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About this book

The political history of Italy has been an undeniably turbulent one. The country’s political system has been repeatedly threatened by the historical existence of extremist parties on the left and right, an economy which struggles to adapt, the cleavage between a developed north and an underdeveloped south, the challenge posed by terrorist groups and organized crime, high public debt, and governments that last on average only ten months. Paradoxically, however, Italy continues to muddle through from one political crisis to another with one of the world’s highest standards of living and quality of life. What is the secret of Italian politics?

Table of Contents

1. The Nexus between Socio-Economic and Political Change in Italy: Why Does Italy Matter?

Abstract
The study of Italian politics has a long pedigree among American and European scholars given the country’s history and economic and political turbulence over the past two centuries. After the Second World War scholars were attracted to the politics of the country due to the existence of Western Europe’s largest Communist Party (PCI), which had significant roots in different social classes (farm workers, industrial blue collar workers, white collar workers, members of cooperatives, storekeepers, entrepreneurs and intellectuals) and pursued a basically democratic rather than revolutionary strategy for coming to power through the electoral process. Based on its large membership base, it governed a number of local, provincial and regional governments with reasonable success in the production of common goods for the public and was recognized as a party capable of incorporating the principles of good government in terms of policy making and administration. But the politics of the country also fascinated scholars due to the existence of the Vatican and a dominant Christian Democratic Party that exercised a monopoly of power at the national level and was able to impose Catholic cultural values and practices on the general public through national legislation on divorce, abortion, differentiation of rights between men and women, and censorship of the national media.
Robert Leonardi

2. The Impact of Economic Challenges on Italy’s Political System

Abstract
Over the past 70 years the Italian institutional system has changed in response to endogenous as well as exogenous political, economic and social challenges. During the 1950s the change was driven by the economic “miracle” that changed the economic base of the country and opened the prospects of higher standards of living and social mobility. In the 1960s the cultural base was modernized and a greater emphasis was placed on the absorption of liberal social values. The 1970s, instead, saw the decentralization of policy making and implementation due to the creation of the regions and the greater powers allocated to local government in the attempt to “bring power closer to the people”. Ten years later economic change was again in the forefront with the creation of industrial districts and the diffusion of small and medium enterprises throughout a large part of the country that turned it into an exporting powerhouse. During the 1990s a political transition took place between the former ruling political class and a new class made up of younger and more populist oriented leaders and political parties. It is the contention of this text that after the millennium two forces have been at work to change, once again, the nature of the institutions and politics in Italy. The first is the Europeanization of many policy areas, from monetary policy to the management of the market and economy, while the second is the globalization of the market, communication and lifestyles that no longer fit within a purely national model. In other words the forces that used to contain interactions behind the national borders are no longer operative.
Robert Leonardi

3. Parliament: Democratization of Representative Institutions

Abstract
This chapter will discuss the changing role of Parliament in the Italian political system and how it has been transformed during the First and Second Republics in terms of the centrality of Parliament in the passage of legislation. Attention will be placed on the role of the floor of Parliament as well as the role played by standing committees. The Italian Constitution has allocated a unique role to standing committees in the passage of legislation: it can do so without requiring a final vote on the floor of the two chambers. The chapter also discusses the role of charismatic leaders in diverting attention from the legislative process to the attractive power of the individual leader in the management of policy making above and beyond the role of Parliament and what in the last analysis is produced by government. What has become important is more the announcement of what government wants to do rather than what it is able to do. Thus, Parliament has become more the sounding board for governmental announcements rather than the process through which governmental proposals are transformed into legislation. Finally, the chapter will look at what Parliament has done in the passage of legislative proposals and analyse who in fact is elected to Parliament in terms of age, gender, educational and professional qualifications during the most recent legislatures.
Robert Leonardi

4. The Executive Branch: Who Rules Italy?

Abstract
Since the coming into existence of the republican form of government in 1946, Italy has operated with two forms of political executives. The first is the President of the Republic whose role is that of the head of state combined with a number of other presidential duties. The second is the Prime Minister (or officially referred to as President of the Council of Ministers) who operates as the head of government. Both executives are dependent on a secondary form of election by Parliament, but during the last two decades the Italian political system has increasingly displayed signs of restructuring the role of both offices. One of the options discussed is the direct election of the President of the Republic through a popular vote, as is the case in France. Such an alternative would in effect merge the role of head of state and leader of the government. Another possibility is directly electing the Prime Minister. This was the solution proposed in the 2005 constitutional revision formulated by the Berlusconi government. It provided for a greater role on the part of the Prime Minister vis-à-vis the President of the Republic. However, the attempt to move Italy towards a more presidential form of government was rejected by the voters in the constitutional referendum of 2006. Nevertheless, the interactions between the two branches of government have continued to animate the discussion of how to manage the governmental process more efficiently and effectively in the presence of a dual executive.
Robert Leonardi

