Italian constitutional referendum, when it takes place, what is being decided and what will change

Some are saying the Italian constitutional referendum could threaten Europe: find out what is really at stake when Italians vote on the 4th of December. The reform explained in 5 points.

The official date chosen by the Council of Ministers for the constitutional referendum that will approve or reject the reforms (Boschi bill) proposed by the Italian Minister of Constitutional Reforms Maria Elena Boschi and approved in April, by the Italian Parliament, is 4 December. Boschi and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi consider the reform fundamental for the Italian government so much so they declared they will resign if they lose.

The reform is divided into five points: end of perfect bicameralism through substantial changes in the Senate; changes in the election of the President of Italy; abolition of the National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL); revision of Title V of the Constitution with a new division of powers between the state and regions; changes in the way citizens can demand a recall referendum and propose popular initiative laws.

In accordance with article 138 of the Constitution, a referendum can be called within three months from the approval of the reform by the parliament. Differently from recall referendums, it’s not necessary to obtain a quorum, i.e. that at least 50 percent of voters plus one go to the polls. The referendum proposal was approved by the Constitutional Court that validated 500,000 signatures, even though it would have been held anyway, since one fifth of parliamentarians called for it.

Do you approve the constitutional bill concerning the dispositions to overcome the perfect bicameralism, the reduction of the number of members of the Parliament, the restraint of the institutions’ operating costs, the abolition of CNEL and the revision of Title V of the 2nd part of the Constitution, which was approved by the Parliament and published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale n. 88, on April 15, 2016?

matteo renzi maria elena boschi
Matteo Renzi and Maria Elena Boschi, Prime Minister and Minister of Constitutional Reforms © REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

The Senate reform puts an end to perfect bicameralism

The main reform of the Boschi bill aims to put an end to perfect bicameralism that characterises the Italian institutional arrangement of the post Second World War period. Today, laws, in order to enter into force, should be approved by both houses of the Italian Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Article 70 says in 9 words that “the legislative function is exercised collectively by both Houses”. The revision adds 345 words and provides that the Chamber of Deputies become the only house formed by parliamentarians elected by Italian people, the only body that approves ordinary and budget laws, and gives or doesn’t give a vote of confidence to the government.

The Senate becomes the Senate of Regions, the representative body of regions that can suggest amendments and opinions on the bills approved by the Chamber of Deputies, which can be accepted or rejected. Its function will be to coordinate the state and local bodies.

Senators will be reduced from 315 to 100 and won’t be directly elected. 95 out of 100 senators will be proportionally chosen by regional councils (21 mayors and 74 regional councilors), remain in office for the duration of their mandate as local administrators and earn only the regional or Mayor salary. The other five are elected by the President of Italy and remain in office for 7 years. Former heads of state will be the only senators for life.

italian senate
The Senate, Palazzo Madama, Rome.

Title V reforms and power distribution between the Italian Government and regions

Minister Boschi’s reforms also provide for the reduction of the number of matters in order to clarify the roles and (exclusive or concurrent) responsibilities of the state, regions and local bodies. The reforms propose that about twenty matters be exclusively managed by the state. These include the environment, energy production and distribution, occupational safety and professional system. Title V was modified in 2001 but in an unclear way, experts say.

How the President of Italy is elected after the Reform

The President of Italy will be elected by both houses simultaneously, but since regional delegates are already represented by the Senate, they can’t take part in the election. The President should be elected by two thirds of parliamentarians, until the fourth scrutiny. After this fourth scrutiny, the majority of three fifth of parliamentarians is enough.

The abolition of the National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL)

The reform provides for the abolition of the National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL). The CNEL is an auxiliary body made of 64 councilors provided for by the Constitution. It has an advisory function and has the right of legislative initiative but, as the name suggests, only for what concerns economic and labour laws.

Popular referendum and popular initiative laws

The reform proposes that there be two types of quorum for recall referendums. The referendum is valid if 50 percent of voters plus one go to the polls and if at least 500,000 people call for it. The novelties are that the quorum is reached when 50 percent of those who voted in the previous elections plus one go to the polls and that 800,000 people should call for it. Finally, according to the reform, 150,000 signatures – not 50,000 as now – are necessary to propose a popular initiative law to the Parliament.

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