Favored by the limited and sometimes folkloric knowledge that foreigners have about the Italian political system, some well-meaning professors of the “yes”, who have lost badly in the constitutional referendum on December 4, 2016, continue writing erroneous things. None of them knows how to respond to the key question: Would the constitutional reforms submitted to the voters have improved or worsened the Italian political system?” The answer of 19, 420,000 voters, 60%– not of restricted negative elites, but of a surprising majority of flesh and bone citizens – was a clear “no”. Those governmental reforms, as several sponsors of the NO front have argued, were not dealing with the most significant problems of the Italian political system, secondly, they would have caused confusion and inter-institutional conflicts which would have worsened the functioning of the political system; thirdly, they constituted a plebiscitary attempt by the president of the government Matteo Renzi to increase his personal political power.
From the very first moment, Renzi claimed that his reforms were the first reforms made in the past thirty years (it is not true: important reforms were made in 1993, 2001 and 2005, both constitutional and electoral ones), and wagered his political career announcing his resignation and outright exit from politics if he should lose. He has not been true to his word and has resigned only as head of government. As secretary of the Partito Democratico, he has blatantly managed his succession, imposing Gentiloni and, now, he is weakening him in order to cause early elections. He will not obtain it quickly because a debate is wide open on the need to revise the electoral law. Following the Ruling of the Constitutional Court of January 25, 2017, which has abolished the second ballot for the allocation of bonus in seats of the majority, that is to say, the core of the Italicum, law defined by Renzi and by his minister Boschi as “an optimum law which all Europe will envy and half Europe will imitate”, a different law must be formulated. Indeed, the combination of the constitutional reforms meant to drastically reduce the powers of the Senate with an electoral law giving great power to the party and its leader who obtained the bonus of the majority, Renzi attempted unfairly to change the way of governing by crushing the opposition.
The diagnosis on which the reforms were based was deeply wrong. Neither the Italian bicameral parliamentary system nor, specifically, the Senate, have ever been obstacles to the action of the Government. A wealth of comparative data, all concordant, reveal that the Italian bicameral parliamentary system has regularly produced a higher number of laws than the British, German and French two-chamber systems, and it has done it in inferior times on average. Almost 85 per cent of the adopted laws have been introduced by governmental initiatives. More than half of the laws formulated by the Renzi Government were imposed by decree and adopted through a vote of confidence. The Italian Government gets what it wants and when it wants from the Parliament, as long as it knows what it wants. It is true that there have been 64 governments in Italy from 1946 until now, but it is also true that there have only been 23 first ministers and that many ministers have remained in office for a long time, ensuring the continuity of the public policies. It is true that the average duration of an Italian government is around a year and a half, but it’s also true that many Governments, Craxi, Prodi, Berlusconi, have stayed for two, three, four years and that many heads of Government have succeeded themselves: from Alcide de Gasperi (December 1945-March 1953), to Aldo Moro (December 1963-June 1968) and to Silvio Berlusconi (May 2000 – April 2006). Other cases could be easily added.
I am simply pointing out two facts. First, the Renzi Government (February 2014 – December 2016) has lasted 1,011 days, that is, almost three years. Second only two Italian governments have fallen because defeated in a vote of confidence: Prodi, October 1998, submitted an unnecessary request of confidence to the Chamber of deputies ; and Prodi, in January 2008, narrowly defeated through a motion of censure in the Senate, by a handful of senators who had “sold” their votes. An example of the classical Italian parliamentary disease: trasformismo? Certainly yes, but in the constitutional reforms there was no remedy to trasformismo. In order tostrengthen and stabilize the government, as the Spaniards and before them, the Germans (who legally invented it) know, one could have introduced the constructive vote of no confidence. It has never been taken into consideration. Renzi was convinced that the bonus of the majority of the electoral law would have made him very strong, much better, and much more than any “German” institutional mechanism which could have allowed his majority to substitute him. Lastly, the powers of the regions were notably reduced and the State (that is, the Government) claimed the last and decisive word thanks to the Supremacy Clause: from a regionalist State to a re-centralized State.
The weakness of Italy in the European Union depends little on the institutional mechanism and much on the lack of reliability of the Italian rulers, Renzi included, maybe with the only exception of the two Governments under Romano Prodi (1996-1998 and 2006-2008 with Tommaso Padoa Schioppa as Minister of Economy). Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that the Italian credibility would have improved endowing the European policies almost exclusively to the reformed Senate, formed by regional councilors designated by their colleagues, clearly without any consideration regarding their (almost surely inexistent) European knowledge and skills, which are not the central element of their campaign to be elected among the several regional councilors.
In brief, not only the constitutional reforms of the Renzi Government did not make sense, but most probably they would not have improved the functioning of the political system. Also because of this they have been soundly rejected. None of the disasters indicated in an intimidating way by the Government and its followers, as well as by some professors of the “yes” who expected rewards and positions, have occurred. No aggression against the Italian economy has followed. No increase in the spread between Italian Treasury bonds and the German ones has materialized. Even the crisis of the Government has been resolved quickly, but not in a convincing way. The Gentiloni Government is a photocopy of the Renzi Government with just one new minister (a woman, herself responsible for the bad constitutional reforms). The Italian difficulties continue, but attributing them to those who have defeated the constitutional reforms is simply wrong. Maintaining that the reforms would have solved badly identified problems is just as wrong. Better reforms can be done, starting with the electoral law. It is the task of a political class worthy of that name. Unfortunately, in a situation in which a problem of leaderships exists in almost all European countries, Italy is not an exception. Those who voted NO have said that they do not want inadequate rulers to manipulate the Italian Constitution. Nothing else, but most of all, nothing less.
* After the publication of the FAES Papers by Professor Sergio Fabbrini, “El referéndum italiano y las negativas”, professor Gianfranco Pasquino exposes in this FAES Analysis his different point of view concerning the recent referendum in Italy.