning “Dispositions for the overcoming of the perfect bicameralism, the reduction of the number of Members of Parliament, the limitation of the costs of the functioning of institutions, the elimination of the CNEL and the review of the Title V of the Part II of the Constitution” approved by the parliament and published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale n.88 of the 15th April 2016?”
For the last two months it seems that the referendum campaign has become a mere fight between different political parties: the majority of the Democratic Party, sustained by the government and the President of the Council of Ministers Matteo Renzi, and the New Centre-right Party, leaded by the Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano, are supporting a Yes vote. On the other side, the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement along with other parties, such as the Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Lega Nord, are firmly supporting a No vote.
At this point, it is vital to remember that this referendum should be evaluated on the constitutional aspects and not only with a purely biased viewpoint of the political world. This reform, with 47 articles changed in the Constitution, is presented as the biggest one since the birth of the Constitution itself in 1948. However, instead of simplifying the articles, it makes them more messy and complex.
If the referendum were to pass, the Italian parliament would cease to be formed by two chambers with equal powers. There would almost be supremacy of powers from the 630 Members of the Chamber of Deputies, putting aside the limited role of the Senate. Indeed, the 315 Members of the latter would be substituted by another 100 Senators, of which 95 would be nominated between current mayors and regional councillors by the Regional Councils – thus not directly elected by the citizens anymore. Another five would be directly nominated by the President of the Republic for high merits in scientific, social, artistic and literary fields, for the duration of seven years. Consequently, Italian citizens would have no more the right to vote and elect their favourite senators, but these new members of the Senate would be only a kind of elected caste, representative of the interests of the majority party. These newly-nominated senators would also receive parliamentary immunity, which would prevent them from being arrested, unless ruled by the Parliament, even if already investigated by the law.
Moreover, the big question is: how will these mayors and regional councillors carry out their current jobs, if at the same time they must attend the meetings of the Senate discussing other topics? A mayor of a city in Aosta Valley and another one from Sicily would have to attend meetings in Rome as “part-time senators”.
Matteo Renzi answered this question explaining the cases of France and Germany where senators are also the current representatives of the territories. However, it is important to specify that those representatives in France and Germany are not obliged to attend meetings for the Upper House and can instead send other delegates on their behalf.
If a mayor struggles to manage the several challenges a city proposes, imagine a situation where healthcare, infrastructure, employment and the social life of communities would be affected daily by the economic and financial crisis, by lack of competency of the political figures and by the layers of corruption already strongly branched into the regional institutions. Mayors and regional councillors should do their jobs in order to guarantee an effective improvement of the local territories, respecting the standards of the Constitution, instead of holding two different political positions at the same time.
On a different side of the problem, this kind of centralisation of power in the hands of the Chamber of Deputies is the perfect reflection of a more authoritarian power of the government and the President of the Council of Ministers. Indeed, thanks to the so-called Italicum, an electoral bill passed last year, the party winning an election with the majority of votes could make use of the majority bonus system where it will have the 54% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, guaranteeing more powers to the created government.
Furthermore, as Gustavo Zagrebelsky, expert judge and constitutionalist, said at a broadcasted discussion with Renzi, the root of tensions and difficulties between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, which stops bills being passed easily, does not rely on perfect bicameralism, because the problem is of political nature – not of an institutional one.
Moving on to the third point of the referendum question, this reduction of the costs of institutions is totally relative to all the wastefulness acted by the governments and politicians during the last years. The Accounts department of the State said that these reforms would lead to savings of €57 million, against, for instance, the €300 million invested in organizing this referendum.
Another important point is that the reform of Article 71, Subsection 3 of the Constitution triples the requested number of signatures necessary to propose a popular initiative in order to change or repeal a bill, from 50.000 to 150.000 voters. Therefore, adding this information to the denied right to vote the members of the Senate, a Yes to this referendum would lead citizens to have less participation and influence in shaping Italian democracy.
In conclusion, I want to quote a sentence by the President Renzi, during his discussion with Judge Zagrebelsky: “If the intention is to go forward to look at the future, the courage to change is needed.” But my critique lies especially in the ambiguity of this sentence, because change can be for good, but it can also be for bad – in this case, I believe this reform could change the Italian system into something worse. For me, reforms and above all constitutional reforms are legitimate when their aim is to guarantee an improvement of the lives of citizens, but when they not their purpose is to fulfil the mere interests of politicians.
Emanuele Filippo Ventura is a second-year Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at The University of Manchester