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Rethinking the Italian political system:  Four hypothetical pillars

By March 20, 2023No Comments

Author: Leonardo Lucchesi


After the fall of the government led by former European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi, Italian political parties started to discuss the possibility of reforming the political system of the nation; mainly debating on two main perspectives which are appropriately considered for implementation via constitutional reform.

The first one tends towards a full presidential system because it would change the head of state status from representative to executive; while the other one conceives a directly elected Prime Minister, replacing the current indirect nomination by the head of state formula.

The second option would be the most correct solution for the renovation of the current institutional system; due to its strong parliamentary and collegial setting. What we observe in the Italian context refers to a bicameral structure of the Parliament characterized by a redundancy of functions (Cotta et al., 2008, p.310).

Moreover, the government is not handled by a strong-based Prime Minister, who is instead considered as a “primus inter pares” (first among equals)that only coordinates the policy-making action without affecting other significant procedures (De Vergottini et al., 2021, pp. 292-294).

If we add to this analysis the highly-fragmented political and cultural background of the country, the result will consist of an unstable system with a lack of control and efficient directional mechanisms.

Thus, introducing a direct election for the Prime Minister would positively influence the general functioning of Italian institutions; in the subsequent paragraphs, I will try to demonstrate this statement through four main pillars, giving the main analytical perspectives to approach the hypothetical change of the current institutional system.

Pillar 1: The Government Type

The first pillar concerns the government structure, and all the executive administration as well.

As previously mentioned; Italy would need a Prime Minister connected to a direct legitimacy via political election, because this would facilitate Prime Minister selection. The only empirical example academically corroborated of this structure refers to the Israeli 1992-2001 experience, which was based on “aut simul stabunt aut simul cadent” (together they stand, together they fall) precept, where we had elections both for Prime Minister and Parliament (Morbidelli et al., 2020, pp.304-307); while in Italy government has always been nominated and never elected, even if the two countries share proportional-oriented elections. Additionally in this model, the head of government is not the head of state, as in Italy, and the Parliament maintains the possibility to invalidate the government mandate via a vote of no confidence (Cotta et al., 2008, pp.347-349).

But, owing to as mentioned before, the government stability ought to be reinforced and consolidated to avoid typical Italian sequences of multiple resignations of the executives in charge. For this reason, the mandate term of the Government and the Parliament, gained after the elections, should not be interrupted; except for a constructive vote of no confidence, in which another majority must be ready to run the country, as it happens in Germany (Morbidelli et al., 2020, pp.278-279).

All these corrections should allow the Italian system to have more enduring and constant government operability, avoiding typical duration inefficiencies.

Pillar 2: The Electoral System

The second pillar aims to analyze the electoral system that Italy should adopt to ameliorate the stability and efficiency of its institutional mandates.

The current formula is a composite compromise between proportional and plurality electoral assets (De Vergottini et al., 2021, p.190); inherited by the long existence of multiple parties, representing several ideologies, often part of grand coalitions.

Considering the gargantuan and perpetual fragmentation of Italian polity, the best achievement would be to implement a first-past-the-post formula (Lijphart,1994); thus obtaining a two-parties tendency which allows the system to be more clear and consolidated in its functional schemes (Cotta et al., 2008, pp.278-292).

The adoption of the first-past-post would be in contrast with Italian electoral tradition because, in its political history, a “winner takes all” formula played a less important role despite proportional representation; but it would help to avoid consolidated problems related to a system extremely polarized on representation and not on governability.

So far the improvement of the current formula would help the electors to optimize their vote and give more efficiency to the political institutions.

Pillar 3: The Parliamentary Asset

The third pillar regards a crucial point of this commentary because it analyzes the most adoptable Parliament asset in the case of institutional reform, and its importance lies in the parliamentary matrix of the Italian Republic.

First of all, the representative background will be discussed, considering if an equal base would be more suitable than a differentiated base. Currently both the low and the high Chambers are elected by all 18-aged citizens, and this is a positive feature because it enlarges the possibility of representing the electors to the utmost of its range.

On the contrary, for what concerns the functions of the two Chambers, we have to say that the current symmetrical attribution (Groppi et al., 2021, pp.273-277) does not properly work; while in the 1948-1992 period, Tangentopoli scandal used to be very efficient as the policy-making concept never changed due to the continuous presence of Christian-Democracy. That’s why the most excellent solution might be to deliver a balancing attribution, as for the UK Parliament, or a weak attribution to one of the Chamber, thus favoring the other one as for the UK parliamentary system.

Whatever the preference is, the result would be to facilitate the policy-making of the Parliament and that of reducing the time for the approval of the law.

Pillar 4: The centralization Focus

The fourth pillar delves into the Italian public administration and the subdivision of competencies between central power and diffused local administrations, which nowadays is considered to be highly problematic and motionless.

As it was influenced by the Napoleonic legacy, the Italian public administration is a ministerial-structured body in which the spoil system doesn’t play any role at all (Groppi et al., 2021, pp.323-324). This means that, in the current situation, the public administration continues its mandate despite the come in a succession of several governments.

On the contrary, the introduction of a project-focused organization, connected to an efficient spoil system mechanism, would increase the quality of the administration output and might consent to the implementation of Herbert Simon’s limited rationality theory, or even Amitai Etzioni’s mixed scanning principle (Cotta et al., 2021, pp.394-402). Additionally, the central apparatus should be related to a vertical position of prominence where there is no other subject in the apical position of hierarchy; thus avoiding the current local fragmentation (De Vergottini et al., 2021, p.384).

Finally, we would generate a centralized system with a good and optimized framework ready to deliver qualitative replies to rational-given targets.

This is important in a state that has always suffered from the lack of effective political unity.


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Leonardo Lucchesi studies in the field of International Relations at the University of Florence. His main research interests concern Conflict and Area Studies, Bureaucracy, Lobbying, and Democratization.

He serves as a volunteer in a youth cultural association as Press Office Manager and works as a security policy-making consultant for an Italian political party.

In 2018 worked on the ERAMUS+ S.A.I.L. project on migrant inclusion in Italy and Belgium.

He’s a start-up co-founder.  

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