5. The Judicial System: The Delivery of Justice under the Separation of Powers

Abstract
The rise of the judiciary as an important political component in Italy’s constitutional system is a relatively new phenomenon. During most of the First Republic the judicial branch was of little concern aside from the need to complete the rebuilding of the judicial system with the creation of the Constitutional Court in 1955 and the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, the self-governing body of the judicial branch. Otherwise, the judiciary had remained out of the public spotlight for a considerable number of years. All of that changed in the 1970s as the judicial branch was thrust into the front lines of the struggle to gain control over the terrorist organizations that had emerged on the heels of the 1968–1969 student and workers movements. Starting in 1969, judges were shot dead or kidnapped on a regular basis by terrorist organizations. A few years later the attention of the judicial branch was turned towards the Mafia, and here once again the judges were on the front lines in the struggle to bring the Mafiosi to justice. The judicial system again assumed a central role in the Italian political system in 1992 when the Clean Hands (Mani Pulite) investigation began in earnest to investigate the corruption and bribes engaged in by the leaders of the country’s ruling parties—particularly the PSI and the DC (Buffachi, 1996). Within two years the old system of power and political parties that had ruled the First Republic collapsed, and a new system came into existence.
Robert Leonardi

6. The Electoral System and the Search for Political Advantage

Abstract
The Italian electoral system has changed over time in order to accommodate different political exigencies. In the elections for the 1946 Constituent Assembly and all parliamentary elections between 1948 and 1992, the electoral system focused on the attempt to incorporate as many of the existing political movements as possible—i.e., to bring them into Parliament and prevent their exclusion from the political process and the potential radicalization of their political objectives. For the Chamber of Deputies the minimum age was set at 18 years while for the Senate it was 25. In the period 1994–2016 alternative electoral rules were adopted that served the aim of the ruling political parties. These new electoral norms ranged from single member districts to “corrected” proportional representation systems with minimum requirements for parliamentary representation and blocked lists for multi-member electoral districts. This chapter will discuss the nexus between the electoral system and the Constitution regulating the political process, the significance of the level of voter turnout, and what are the objectives and nature of political campaigning.
Robert Leonardi

7. The Political Party System

Abstract
The Italian political party system has undergone a significant change since it emerged from the ashes of Fascism in 1943 and began to operate within a representative parliamentary democracy in 1948. As was discussed in the previous chapter in reference to the electoral rules in existence from 1946 onward, the underlining characteristic of the political party system has been its competitiveness. Election campaigns have been hard fought, but they have always remained within the confines of the rules for the existence of the freedom to organize political parties of different ideological tendencies and to engage in free and fair elections.
Robert Leonardi

8. Organized Groups and Civil Society

Abstract
Italy is a country that has had throughout its history a rich array of economic and social organizations operating in civil society. In fact, it is the country that provided the case study for the development of the concept of social capital (Putnam et al., 1994) and how its presence in the form of a thick network of voluntary organizations has helped to explain, on one hand, the level of performance of government institutions and, on the other, the level of economic development (Nanetti and Holguin, 2015). Today, Italy continues to be characterized by the abundant presence of civic organizations and a self-regulating society where the presence of the police in maintaining law and order is minimal in nature. It is true that Italy has three national police forces—the Carabinieri, the national police (Polizia di Stato) and the Guardia di Finanza. However, these police forces have the purpose of combating organized crime, terrorist organizations and financial and economic fraud. They do not have the task of patrolling the streets at night or during the day as is the case with local police forces in the US or the UK. Simply put, Italy does not have a system of local police patrolling the streets of major cities. The only local police force existing in Italy is the vigili urbani (city police) who look after traffic, local urban laws and the collection of rubbish rather than dealing with any form of criminal activity. As a result, Italy depends to a great extent on self-policing or self-regulation in overseeing the public order in the cities and rural areas.
Robert Leonardi

9. Italy as an International Actor: Punching Above Its Weight?

Abstract
Italy’s international position has changed significantly since the end of the last world war. At the beginning of the post-war period Italy could have been characterized as a “cue-taker” rather than a “cue-giver” as was the case for the other major European countries such as the UK and France. That role has gradually changed over time as a result of the transformation of both the international environment and internal context. On the one hand, the Cold War has ceased to divide Europe into two armed camps expressing two different economic and political systems, and on the other the European Union has expanded to include most of the remaining European countries outside of the Russian orbit. Now, the real theatre for the elaboration of Italian foreign policy is the European one rather than strictly the national one. In addition, there has been a restructuring of the countries located in the Mediterranean basin. The countries of southern Europe have entered the community of democratic countries. The authoritarian regimes that used to characterize Portugal, Spain and Greece are no longer in existence. Those in the western and eastern Balkans (e.g., Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania) that used to be dominated by Communist regimes have moved away from command economies and one-party political structures, and a number of them (Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania) have joined the European Union. Yugoslavia is now divided into five countries, and two of them have joined the EU and the rest are applying to join in the near future. Italy, the country that so many observers had predicted would fall into the camp of authoritarian regimes, has succeeded in surviving or, in fact, thriving in the new European and globalized context.
Robert Leonardi

10. Conclusions

Abstract
During the last 70 years the Italian political system has gone through a number of important changes that have transformed the nature of Italian politics. At the beginning there was the confrontation between the Christian Democrats and the Communists over the country’s socio-economic model—liberal or managed economy—and the nature of the country’s international stance: neutral or pro-West, for or against NATO, for or against the European Coal and Steel Community and the Common Market. That confrontation was eventually settled in favour of a Western affiliation based on a parliamentary regime that has ruled the country in a steady and peaceful manner that has not seen attempts at coups, revolts or widespread disorder. The terrorist threat during the 1970s and 1980s was handled through the regular courts without recourse to extra-judicial actions. In the same manner, organized crime has been handled in a way that has reinforced judicial procedures rather than destroying them
Robert Leonardi
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