A new bicameral parliament for Italy?

Carlo Fusaro

The Italian Parliament is presently involved in an effort to thoroughly revise the design and powers of the Senate. Carlo Fusaro outlines the background to the ‘perfect bicameralism’ that has existed in Italy until now and the nature of the current reforms. He argues that diversification of the two chambers is long overdue, and addresses concerns raised by those who oppose reform.

On 22 December 1947, minutes before the final vote on the new Italian Constitution, Meuccio Ruini, the Rapporteur, adamantly stated that the design of the bicameral parliament was not satisfactory. Supporters of the unicameral and the bicameral solutions had battled hard. The latter prevailed, but they were divided among those who envisioned a second chamber as the representative body of the new regions, those who wanted social interests to be represented and those who wanted a second chamber to restrict any revolutionary tendency in the other house. As a concession, the champions of unicameralism obtained universal suffrage and the direct election of both Houses. The notion of a Senate as the place where the new regions would be represented was set aside.

As a result, the two chambers that were established varied in (a) number of members; (b) duration (five versus six years); (c) voters’ age (only citizens over 25 elect the Senate); (d) a handful of senators for life. Beyond this, the idea of a strict functional equality (including equal powers over legislation) was reaffirmed and Italy’s uniquely undifferentiated bicameral parliament was born. The bicameral principle was therefore implemented but stripped of its original purpose. An Italian scholar defined it ‘an absurd and cumbersome bicameralism’ (Crisafulli, 1973), an American one, a system ‘looking for trouble’ (Wheare, 1963). 

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