What is the reform of the Italian Senate

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Is the reform of the Senate voted by the Palazzo Madama a true reform or just something that resembles one? And have Italians understood what it is or not? Who needs it and what for? In the midst of the Italian debate on Stability Law, approved by the Council of Ministers (that one is going to affect our lives, believe me) to take a step back and try to decipher what will be the future path may seem a rhetoric exercise. Instead, we need it now more than ever, if we really want to interpret the rules of democracy, in view of the referendum that has been already planned for the next spring. And it will be a turning point in history from which will come out one sole ruler, in case this law is going to be confirmed. We need to equip ourselves beforetime.

The so-called Boschi legislative decree was approved at third reading with 178 votes For, 17 Against, and 7 Abstentions. Those who opposed it, preferred not to partake in the vote. The text, however, changes also other parts of the Constitution, in particular the famous Title V, that is, the part that regulates the relationship between the State and the Regions. A modest technical detail for the benefit of those who love particulars. The process of modification of the constitutional laws is rather complex. It is contemplated when there is a vast parliamentary consensus and enough time to allow to analyze the consequences of the changes. This is to prevent the Fundamental Charter from being modified too often or by governments elected with modest majorities. First of all, the text must be approved at “first reading” by both Chambers. This means, for instance, that if it is launched by the Chamber of Deputies, then the Senate changes it, the text must return to the Chamber of Deputies for another vote. After this double passage, the text has to wait for three months before it can be approved again by both Chambers, with a 2/3 majority of their components. If the approval arrives by majority, the text can come into effect, but it must be confirmed first by a referendum without quorum.

If the Boschi legislative decree becomes law, it will be the end of the so-called “perfect bicameral system”. At the moment, the two branches of the Italian Parliament have more or less the same functions. This reform would deprive the Senate of many of its powers and the biggest amount of legislative power would end up in the hands of the Chamber of Deputies alone. The composition of the Senate would change: it would be formed by regional councilors appointed by their respective Councils. In fact, the exact modality of the election of the new members will be outlined afterwards, with ordinary laws. In the Boschi legislative decree is written only that they will be elected “in accordance with the choices expressed by voters for the candidates on the occasion of the renewal of the same bodies”. This will prevent the regions from having too much discretion in the appointment of senators, which will be restricted by the people’s choice.

After this reform, the government will only need the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies: those who are contrary, fear that this way, future executives will have too much power and the equilibrium between government and parliament will be thrown off balance .  Whereas those who are in favor, use more or less the same arguments, but claim that the legislative process needs to be speed up, avoiding for the laws to make continuous passages from one Chamber to another – the so-called “shuttle” – before entering into force. Put otherwise, there will be a speeding up, but the true issue is not touched: the total abolition of the Senate. In practice, Italian democracy will be a halved bicameral system. This will be very handy for those who govern, a little less for those who are administered, who will continue to pay for a Senate that will be neither fish nor fowl.

Is this really the right way to make the country a favor?  Let us try to understand it. If legislation will have a faster process, we still have to understand how the issues with the appointments are going to be solved. In practice, the new senators will not vote confidence in the government, but will be called upon to express themselves on the president of the Republic. Does it have any logic? On this subject, the constitutionalists have split and began an open combat. But only a feeble background noise of all this ado has reached the average voter. Too weak to be perceived. And this is the signal we must think about. At present, politics turns up the volume when at stake there are effect measures, but they turn it down when at stake there are the rules of the game. Of any kind. This way we run the risk of finding ourselves to deal with a control deficit of control. Too high a risk for a democracy that is considered mature.

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