Reform of the Italian Senate

Baroness Murphy

Regular bog followers will know that in summer recess I am usually in Tuscany, Italy, where everyone will be delighted to know that the weather is worse than in the UK, the worst summer here since 1960.  (Good for the olives though). But following the dramas of Italian politics is as addictive as ever, not least this year because Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is staking his future on a major reform of the Senate, the upper house equivalent to the House of Lords. It’s currently an elected house with powers similar to the Chamber of Deputies (our Commons). Renzi is proposing a new 315-member upper house stripped of the power to approve budget and hold no-confidence votes on cabinet. It would become a non-elected entity comprised of 148 members allocated between mayors, regional governors and other representatives from the regions, and 21 representatives chosen by the president of the Republic from civil society.

The new assembly would be called the “Senate of Autonomies”, and its legislative powers would be limited to issues related to local and regional affairs. The change is intended to complement a separate reform of the electoral law that would raise the threshold for parties to enter parliament and bring in a two-round voting system that would ensure a clear winner after an election. Not surprisingly the Senate are aghast. The Senate currently has enormous powers and exercises them to block most reforms. The Italian parliament is stagnant as a result. Senators are also paid large salaries, about €130,000 plus handsome retirement annuities and allowances (such as the coffee allowance!) whether they attend or not…those of you out there who complain about our UK allowances please take note and be grateful!

On 1 August the vote to alter the composition and election of Italy’s Senate went through the Chamber of Deputies. There were 194 votes in favour, 26 against and eight abstentions. No centre-right Forza Italia or anti-establishment Five Star Movement representatives were present. But yesterday the Senate set down 8000 amendments to hold up the progress of all reforms and slow the process down by about a year at least if not for ever. The battle is being seen as a sign of the kind of resistance Renzi will encounter with other parts of his agenda, including an overhaul of labour laws, reform of a bloated public administration and measures to rein in Italy’s mountainous public debt, set to top 135 percent of gross domestic product this year.

Italy’s economy, the third-largest in the euro zone494px-Renzi_2014, is in urgent need of structural reform after two decades of virtual stagnation. Everywhere one goes in Italy the impact on ordinary people’s lives is obvious. After dipping in and out of recession since the start of the financial crisis, the economy has contracted by some 9 percent since 2007. Renzi (photo to the left) is young, ambitious and very determined to change how Italian politics well. I wish him well. I have always supported an upper elected house in the UK but the dangers of an over powerful elected upper house are very obvious here.

6 comments for “Reform of the Italian Senate

  1. MilesJSD
    04/08/2014 at 9:38 am

    Simply goes to show

    that the more difficult, and sliding down slippery-slopes out of control,
    economies, politics, populations, health, illness, societies, ‘classes’, disabilities-&-impairments services, and the life-long education of all levels of people, become

    the less participatively-democratic
    and the more ‘autocratic’
    Governances ‘have to be’
    chopped into place.

  2. Croft
    04/08/2014 at 12:19 pm

    ” have always supported an upper elected house in the UK but the dangers of an over powerful elected upper house are very obvious here.”

    Not sure one follows from the other. The problems in Italy are more to do with the electoral system and its political culture than the power of the two houses.

  3. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    05/08/2014 at 11:13 am

    Croft, yes, I agree with you. Renzi is trying to change the polling system too to enable only larger parties only to gain seats in parliament but I do so also agree with you about the political culture. But there’s also the culture of the public towards politics and the political culture didn’t necessarily create the public culture, could very well be the other way round. Any advice for Renzi?

    • Croft
      05/08/2014 at 3:23 pm

      Advice: Does prayer count 😉

      I fear we many not see more than superficial reform before the forces of the status quo reassert their power. Yes a weaker Senate might streamline things, returning to the old electoral law (as the recent was struck down by the courts) might help a more stable first chamber but when the political, administrative and courts are all in dire need of reform its rather like trying to fix a house roof in a storm when you’re ladder is missing rungs and the hammers lost its head!

  4. maude elwes
    05/08/2014 at 12:28 pm

    Baroness, Renzi is simply the puppet of his own ambition.

    My understanding of it, which is totally insufficient to offer as advice, is, find out who is backing him and what this is really telling the Italian people about their democracy and their part in it. The EU does not care for democracy or monarchy come to that. Which does not mean I don’t like the concept of the EU, just not at all keen on who is truly running it presently.

    Abolishing second chambers is an EU policy that will fail. And as we can see, their project is already out of control. Mario Monte’s government was in some way forced to make sure Berlusconi didn’t go to prison for underage sex crimes, that’s why he entered politics in the first place, and so, he had the law abolished before he was sentenced. It was said to be a deal set up with Berlusconi’s followers to carry on his money making vengeance against his own elected upper chamber, whom he blamed for his demise in the first place. The Italians are used to open corruption, unlike us, who like it to stay in the dark.

    This pact, written and signed between Renzi and Berlusconi, the exact contents of which are secret, was a done deal before he took office. The whispered plan within is said to begin with forced withdrawal from private bank accounts and this would not be passed by their upper house. They would drag it out for ten years, so, he had to be rid of them as he assured he was able to bring off what was wanted. I believe Renzi was some kind of IMF veteran who devised a promise that this package would bail out Italy to the tune of 40 billion Euro, what they call a panettone Christmas cake. At least covering him for the time being.

    Now on to the EU, who is in hock to the IMF, like us all, which is backed by the money men who really run the show and want the removal of elected people. That is unless they are their stooges. This applies to any European government or law making, tax raising authority, or, anything else that is not in their absolute control. So the idea of being rid of an elected senate is right up their street.

    Which brings us to the US which detests any kind of welfare spending state, as it shames them and their political standing at home. As a result they risk losing any democratic legitimacy they feel they have if they don’t knock such states on the head. In other words, persistent austerity, although an economic disaster for all except those at the very top, is their goal. And independent democratically elected chambers that they cannot easily manipulate, is an anathema to those behind the scenes.

    Without a democratic process you cannot get decent authoritative leadership, yet without decent leadership you cannot develop the democratic process.

  5. maude elwes
    21/08/2014 at 8:59 am

    In the opening of this thread it was suggested we gave an opinion of on what we would advise Mr Renzi should we have such an opportunity.

    So, here is my advice to same Mr Renzi and his players. I would give this same advice to our own players inside the house we, in the UK, call Parliament. Take this policy up across the board as quickly as the next general election. Advertise it, and see the voters get out of bed to put a ‘yes’ tick in the box beside that offer.

    Here is how it works, ‘Direct Democracy.’

    And who is taking this initiative for his European stance, why, this fellow.

    So, Mr Renzi, take the bull by the horns and bring this freedom into your policy for the Italian people. And with any serious luck, we in the UK may follow suit.

    And, yes, I am holding my breath.

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