The Italian parliament is a particular one, based on the concept of perfect bicameralism, meaning that there are two chambers with equal duties and rights and the Constitution itself does not make any distinction between them, although the Senate is considered slightly more important as its President can become Head of State when the President of the Republic needs to be replaced.
The two chambers have other differences as well: there are 630 representatives of the Chamber of Deputies (parlamentari) and 315 members of the Senate of the Republic (senatori), for a total of 945 people in the Italian Parliament. In addition, there are Senators of life, who are the ex-presidents of the Republic and the people nominated by a Head of State for particular merits in social or scientific fields.
The biggest difference of Italian bicameralism compared to, for example, US bicameralism is that the Italian style is more equal because the two chambers are elected by all Italian citizens after 5 years of ruling (with a voting age to elect deputies at 18 years old and to elect senators at 25), thus the senate does not represent sub-national or regional interests.
Moreover, the Senate is also involved politically through a vote of confidence; if either the Chamber or the Senate decides not to grant a vote of confidence in the government, the latter has to resign.
The parliament has much legislative power, because in order to pass a law, both the Chamber and the Senate must vote and agree on it. If the Chamber agrees and the Senate does not, the law goes back to the Chamber with the changes suggested by the Senate, which sometimes total in the thousands as this involves everything, down to the phrasing of each sentence. The new law is then voted on by the Chamber and again sent to the Senate, where the law in voted on again, now starting this vicious cycle once again and making it extremely difficult for governments to pass new laws. Many prime ministers have justified their actions by attributing their lack of administration to this rigorous legislative process.
The question of whether a parliament made by two perfectly equal chambers is truly useful and effective has been discussed since the system was created by the Albertine Statute in 1848 and changed in some aspects by the Italian constitution right after the dictatorship of Mussolini.
There have been many attempts to change the system, in particular to make senators representatives of the regional institutions. All have failed but the latest one, led by the current Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of the Democratic Party (PD) and his Minister for Constitutional Reforms Maria Elena Boschi. It is currently succeeding, as it has passed the first lecture in the Senate and now, according to the Constitution, which has special rules regarding legal process of Constitutional reform, has to be approved by the Chamber. After three months it will again be approved by the Senate and the Chamber and then it finally will be voted on by the whole Italian population too.
If the law passes, the new Senate – which is predicted to be in effect by 2020 – will be composed of 100 senators, instead of 315: 74 regional council members, 21 mayors and 5 senators nominated by the Head of State. The Senate will no longer be able to force a government to resign, and will not have equal legislative power to the Chamber of Deputies. In fact, it may only raise objections if one third of the senators ask for it; and in any case the Chamber of Deputies can pass a law ignoring the suggestions of the Senate. The only exception is if the law changes the Constitution, determines the Italian relationships with the European Union, or if it is linked to popular referendums.
The Senate has also some specific duties, such as the function of connection between the State, local entities, and the European Union. There is also a change in Title V of the Chart that depicts the relationships between regions and the State, in a centralizing direction, making it the most discussed part of the reform by Lega Nord. Lega Nord has always fought for a more federal system in Italy and is strongly suggesting that the reform can lead to a democracy.
This objection is particularly significant, since in May 2015 a new electoral law passed with the name of May 6 2015 Law, also called by media Italicum. The aim was to change the Calderoli Law, Porcellum, that passed during the III Berlusconi’s Administration and which was modified in 2014 because some parts of it were declared unconstitutional.
The Italicum envisages, if no list goes beyond 40% of votes, a second electoral turn between the two most voted lists. The one that wins the runoff voting also gets the majority premium even if the list has won by a few votes. This system is only applicable to the Chamber of Deputies, but as this chamber would have a lot of power after the Constitutional reform, this could lead to a very powerful government. A powerful government would mean stability, as Matteo Renzi has underlined tirelessly, but also a possible dictatorship as Movimento 5 Stelle highlighted.
The discussion is not over yet – Italians still need to decide what to vote in Autumn 2016: Is this reform necessary for a more stable government and unified country as the Economist depicts it, underlining the incredible political work of Maria Elena Boschi who is too often seen just for her beauty in Italy, or is it just a part of a series of reforms that give too much power to the government?