For the first time since its inception, the Five Star Movement finds itself in government, with the stated intention of increasing the use of direct democracy by increasing the circumstances in which a national referendum can be held. Carlo Fusaro examines the proposals and their potential impact on Italian democracy.
This post intends to report on the most recent initiatives concerning referendums by the new populist majority in Italy, as represented in the government formed by the Five Star Movement (M5S) and by the League (formerly known as the Northern League), following the 4 March 2018 elections.
While the two vice-premiers Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio have been making headlines in other areas, Riccardo Fraccaro, a University of Trento graduate in international environmental law who serves as the “minister for relations with parliament and direct democracy”, has recently announced the constitutional reform strategy of the Cabinet.
Since the Conte Cabinet was formed on 1 June 2018, the denomination of Mr Fraccaro’s ministerial assignment was intended to symbolise the M5S preference for direct democracy. The M5S claims to be a ‘non party’ (therefore a ‘movement’), based on the apparently bottom-up organisation of the followers of comedian Beppe Grillo’s blog. In fact it has been entirely created via the internet and factually set up by a web marketing company (Casaleggio Associati) whose present owner, Davide Casaleggio, holds full and personal control of the movement’s official internet platform (and the related big data). The latter is significantly named ‘Rousseau’ after the Swiss-French theoretician of direct democracy.
Understandably neglecting the total lack of transparency of the Rousseau platform, Davide Casaleggio himself has recently theorised that parliaments might cease to exist in the near future and has emphasised the unlimited potential of people’s direct participation via the net. Mr Fraccaro himself, as a member of parliament, introduced a private member’s bill in 2015 that was meant to strengthen and multiply the instruments of direct democracy already present in the Italian Constitution. It was not enacted.
Before any text had been submitted this time around, Mr Fraccaro (in parliamentary hearings on 12 and 26 July 2018) and his chief adviser on constitutional reforms, Professor Lorenzo Spadacini (in a password-protected article for the think-thank Astrid), had presented sufficiently detailed descriptions of the reform package they have in mind.
It is a relatively prudent set of proposals which would be difficult to describe as revolutionary, but which must be framed within the extraordinary conditions in which Italian democracy is struggling these days. The package is based upon the premise that any ambition of comprehensive reform even only of part II of the Italian Constitution should be set aside: this approach, it is claimed, is more in line with a full compliance of article 138 of the Italian Constitution (which regulates the constitutional amendment procedure). This said, the government (not without some hypocrisy) refrained from directly submitting proposals: but has in fact offered a detailed strategy, expecting parliamentary groups to introduce one single bill for each reform along the same lines. The novelty is that the voters will be allowed to cherry-pick among a series of single texts, one for each item. This might be justified by the fact that the announced amendments are in fact punctual and allow such an approach. Continue reading