Italy’s Constitutional Reform: challenging sacred cows
by The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - Perhaps there is no country that could better understand Italy’s need and desire to alter the political landscape better than Canada can.
Ours, Canada, is a federation whose political infrastructure was designed to secure some very specific goals, not least of which to accomplish market growth and expansion. The “Fathers of Confederation” realized that they needed to streamline decision-making and vest authorities for national interests in a Parliament sensitive and responsive to those emerging needs and goals.
In hindsight, they seemed prescient on certain issues. Parliament developed into a Legislative entity that is to all intents and purposes a functionally Uni-cameral Legislature. Yes, there is a bi-cameral structure that includes a Senate, but Its primary objective was to “protect the interests of the regions” (Provinces today).
Had it been designed for more, the “Upper House” would have been given “balancing powers” to offset those of the House of Commons. Instead, residual powers (anything not specifically outlined in the Constitution) would rest with the House. And this Chamber alone had authority to tax and redistribute wealth.
The Italian Republic of the Post-WWII era was born out of different circumstances. The Constitution was motivated by circumstances where “Balance and power-sharing” seemed pre-eminent concerns. Post-war Italy opted for a “perfect Bi-Cameral system”: each House having similar powers and each with the authority to amend or block the other’s legislative initiatives.
Seen from the outside, it is a wonder anything ever gets done. It is too simple a reaction, but no less valid. Purely local political structures have become the biggest economic activity of most regional municipalities and provincial governments. By-laws and legislation are subservient to vested interests now accustomed to protecting their own – exclusively.
But the world has changed. Imperial powers have given way to the World Trade Organization; Regional Trading Blocks; emerging countries like China, India, and Brasil. Their wealth in natural and human resources give them unmatchable efficiencies in price points. Globalization of markets has given rise to enterprises whose annual revenues outstrip the GDP of all but a select few nations.
Some would like to turn back the clock. It will not happen. To stay current, if not competitive, countries like Canada and Italy must necessarily shed arcane governance institutions, if they want to preserve the flexibility that relatively quick decision-making can produce.
Increasingly, the world is becoming a collection of power blocks. For twenty five years, Canadian political Leadership has been focused on the challenges of a commercial Fortress North America, Fortress Europe, a behemoth emerging Fortress China and two other impressive regional economies, Africa and India.
All of these have economies that are 10 to 12 times the size of those generated by Italy and Canada respectively. Nor does this calculus weigh the influence of eco-Military powers like Russia, Iran, Turkey and their Greater Middle Eastern competitors.
The Italian Senate and its supporters have a difficult task in providing an acceptable rationale for its survival under the status quo. It is a weak discussion that holds for its retention simply because it allows for increased representational voices for the Diaspora. Did you know that an American from Chicago represents Canadians with Italian citizenship living in Canada?
At least in Canada, Senators – sitting and aspiring – have the decency to avoid claiming they represent any one other than themselves. The Supreme Courts and Charters of Rights have become the only guarantors of Human [and Minority] Rights.
Matteo Renzi may not have endeared himself to current and former colleagues during his rise to the top.
If so, and that has become the primary or sole argument for retaining the Constitutional status quo, then the argument for voting NO rests on shaky ground indeed.
Nonetheless, repeatedly, Italians are wont to mimic the American response to the question of whether America is ready for a female president, given Trump’s victory. Yes, goes the answer, just not for that woman (Clinton).
Everyone in Italy who has given it any thought appears to want change. They just object to it being driven by Renzi.
(Wednesday 16 November 2016)