Italy is heading into a critical period of change this fall. The reform of the Senate went through a first reading in Parliament in the summer and will now have to face three more readings in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies to be approved, as is required for any change of the Constitution.
The direction in which the government is pushing the reform is still not ideal, but there have been a few positive signs throughout the first phase of the process. There seems to be a willingness to listen to reasonable suggestions. For example, I and a number of other senators had vociferously demanded a referendum be held at the end of the parliamentary process. I was glad to hear the Minister for Constitutional Reforms, Maria Elena Boschi, welcome the proposal, which will ultimately give the right to decide on this important matter to the citizens.
As I have said before, reform is necessary. Almost all senators are basically working to put themselves out of the job … that’s how committed we are! The Senate would be reduced to 100 members from the current 315, and most won’t fit the criteria that are being worked out right now. I even proposed to cut in half the 630 deputies, but the government doesn’t seem interested at this time in touching the Chamber.
A few other positive changes that were originally brought to the government’s attention by me and other senators include the Senate’s equal voting power when it comes to Constitutional reforms and laws, electoral laws, family rights and the ratification of international treaties.
My biggest issue with the reform’s framework, though, is the absence of representation. I am steadfast in my belief that it’s people’s right to elect who sits in Parliament, no matter how it is composed. How can citizens feel represented if the Senate is made up of people who were elected to do another job — mayors, governors, city and regional councilors — and then find themselves catapulted to Rome to do another one on top of that? How can we expect them to do both jobs well?
Changes can still be made and introduced during the long process of constitutional reform. I am an optimist by nature, and my hope is that the government led my Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will keep an open mind on the question of representation.
Speaking of representation, the government recently announced it might have the money and funds to elect new Comites across the globe. The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, and I still have my doubts regarding the feasibility of this initiative, let alone the necessity of it at this moment.
Comites — or Comitato degli Italiani all’Estero — is potentially a very useful committee of representatives in any community abroad with an Italian consular office. In theory, they should function as a preferential channel of communication between consulates and the community served by them, but in practice there have been very few cases where this has actually occurred — not for lack of will or competence, but because of a broader problem regarding the goals and functions of these committees.
Before heading into any sort of election, I would like to see a serious reform to improve both the function and visibility of Comites. When I mention Comites to Italian citizens living abroad, most have no clue of what I’m talking about. That’s a huge problem.
A Comites election might even be the testing ground for an electronic voting system. We know democracies all around the world are experimenting with such technology. Given the difficulties of reaching out to as many Italian citizens as possible stretched across consular districts that can be the size of Texas, perhaps this could be a first step toward smoother elections in the future … as long there’s an electoral system left to experiment with!