President takes more power as Italy wobbles through crisis

By Andrea Fais Source:Global Times Published: 2013-4-24 17:28:01

After two politically dramatic days, during which the Democratic Party was victim of inner struggles and treasons, the final decision in Italy's elections has been the confirmation of President Giorgio Napolitano for another seven-year mandate. Given the failure of the first two Democratic Party candidates, Franco Marini and Romano Prodi, almost all main parties pressed Napolitano, and persuaded him to accept another candidacy and solve the difficult situation.

The condition of this desperate agreement among right-wing and left-wing parties will probably produce a "government of the president," an extraordinary stage aimed to realize structural reforms of electoral law, ruling of administrative system and reformation of institutional roles.

It's not the first emergency government in Italian history, but in this case many politicians and journalists consider this one as the beginning of a new era characterized by the new power of the head of state, seen no more as just a supervisor over the parties but as the leader of the country. Napolitano will form a new political government, probably composed by ministers chosen from two main parties and led by Enrico Letta.

In truth, although Italy is not a presidential republic and its system is based on the parliamentary principle, many observers argue that the president has been using his powers in a stronger way in recent years. In 1948 the founders of the new republic compiled the constitution to have a strong distribution of powers according to a system of checks-and-balances to avoid any possible return of fascist policies.

So the head of state is elected by parliamentary representatives and should be just a super partes warrantor of national unity without any executive power, except as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Meanwhile, the head of government is theoretically different from a Westminster-style prime minister and just a primus inter pares with limited capabilities over his ministers. Moreover every new reform should be approved by the majority inside the two branches of parliament according to a perfect bicameralism.

But in contrast to these theoretical policies, Napolitano directly managed the crisis after the failure of the last Berlusconi government. He took the situation in hand to form a new technical executive and to conduct talks with main partners, especially the US and Germany.

During the last visit to the US, Napolitano talked about very important issues like the EU crisis and the Transatlantic Free Trade Area, a future plan aimed at the unification of US and EU markets. It's described as a sort of economic NATO, but most Italians have completely ignored this initiative and the very dangerous risk that the US could dump its deep financial problems on Europe, increasing its social and economic crisis.

Moreover the failure of Prodi's candidacy, betrayed by a consistent group among his own party representatives, curbs a possible multipolar approach toward new emerging economies like BRICS or Mercosur.

The deep weakening of the Democratic Party, the inconsistency of the one-man right-wing coalition and Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo's petty-bourgeois populism will create an unstable political outlook, where the figure of Napolitano will emerge as the true coordinator of executive power.

As established in the 2012 European Fiscal Compact, the hard-line of austerity will go on until the end of 2013, decreasing the GDP growth rate and pauperizing the working class. Italy's government is being completely restructured, without regard to the constitution or the will of the people, but the political process seems to be proceeding on autopilot.

The author is a journalist-author based in Perugia, Italy, and an analyst for Italian geopolitical magazine Eurasia.

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