In Italy, regions are grounded in the Constitution, which lists them in Article 131 and identifies them in Article 114: a region is a “component” of the republic, together with the state and other territorial entities. Regions and the state share legislative powers, all the territorial entities have autonomy in finance and expenditure.
Regions can have an Ordinary Statute approved with an ordinary law (Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria) or a Special Statute approved with a constitutional law (Valle d’Aosta / Vallée d’Aoste, Trentino-Alto Adige / Südtirol, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sardinia and Sicily). Regions with special statutes are also entitled to special conditions of autonomy according to the first paragraph of article 116. The regions are the electoral constituency for the election of the Senate, but this fact does not lead to a regional representation in the strict sense.
Reforms and regional leadership
The Constitutional Reform of 2001 produced results below expectations and landed in a framework of regional leaderships in decline in many Italian regions, often involved in scandals. Some political parties call for the overthrow of the regional system in favour of a centralized state – including the “5 Stars Movement” of Beppe Grillo (25.5% of votes in 2013), and some areas of the centre-right and centre-left parties. However, a strong alternative to the regional system is not concretely foreseen. The media and citizens also frown upon centralization of resources and decision-making at the central level, marked by serious scandals, repeated since the unification of Italy and increasingly on newspapers’ front pages. Ongoing institutional reform sees a clash between two models coming from the debate on the past reforms: the first centralist, and the second faithful to the decentralization process set out since the post-war times. The two trends coexist in the new proposal: on the one hand in favour of a Senate of the Regions, on the other hand with a depletion of regional powers, although they have never actually been transferred to the ordinary regions. The special statute regions are worried by the new reforms, although the constitutional method of bilateral agreement with the state keeps them safe from the new centralism, for the time being.
The reform process for public finances and political stability arose in a very dramatic framework, leading to President Berlusconi’s resignation on 12 November 2011, to Mario Monti’s cabinet and to political elections on 24 and 25 February 2013. In three months, the project was ready. While the parliament was laboriously looking for a majority and a new government that would be born only on 24 April with Enrico Letta, on 30 March 2013, the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, appointed a group of experts (“The Wisemen”) to make proposals on reforms. On 11 June, the Senate started the debate on the project of constitutional law submitted by the government. However, the text was approved at first reading by the Senate on 8 August 2014, a few months after the government of Matteo Renzi took office. It is now under scrutiny at the Chamber of Deputies. Despite the short kick off in 2013, the debate has waned, making room for other urgent issues on public accounts and other structural reforms. However, the process of political reforms has been weakening recently. The opposition and some representatives of the majority do not want the removal of the “equal bicameralism”. They are also against a Senate not directly elected and with regional brand on the doorbell.
The constitutional bill changes the functioning of the institutions (legislative procedure, quorum for the election of the President of the Republic, referendum) and streamlines it (Provinces and “National Council for Economy and Labour” wind up). The most important changes are about the share of legislative powers between the state and regions, and the transformation of the Senate into a territorial Chamber with less power. The Chamber of Deputies will have the main relationship with the government (vote of confidence), the political guidance and control, and the largest part of national legislative decision-making. The Senate would be elected indirectly, with 95 members elected by regional councils among their members and the mayors of the region, while five senators will be appointed by the President of the Republic for 7 years.
The political forces agree on the revision of the legislative powers shared between the state and ordinary regions, winding up the category of shared competences, mainly transferred to the state (e.g. transport networks), and giving it new competencies, like coordination of public finance and taxation, standardization of labour rules in the public sector, and in the field of social security. The ordinary and special regions will carry on the exercise of participation in the ascending and descending phases of EU decision making process.
The constitutional reform finally introduces a “supremacy clause”, which bears out and strengthens the governmental possibility to act in the field of regional competences to preserve legal or economic unity of the Republic or the national interest. The parliamentary debate has confirmed that the special statute regions will keep their differentiated autonomy through article 116 of the Constitution. However, the special statutes of the five regions and of the two autonomous provinces will be updated according to the reform, on the basis of bilateral agreements between each of them and the state.
Further efforts to balance the state/region power
The success of the constitutional reforms depends not only on the stability and strength of the government in office but also on the country’s ability to move forward on structural reforms. Several forces hinder them: political, corporate and social; for example, on spending reviews or school reforms. Against the new bill on electoral system, they prefer a majority bonus in favour of the coalition than a single party, a direct election of the senate, and a general conservation of the status quo.
The next political steps remain difficult and the mood of the country does not help reforms. The protest expressed through political forces represents at least 40% of the votes, and 30-40% of the citizens who do not vote. Newspapers and the television do not miss a chance to despise and fault the regional texture of the Republic. The slight economic recovery of 2015-2016 could soften hearts, but it could also make structural and constitutional reforms appear less urgent.
Top decision-making officials know that the reforms do not change much the balance of power between the state and regions. The competencies of the ordinary regions will remain as residual as they are today, except in health and in local transportation. Special statute regions will remain unchanged, despite the budget cuts. Out of the vivid media debate, the constitutional reform does not seem so scary: it serves primarily to make the decision- making system faster, concentrating it primarily in the Chamber of Deputies. So, despite some resistance and perhaps some changes, the reform could be approved soon, unless the protest grows faster and the general political framework becomes entangled.
by Enrico Martial
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.