What a day it was

by Lorenzo Piccoli

I must start by saying that my PhD research is on two important topics of politics: citizenship and federalism. Today was a day when the Italian Parliament did something quite important about both of these.

As for federalism, the Senate approved a drastic reduction in its own political leverage, cutting the number of senators from the current 320 directly elected to 95 representative members of the regions – majors (21) and regional council members (74) – and stripping the future senators from all the powers they currently have, leaving the Senate with a say on constitutional reforms only. This is a historic vote: my former supervisor seems to have been recorded saying that “this is Renzi’s biggest gamble so far: it’s rather rare that an established institution votes for its own suicide.” This was a necessary law: Italy’s bloated legislature was given extensive checks on executive power after World War II for essentially two reasons: (1) to prevent the return of a dictator like Benito Mussolini; (2) to give some shares of power to Italy’s second biggest party, the Italian Communist Party, in a system where it would systematically come out second after the Christian Democratic Party. The outcome of this compromise, though, has brought lawmakers slowing down the legislating process and toppling government after government whenever their interests were threatened, producing 63 different administrations since 1946. So these were the two main reasons to drastically downsize the Senate: its historical functions were outdated and it proved to be largely ineffective for lawmaking purposes. In the new system there will be only one chamber, the lower chamber, effectively deciding on legislation. Earlier this year, Renzi’s government approved a new electoral law for that chamber, so to have a clear majority coming out of it – the tension between clear majority and accurate representation of the people lies at the core of politics. Meanwhile, the new bill downsizing the senate will not become law until it is approved again, twice by the lower chamber of parliament, once by the Senate and then by citizens in a referendum next year that promises to be extremely contentious. In any case the new Senate won’t be operative before 2020.

The second update should interest all those following citizenship law. In the same day as the Upper Chamber was voting on its drastic downsizing, the Lower Chamber passed a new citizenship bill. The law gives the right to citizenship to (1) anyone who is born in Italy and has at least one parent legally residing in the EU (a soft version of ius soli) or, alternatively, (2) to those who are born or move to Italy before turning 12 and successfully complete five years in the Italian education system (ius culturae). Importantly, because the devil is in the details, the Italian EU long term permit seems to depend on especially strong “integration tests”, including income, accommodation and language tests. The effect would be that only a small fraction of long term resident parents qualify for this new ius soli procedure. More people would instead qualify for the ius culturae access track.