Sunday, August 2, 2015

Major Italian Political Reforms, 2014-1015

           Over the last year and a half, since my post last February about the formation of the current center-left-right Government, Renzi is Italy’s New Premier,, the Italian Republic has made significant progress in political reform, as well as other reforms and improvements.  The focus on this post is on the political reforms.  The next post on this subject will be focused on the other reforms and improvements.

The Italian Parliament this year approved major electoral reforms.  The reforms were seen as necessary after parliamentary elections last year produced a lengthy hung parliament, as the center-left coalition gained a majority in the lower parliamentary chamber, but not in the upper chamber, which necessitated the formation of an unstable grand coalition of the center-left and center-right.  Additionally, Italy’s highest court had subsequently ruled the previous electoral law unconstitutional.

The new electoral law raises the threshold for smaller parties to win seats in the House of Deputies, especially if they are not part of a coalition, and lowers the large number of bonus seats for the party that gains the most seats, which it wins if it earns at least 40% of the overall popular vote.  If no party achieves a total of 40%, there will be a run-off election among the top parties to win the bonus seats to assure a majority for the victorious party.  Some elector choice has also been introduced into the election process; in place of party “blocked lists” of candidates, voters will be able to indicate some preferences within those lists.  Deputies will continue to be elected by groups within constituencies. 

In addition, some of the powers of the fifteen non-autonomous Regions (out of twenty Regions in total) will be transferred to the State, in response to a recent series of financial scandals in regional governments, while the reforms also enable greater oversight by the national government.  A related reform implements a plan to eliminate Italy’s more than one hundred Provinces, which are administrative subdivisions of Regions, to save money and increase efficiency by reducing bureaucracy through the removal of an entire layer of government.  Led by paid officials, Provinces currently have limited responsibilities, such as for roads and emergency response, which can be shared between the regional and municipal governments. 

Civil service reform had been enacted in 2014 and another political reform, the phasing out of public financing of political parties, had already occurred under the Government of Enrico Letta in 2013.

Another major part of the Italian Government’s political reform is a series of constitutional amendments approved by Parliament that will significantly change the Parliament by stripping the Senate of most of its lawmaking power, which it had shared equally with the House of Deputies, by restricting it primarily only to constitutional matters and dramatically reducing the size of the Senate by over two-thirds.  Instead of having equal powers with the House, including the power to veto bills approved by the other chamber, the upper chamber will instead be an assembly primarily of Italy’s twenty Regions and of a few major cities, with a reduced number of only five life Senators appointed by the President for merit.  The regional Governors would serve also as Senators without extra compensation to save expenses amidst the continuing recession and European Union financial crisis.  The President will remain a check on the House of Deputies, as he retains the power to reject parliamentary acts that are unconstitutional or that are not in accordance with the budget.  

The electoral reforms should make it easier for parties to gain a parliamentary majority in order to govern more effectively, while the other reforms will make Italian government less corrupt, less costly and more efficient.  

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