Italy Says No More Senators for Life

Politics - June 1, 2024

The suppression of life senators appointed by the President of the Republic has been approved in the Senate, a suppression that is part of the constitutional reform being approved by the Meloni government.
That of life senators was one of the many anomalies of Italian politics, in fact in no other nation can similar powers be given to unelected people.
Despite this, of course, there was no shortage of controversy surrounding this change, particularly from the PD and 5 Stars.
Yet it was precisely the forefathers of the current PD who were the fiercest enemies of this practice. In particular, the secretary of the PCI, Palmiro Togliatti, and Umberto Terracini, president of the constituent assembly, were firmly against it, going so far as to affirm that ‘any designation from above of a representative assembly constitutes a monstrosity in a democratic regime’. It was 1947 and the Constitution was being written in Italy.
Subsequently, over the years and the various governments, the idea of amending Article 59 has been discussed several times in parliament, especially in the last quarter century, a period in which the votes of senators for life have been decisive for the survival or birth of many governments.
In the history of Italy, the various Presidents of the Republic have appointed a total of 38 life senators, the first being Arturo Toscanini, who, however, renounced his appointment only two days after being nominated, the last Liliana Segre.
In between, a series of certainly deserving and outstanding figures, which however for various reasons led to the proliferation of controversies.
Particularly famous was the one concerning the overall number and the interpretation of what was stipulated in Article 59.
In fact, it was not clear whether each President of the Republic could appoint five life senators or whether the total number of life senators could not be more than five. It was precisely this interpretative possibility that was almost a cause for scandal and battle in June 1991, when the then President Francesco Cossiga appointed four new life senators at the same time, bringing their total number to ten, including the then Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Appointment that in fact precluded his possible appointment, precisely as Cossiga’s successor, as President of the Republic. According to some reconstructions, in fact, Andreotti was aiming at a great electoral success precisely in order to force the hand, strong in consensus, within the DC. This did not happen and, as mentioned, the dream vanished.
Yet years later Cossiga himself would criticise Art. 59, defining the institution of life senators as a ‘vulnus to the principle of popular representation’.
In May 1994 it was then Prime Minister Berlusconi’s turn to appeal to the life senators to gain confidence in his government. And majority it was, albeit by a single vote margin.
In 2006 it was the turn of the centre-left, which counted on the votes of the life senators to secure a majority for Romano Prodi’s second government.
The controversy continued under the presidency of Giorgio Napolitano, who appointed Mario Monti only four days before entrusting him with the task of forming a technical government.
And again with Napolitano at the Quirinale there were the controversial appointments of four new senators for life: Claudio Abbado, Elena Cattaneo, Renzo Piano and Carlo Rubbia, four names certainly close to the new centre-left government led by Enrico Letta and therefore appointed, according to critics, as possible ‘rescue votes’.
And again from the life senators came the votes needed to save Giuseppe Conte’s government in 2021, a salvation that would prove useless after only two weeks.
So why argue about a choice that is a guarantee of democracy and, in essence, protects against any institutional intrusion in the life of an elected government?
Honestly, the answer is simple: the PD and the 5Stelle fear that Giorgia Meloni will really succeed in bringing home that reform that has been talked about for years, but never managed to bring even in the parliamentary chamber.
A reform that, it must be remembered, will be valid from the next legislature, therefore not to the advantage of the Meloni government, but which will certainly guarantee who votes: the people.
And this is precisely the fear, that the people will be truly sovereign, that no more inciuciusis and governments can be made, as has often happened in the recent history of Italy and always to the advantage of the Left and their allies.
An elected government, like that of Giorgia Meloni, but strengthened in its enforceability, strong in the new reform and able, at last, to be a true expression of what the Italians will write in the ballot box.
It is scary, but only to those who know well that without credibility and consistency the votes will not come.