One hundred years after Mussolini’s dictatorship reforms of 1923-25, Giorgia Meloni proposes a new constitutional reform that would notably strengthen the office of Prime Minister and put an end to Italianocracy – a form of democracy without stable government and administration powers that has been once dubbed by French far-right pundit, Éric Zemmour, a country without state institutions.
The reform comes slightly unexpectedly, Italy has a problem of unruliness. However there are also other strategic handicaps that make it one of the weakest states of Europe, most of them economic. The Italian Republic does not have any strategic development plan, neither digital transformation nor industrial reaffirmation. Nevertheless, a constitutional reform might be a beginning of the new Italy, a first step into a new direction. Even if earlier attempts from the XXIst century failed, Meloni might score her goal.
The political parties Fratelli d’Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia have reached a consensus on a plan to amend Italy’s Constitution. The cabinet suggested implementing the direct election of the Prime Minister, reversing Italy’s existing constitutional framework. “This is the mother of all reforms,” Prime Minister Meloni said in a press conference 3 November, when her government approved the project, pointing out that this might be the case for a grandeur reform of Italy.
What is the all project about?
Italy’s government follows a parliamentary system that operates on the principle of power equilibrium. The President of the Republic is chosen in a septennial manner by a combination of both chambers and regional representatives. The President of the Republic designates the Prime Minister, whose cabinet is required to undergo a vote of confidence in both chambers of the parliament. The proposed change aims to disrupt this equilibrium by implementing the direct election of the Prime Minister. According to Meloni, this would achieve three objectives: allowing the people to have a say in choosing their government, strengthening the Prime Minister’s position by ensuring a stable majority and a complete term in office, and protecting the role of the President of the Republic.
Meloni believes that the revisions would enhance the authority of the Prime Minister by ensuring a secure majority. But the change is expected to undermine the stability of Italy’s governmental structure. It is exceedingly uncertain that the suggested change will successfully accomplish the named objectives. Rather, it is expected to have destabilising repercussions for the Italian governmental system.
The proposed constitutional revision stipulates that in the event of the direct election of the Prime Minister’s resignation or loss of confidence from the chambers, the administration has the authority to replace him/her.
This occurrence is limited to a single instance, and the replacement must be a member of the coalition that supports the current Prime Minister. According to the proposed change, the Prime Minister might be chosen by a direct voting process, but they would also be subject to dismissal by a majority vote in parliament. While the Prime Minister may be elected directly, they may also be quickly removed from office by a majority vote in parliament. The appointment of this new Prime Minister would be made via an indirect electoral process and their position would be secure until the parliament was dissolved. The Prime Minister, who is chosen directly by the people, has the potential to become a powerful figure who is ultimately flawed.
The suggested constitutional revision will further diminish the influence of the parliament. Initially, it suggests granting the coalition that supports the elected Prime Minister a ‘premium’ that ensures the coalition has 55% of the seats in both chambers. Consequently, the change undoes the connection between parliament and government. The existing arrangement entails that the composition of the government is determined by the result of the legislative elections. Under this reform, the election of the Prime Minister would determine the makeup of the parliament.
Furthermore, the change poses a threat to the essence of the Italian upper house. The Senate of the Republic under the Italian system is chosen based on regional representation, as stipulated in Article 57 of the Constitution. However, after implementing this change, the ‘premium’ would be allocated on a national level. This change will weaken the link between the Senate and the regions. This change will efficiently convert the parliamentary election into a secondary election. The granting of the premium increase will be determined only by the direct election of the Prime Minister, regardless of the performance of a political party in the legislative elections.
President? A thing of the past
The primary individual who would suffer negative consequences from this change is the President of the Republic. Furthermore, the ‘premium’ also poses a threat to the autonomous election of the President. Presently, in order to choose the President, the Constitution (Article 83) mandates a two-thirds majority for the first three ballots and a majority of all votes afterward. Therefore, the victorious alliance is expected to have the power to alone decide the future President of the Republic.
For now, the Italian president has the official responsibility of appointing the Prime Minister and the ministers based on the recommendation of the former. It is important to note that the President is chosen by the parliament in an indirect manner. It is improbable that an indirectly elected President would have the ability to challenge the results of the direct election of the Prime Minister or the ministers selected by the winning candidate. Under such circumstances, the President’s function would be reduced to mere endorsement of others’ judgements. Consequently, the presidency would relinquish its present responsibility for managing crises inside the government, a function that has held significant importance in Italian politics.
Preliminary statistics released on Tuesday revealed that Italy’s economy experienced stagnation in the third quarter, showing no growth compared to the previous three months. This result was poorer than anticipated, after a 0.4% decline in the second quarter. The national statistics office ISTAT announced that the gross domestic product in the euro zone’s third biggest economy remained unchanged on a year-on-year basis. According to Reuters’ poll, experts predicted a 0.1% gain in the quarterly data and a similar 0.1% rise compared to the same period last year.
Mother of The New Republic?
Italy has seen around 70 governments since WW2, more than double the number in both Britain and Germany. Past endeavours to develop a more resilient system, including the most recent one in 2016, always failed. There is no assurance that it will be enacted into law this time.
The opposition, especially the on gathered around the Democratic Party and its leader Elly Schlein, says that the reform is a power grab, a manoeuvre aimed at ensuring even greater power for the right wing and its new leader, Giorgi Meloni, a power already unquestionable according to all possible assessments. It seems that this is, in a way, a swan song that shows with its sound the weakness of the current opposition, especially the left, which is still looking for its identity.
However, such a reform would also promote the opposition, and in two potential variants. Firstly, if the reform fails, the opposition will be able to fight for power and create a new government, showing that Meloni has lost her mandate by losing on the most important reform issues. Secondly, if the reform takes place, the opposition will be able to gain much stronger power in the future. Since the agreement of the bill presented by the government we still do not know when it will be pushed to parliament. Everything right now is possible, as always, in Italian politics.
We will see how it will be in the future, but one thing is certain, Meloni is currently playing with one card.
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