OBSERVER NEWS

Do Italians Know the Risk of Constitutional Reform?

BY RAMONA VIGLIANISI

One of the pillars upon which democratic societies rest is their constitution. This December, Italy could witness a pivotal shift in its foundations as Italians express their political voice in a constitutional referendum. However, this fact is potentially problematic; Italians do not yet know what they want because they do not know what they are voting for and whom to believe.

After Brexit, Italian citizens have become increasingly concerned about the future of Italy. Widespread distrust and discontent have been the result. People do not believe that Matteo Renzi’s proposed reforms could lead to solutions for the problems afflicting the Italian Republic.

Based on the Italian constitution, the current Parliament is composed of two chambers: the  Camera dei deputati (the House) and the Senato della Repubblica (the Senate).The proposed reforms are meant to streamline the legislative process by reducing the power of the Senato della Repubblica and putting an end to perfect bicameralism. This way, legal texts can avoid the so-called “shuttle,” the journey between the House and the Senate in order to be approved.

The Senate will maintain its “legislative competence” (i.e. its ability to approve, repeal or amend laws in a limited number of areas such as in constitutional reform, provisions on the protection of linguistic minorities and laws regarding referendums). On all other issues, the House will legislate independently. Therefore, a law no longer needs positive votes from both chambers of the Italian parliament in order to pass. The Senate may request changes to the law after its passage, but the House is not obligated to accept the amendments.  

However, the concern is that this reform may over-simplify our democratic life and concentrate political power in too few hands. Furthermore, some are concerned that it is simply reform for reform’s sake.

In some aspects, what is happening with regards to the Italian reforms resembles the British referendum that occurred just a few months ago. Skepticism has skyrocketed across the economically stagnant Italy as well as throughout Europe and the people’s vote has become merely an act of rebellion against the austerity measures imposed by the northern European Union member-states.

After Brexit, post-vote Google searches about the referendum skyrocketed, indicating that many voting really did not know what they were voting for. This public naivete has been recreated in Italy. Democracy is founded upon the will of the people, but skepticism and a widespread fear of a worsening political instability has led Italian citizens to have a simplistic understanding of the matter at hand.

A clearer explanation of the proposed reforms could reassure the Italian public, allowing them to carefully consider their choices before voting. Otherwise, the Italian democracy could easily lose its way.  

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