What is the 2020 referendum

Italy: Complicated constitutional referendum

With the exception of the five-star movement, most parties would like to sink the referendum scheduled for September 20 and 21, according to political scientist Günther Pallaver. In the guest commentary, he shows the possible effects.

For 40 years there has been a discussion in Italy about reducing the number of parliamentarians. Four parliamentary commissions have worked on it unsuccessfully since 1983. This time it seems to be in the home stretch to reduce the chamber from 630 to 400 members and the Senate from 315 to 200 senators. In no other EU country would it need as many voters for one MP as in Italy.

Initiated by the populist five-star movement, virtually all relevant parties in parliament ultimately voted for the reform. If a constitutional law in Italy, which has to pass four times through the Chamber and Senate, is passed in the last two rounds with an absolute, but not with a two-thirds majority, one fifth of the members of the Chamber or Senate, 500,000 voters or five regional councils have the opportunity to request a constitutional referendum which is not tied to any quorum of voter turnout. This time the motion came from the Senate across all parties, mostly from Forza Italia MPs who fear for their seats.

On the wave of the prevailing mood in Italy against the "political caste", almost no one dared to oppose the reform. A few weeks before the date, with the exception of the five stars, most parties would like to sink the referendum.

Hope for a no

The right-wing conservative alliance consisting of Lega, Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia decided to reduce it with the five stars when they were still forming a joint government. Since the alliance has been in opposition, Lega and Fratelli d'Italia stick to their yes to reform, but are not committed to it and hope for a no, because the government of Giuseppe Conte with the main shareholder Five Stars is very likely to be on Would be the end.

When the Partito Democratico (PD) pressed the opposition bench, it railed against the "deforestation of parliament". A reduction in the number of parliamentarians makes little sense if it does not take place in an overall context, for example with the redefinition of the electoral system. Hardly with the five stars in the government, the PD had the "contextual" reforms guaranteed and in the last round it approved the constitutional law after having previously voted no three times. But like Forza Italia, the PD is also split internally. For a clear yes, the PD now demands that the required additional reforms, at least in their basic direction, come to parliament before the referendum. Given the tight times, this demand remains more of a cosmetic appeal to appease internal rebels and the grassroots.

Hardly any savings

Proponents of the reform like to argue that costs will be reduced. 300 to 400 million would be saved each year. Above all, it would make Parliament's work less cumbersome and more efficient.

The opponents, especially the many civil society committees for the No, point to the lower representativeness with a number of consequences. Fewer political forces will move into parliament, political minorities will remain locked out, and some regions will be underrepresented in parliament. The high costs, it is calculated, are 42 percent due to the pension payments and the high expenses for the staff. The savings are therefore hardly relevant.

Immature reform

The arguments that reform begins with the roof instead of the foundation cannot be dismissed out of hand. A reform of perfect bicameralism - the government needs trust in both houses, laws must also be passed by both houses in the same wording - would have been much more important for increasing the efficiency of parliamentary work, but was rejected in the constitutional referendum at that time in 2016. Back then, too, people hit the sack and meant the donkey. The referendum was used to overthrow the Matteo Renzi government.

This time a decision is made on a reform without having regulated the effects. The reduction in the number of parliamentarians has an impact on the internal organization of parliament (commissions, political groups), on the rights of the opposition, on the election of the president with a suddenly greater weight of the regions (fewer parliamentarians, while the regional representatives remain the same) Election of constitutional judges and other things. Above all, there is no electoral system with the reorganization of the constituencies. It would be the sixth electoral reform since 2005. As things stand today, the parliamentarians are being reduced without knowing how the new ones will be elected. A proportional representation system with a five percent clause seems most likely to be able to win a majority.

It would not be the first time that an initial, somewhat immature impetus is needed in Italy to overcome the reform backlog. The initial triumph of populism could ultimately lead to a serious reform process. (Günther Pallaver, September 1st, 2020)

Günther Pallaver is South Tyrolean, university professor for political science and head of the Institute for Media, Society and Communication at the University of Innsbruck.

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