Federalizing Process in Italy

The Forum of Federations held a two-day international conference on federalism in Rome Feb. 18-19, 2010, in cooperation with the Department of Institutional Reform of the Government of Italy.

The conference looked at four topics at the core of the federalism debate in Italy, namely division of powers, reform of the senate, fiscal federalism and asymmetrical federalism.

The Rome conference was opened by Hon. Gianni Letta, State Undersecretary of the Italian Government, the country’s most senior public servant. The Forum arranged for the participation of experts from Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.

Over the past 10 years Italy has been going through a political and institutional transformation that has led to the country’s increased federalization. This has come about because among the public there is dissatisfaction with the central governmental administration. There are also large economic regional disparities and reluctance of the richer northern part of Italy to transfer payments to the poorer south. In addition there is the need among many Italians for powers and services to be assigned to governmental levels that are closer to the citizens. This is called subsidiarity.

In 1999 and 2001, two constitutional reforms took effect in Italy which considerably increased the powers of the country’s regions and local governments. The 2001 reform completely reshaped the constitution regarding relations between the central government, the regions and the local governments. Recently, another step was taken in the process of federalizing the country, which was the May 2009 enactment of a new law on fiscal federalism, which is now being implemented.

The debates at the conference confirmed that while Italy is undergoing a significant transition, many issues need to be addressed, such as:

  • The inefficiency of the central political institutions, and the related demand for constitutional reform and this in order to better balance the respective roles of the Executive and Parliament, the latter with its policy-setting and oversight powers.
  • The 2001 distribution of legislative powers is said to contain many overlapping   responsibilities and ambiguities. This has given rise to a number of conflicts which have been addressed by the Constitutional Court;
  • The two houses of the Italian Parliament have identical powers, which is untenable and has to be re-worked. Many believe the upper house should be transformed into a federal Chamber to ensure representation there of the regions and perhaps even the local governments;
  • The roll out of fiscal federalism in Italy is challenged by imbalances and needs to be tied to a system of equitable equalization transfers.

The following international experts participated in the conference:

  • Dr. George Anderson, President, Forum of Federations
  • Dr. Anne Benoit, Legal Advisor, Federal Department of Justice, Bern
  • Dirk Brouër, Secretary General, Bundesrat , Germany
  • Prof. César Colino, Professor of Political Science and Administration, National University of Distance Education (UNED), Madrid
  • Dr. Félix Acitores Durán, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Territorial Policy, Madrid
  • Prof. Alan Fenna, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
  • Prof. Thomas Hueglin, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada
  • Dr. Bernd Küster, Director, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Berlin
  • Dr. Michael Schneider, State Secretary for Federal and European Affairs and Envoy of the State of Saxony-Anhalt to the Federal Government;
  • Prof. Ron Watts, Fellow, Queens University, Kingston, Canada

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