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Italy: Historic Constitutional Amendment in Progress

(Mar. 3, 2015) On January 27, 2015, the Italian Chamber of Deputies reviewed for a second time a constitutional amendment proposal approved by the Italian Senate. The proposed constitutional amendment contains a number of provisions that would substantially alter the parliamentary political system established in Italy under the Constitution of 1948. (Constitution of the Italian Republic [Const.], Office of the Senate Service for Official Reports and Communication website (last visited Feb. 25, 2015).)

The proposal is S. 1429 – Constitutional Bill: Provisions on Overcoming Equal Bicameralism, Reduction of the Number of Members of Parliament, Reduction of Operating Costs of Institutions, Suppression of the National Council of the Economy and Labor, and the Revision of Part II, Title V, of the Constitution. (Disegno di legge: S. 1429, Chamber of Deputies website (last visited Feb. 25, 2015).)

The main points of the proposal are to:

• replace the current system of equal power between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate,

• transform the Senate into a body to represent the sub-national governments within Italy, and

• amend legislative procedure by eliminating the concurrent legislative competence between the state and the regions and removing all references to the provinces in the Constitution. (Disegno di legge: S. 1429; see also Dante Figueroa & Antonio Casu, The Italian Legislative Procedure, IN CUSTODIA LEGIS (June 17, 2013); Francesco Marcelli & Valeria Giammusso, Il nuovo riparto delle competenze tra Stato e Regione [The New Distribution of Competences Between the State and the Regions], I SERVIZIO STUDI, No. 61, Senate website.)

The constitutional amendment proposal was revised many times during parliamentary discussions until, on December 15, 2014, the Chamber of Deputies approved a new text of the draft amendments that was largely congruent with an earlier Senate version. (Version 2613-A, XVII Legislatura. Superamento del bicameralismo paritario e revisione del Titolo V della Parte seconda della Costituzione – Ddl Cost. A.C. 2613-A e abb., Chamber of Deputies website (Dec. 15, 2014).)

Details of the Proposal

The proposed constitutional amendment has provisions on the following:

1. Gender equality in parliamentary elections (amending Const. art. 55): A provision would state that the laws regulating the election of Deputies must promote a balanced representation between men and women. Another would state that each Deputy represents the whole nation and not the specific territorial district where he or she was elected.

2. Powers of the Chamber of Deputies (amending Const. art. 55): The authority of the Chamber to keep the government in power through votes of confidence in the executive branch, with responsibility for the political direction of the country, its legislative functions, and its control of the government’s operations, are specified.

3. New role for the Senate of the Republic (amending Const. art. 55): The Senate would become the representative organ for territorial institutions in the country, possessing concurrent legislative powers with the Chamber of Deputies for certain matters explicitly mentioned in the Constitution and exercising coordinative functions with the other organs of the Republic, and between these organs and the European Union.

4. Number of Senators (amending Const. art. 57): The number of Senators would be reduced from 315 to 100.

5. Terms of office for Senators (amending Const. art. 57): The duration of a Senator’s term would coincide with that of the organs of the territorial institutions from which they have been elected.

6. Senate role for former Presidents (amending Const. art. 59): The provision in the current Constitution that makes former Presidents of the Republic members of the Senate for life would be eliminated.

7. Number of Senators appointed by the President (amending Const. 59): The number of persons whom the President of the Republic may appoint as Senators would be increased from five to an undetermined number. These appointments may be made based on service to the homeland in the areas of society, science, arts, and literature. A temporary limit on their senatorial tenure of seven years, without the right to reelection, would be established.

8. Self-qualification by the Senate (amending Const. art. 66): The former power of the Senate to decide on the qualifications for admission of its own members would be replaced by a provision that directs the Senate to take note of the cessation of functions of a Senator as determined by the territorial institution that elected him or her.

9. Legislative supremacy of the Chamber of Deputies (amending Const. art. 70): The legislative powers of the Chamber of Deputies would be greatly strengthened. To become law, each legislative proposal would need to be approved by both chambers of Parliament, but the Senate would have to examine each item within ten days of receipt of the proposal, during which time one-third of Senators would have to approve the review of the bill by the Senate. The draft thereafter would be sent to the floor of the Senate for a vote within a time limit of 30 days. After the Senate review, the Chamber of Deputies would make a final decision over the text of the proposed law without any further review by the Senate. There would be exceptions to this general rule in regard to certain constitutional matters.

10. Preventative review of electoral laws by the Constitutional Court (amending Const. arts. 73, 77, & 174): Provisions would require that laws regulating the elections of members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate be submitted for pre-promulgation review by the Constitutional Court at the request of at least a third of the Deputies. The Constitutional Court would be required to issue a decision within 30 days; if the Court finds the law unconstitutional, the law would not be promulgated. Laws that the Court has declared unconstitutional could not be revived, approved, or promulgated by the Executive branch.

11. Senate powers of war, amnesty, and pardon (amending Const. arts. 78 & 87): The Senate would no longer enjoy the power to grant war powers to the Executive branch or to grant an amnesty or pardon. Those powers would be conferred exclusively on the Chamber of Deputies.

12. Votes of confidence in the Executive branch (amending Const. art. 94): The Executive branch would be subject only to retaining the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies, not the Senate.

13. Expansion of the exclusive powers of the central government (amending Const. art. 117): Some functions and powers currently allocated to the regions would be transferred to the central government. These powers concern regulation of professions and communications; administration of the national territory; oversight of the national system to deal with emergencies; control over the production, transportation, and distribution of energy at the national level; and administration of the strategic infrastructure and major transportation and navigation networks that are key to national security and of the ports and civil airports of vital national and international interest.

14. Relationship of the central government to the non-exclusive powers of the regions (amending Const. art. 117): Under the new scheme of allocation of powers, the regions would retain certain enumerated exclusive powers concerning “any matter not expressly reserved to the exclusive competence of the state.” However, the central government would be given authority to assume non-exclusive powers allocated to the regions “when the protection of the legal or economic unity of the Republic or the safeguarding of national interests require it.”

15. Change in powers of appointment of members of the Constitutional Court (amending Const. art. 135): Under the current Constitution, the Court has 15 members appointed in equal numbers by the President of the Republic, the Parliament, and the judiciary. The proposed amendment would maintain the number of court members but provide that of the five members appointed by the legislature, the Chamber of Deputies would appoint three and the Senate two.

Next Step

A final vote on the constitutional bill is scheduled to take place in early March 2015. If approved by the Italian Parliament, the Prime Minister has stated that a national referendum will be held for ratification of the proposed constitutional changes by the Italian voting public. (Isla Binnie & James Mackenzie, Italy’s Renzi Defies Opposition over Senate Reform, REUTERS (Feb. 25, 2015).)