Italy

I - Political context

Political change     
I.1
What is the political context of the Eurozone crisis period in Italy? Have there been changes in government, elections, referenda or other major political events during the period of 2008-present?

The center-right coalition led by Berlusconi (PdL) won the elections of 2008 conquering the widest margin in terms of parliamentary seats in Italy’s republican history.

But a series of internal dynamics undermined this success: in brief, firstly one of its components, led by the then President of the Chamber of Deputies Fini, left the PdL in 2010; secondly, the coalition was electorally defeated in the local elections of May 2011; soon after, the referenda of 12 and 13 June 2011 went against some political choices of the government (not related, in any case, to the Eurozone crisis), and were perceived as a failure for it.

During the summer of 2011 Italy witnessed a worsening of the economic and financial crisis, due to the increased spread on government bonds, which led to the ECB’s letter of the 5 August (see question X.10 and X.11); and this despite the measures already adopted in June 2011 with the Decree n. 98/2011, containing most of the financial manoeuvres necessary to achieve a balanced budget in 2014.

The interaction between the political and financial crisis became evident in the widespread skepticism of the major financial players and of some supranational and foreign authorities towards the resilience of the Italian economic system. This attitude determined, at the end of July 2011, a major increase in the interest rates of the Italian public debt bonds, bringing with it the need to bring forward to 2013 the goal of achieving a balanced budget (Decree 138/2011).

The opposition and a part of the media believed[1] that the main causes of this skepticism lay with the poor credibility of Berlusconi’s government, whose international image was already tarnished due to his political and personal misadventures. Furthermore, within the ruling coalition and the government itself conflict increased, as emblematic in the distance between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Economy and Finance Giulio Tremonti, also on the merits of the possible measures to be taken to address the financial emergency and for the revitalization of the country.

A clear split within the political majority became evident on 11 October 2011, when the lower Chamber (Camera dei Deputati) rejected by one vote the 2010 State Administration General Statement bill («rendiconto generale dello Stato per l’esercizio finanziario»): that did not imply – as for formal, and widely used and misused, votes of confidence/no-confidence – a legal obligation to resign, but led to a necessity of “parliamentary monitoring of the continuance of such confidence”[2] . This monitoring took place on 14 October, when the Camera dei Deputati formally approved, with 316 votes in favour and 301 against, the motion of confidence presented by the government to verify the persistence of the majority.

But as a consequence of this situation of impasse, the President of the Republic became «the main actor on the stage»[3] . He firstly launched two severe warnings in close succession (26 October and 1 November 2011) on the need to take «decision, albeit unpopular … in the national and in the European interest», and on his «constitutional duty to verify the conditions for the realization of this perspective», given the «further deterioration of the Italian position within the financial markets».

He then marked with an increasing number of communications, meetings, notes and statements («informal talks with the major components of the opposition and majority forces») the course of action for a formal vote, on 8 November 2011, of the same State Administration General Statement bill rejected a month before (with the absence of the opposition, in order to ensure the approval but at the same time demonstrating that the government did not have the absolute majority), and, the day after, for the announcement of Berlusconi of his willingness to resign after the approval of the Stability Law (Law 196/2009).

This approval arrived on 11 November, again with the decision of the opposition not to engage in filibustering, due to a «sense of responsibility towards the country»; on 12 of November Berlusconi resigned.

After only two days of consultations with political and social groups, and without elections, on 16 November Professor Mario Monti, recently nominated Senator-for-life in accordance with article 59.2 of the Constitution, presented the members of the new government, all external to the political parties. They were sworn in and obtained the confidence of the Senate on the same day, with the support, as mentioned, of all the political groups except the Lega Nord (281 votes in favour and 25 against), a record. Two days after, the Camera dei Deputati also voted its confidence (556 votes in favour and 61 against) to this ‘technical’ government of so called ‘national commitment’.

The Monti government fully exercised its functions until the end of 2012 (the natural end of the legislature being the Spring 2013), when (6 December) the center-right coalition of the PdL left the majority; on 8 December 2012, after a meeting between Prime Minister Mario Monti and President Giorgio Napolitano, the former announced through the latter his resignation after the approval of the Stability law.

On 21 December 2012, after such approval, the government remained in office as usual for the current business until the settlement of the new Chambers and the birth of the new government.

But the elections of the end of February 2013 gave a rather complex result, even complicated by the often criticized Election law n. 270/2005: this led to a sort of equilibrium, not in terms of seats but surely in terms of political influence, between the two traditional main coalitions, with a good result of the new populist Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo.

The new, and somehow unexpected, impasse led to several unprecedented moves.

Firstly Italy saw a re-election (for the first time in the Italian history) of Giorgio Napolitano as the President of the Republic: in particular, he announced to accept this unprecedented option under the same conditions of responsibility and commitment towards the country by the main parties, in the national and in the European interest, already expressed months before at the time of the crisis of the Berlusconi IV government.

Then, after the failure of the first mandate to form a government offered to MP Bersani, the leader of the center-left coalition which had the majority of the Camera’s seats (but not of the Senate), Napolitano constituted two small Commissions of so called wisemen (renowned experts on institutional and economic affairs) for the assessment of the reforms to be considered as urgent for the country.

He then offered the mandate to Enrico Letta (PD) for the construction of a government with bi-partisan support and members, from both the center-left and the center-right coalitions.

In turn, Enrico Letta also constituted a Commission for Constitutional reforms, composed of around 40 experts, which worked during the summer and then published a complete series of reports (both a common and individual ones),[4] trying to prompt new institutional reforms in Italy by 2015.

More recently, the process has been accelerated by the decision of the Constitutional Court (n. 1/2014)[5] to strike down part of the contested electoral law (n. 270/2005), and by the comprehensive proposal of amendments to the standing orders of the Chamber of Deputies,[6] although the issue dealing with budget and the oversight on the fiscal policy have not been included.

[1]               See for instance http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2011/11/italy-under-imf-supervision.

[2]               As expressed by Valerio Onida, one of Italian leading constitutional scholars, in an opinion then cited directly by the President of the Republic Napolitano.

[3]               T. Groppi, I. Spigno, N. Vizioli, The Constitutional Consequences of the Financial Crisis in Italy, in X. Contiades (ed.), Constitutions in the Global Financial Crisis. A Comparative Analysis, p. 102.

[4]               All published at the website http://riformecostituzionali.gov.it/documenti-della-commissione/relazione-finale.html.

[5]               http://www.cortecostituzionale.it/actionSchedaPronuncia.do?anno=2014&numero=1.

[6]               See on this the report of the works of the “Giunta per il regolamento” of the Chamber, 12 December 2013, available at: http://documenti.camera.it/leg17/resoconti/commissioni/bollettini/html/2013/12/12/15/comunic.htm.