The Federalizing Process in Italy “International Perspectives”

The Forum of Federations recently held a high-level two-day international conference on federalism in Italy in Rome in cooperation with the Department of Institutional Reform of the Italian government. The conference looked at four topics which are at the core of the debate about federalism in Italy: division of competencies, reform of the senate, fiscal federalism and asymmetrical federalism. The Forum brought experts from Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain and Switzerland to the conference.

Over the last decade Italy has been experiencing a political and institutional transformation toward a progressive process of federalization. Several reasons enhance this process: mainly, feelings of general dissatisfaction with the central public administration, strong economic differences and subsequent growing unwillingness in the richer part of Northern Italy to endorse transfer payments to the poorer South. In addition, the subsidiarity principle plays an important role since it provides that powers and activities must be attributed to an institutional level as close as possible to the citizens.

In 1999 and 2001, two constitutional reforms were approved, which considerably increased the powers of regions and local governments. The 2001 reform completely reshaped the constitutional provisions concerning relations between the central government, the regions and the local governments (Municipalities, Provinces and Metropolitan cities). Recently, a step ahead in the process of federalizing the country has been made. The new law on fiscal federalism, approved under the proposal of the Minister for federal reforms, into force since May 2009, is in the way of implementation.
The debates at the conference confirmed that Italy is undergoing quite a significant transition. Many issues are to be addressed, such as:
• The inefficiency of the central political institutions demand for constitutional reform in order to strengthen in a balanced manner the role of the executive as well as the policy-setting and scrutiny powers of Parliament;
• The 2001 distribution of legislative powers is thought to contain many overlaps and ambiguities. This has given rise to a relevant number of controversies addressed by the Constitutional Court;
• The "perfect bicameralism” of the Italian Parliament (both Houses have identical powers) has to be overcome and the upper house (Senate) should be transformed into a federal Chamber to guarantee representation for Regions and, perhaps, local governments;
• The implementation of fiscal federalism has to cope with unbalances among different parts of the country and it needs to be tied to a system of equalization transfers to meet constitutional solidarity values.

On this background, the conference was designed with a very practical goal. Experts and practitioners of federalism from within and outside Italy were able to network, discuss lessons they have learned and exchange experiences. It was mentioned that Italian decision makers could benefit from further discussions on various aspects of fiscal federalism, the role of the constitutional court and on how intergovernmental relations should be structured.

The following international experts participated at 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, Wilfried 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

The event was attended by 60 policy professionals and federalism experts from all over Italy.

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