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MNI (London)
--Finocchiaro Says Renzi's Referendum Defeat Ups "Authoritarian" Threat 
--Constitutional Reform Blow Seen Boosting Post-Vote Instability 
By Silvia Marchetti
     ROME (MNI) - As Italy heads towards general elections next year, a senior
lawmaker warns that the constitutional reform referendum defeat is likely to
increase political instability risks as uncertainty looms over the formation of
future governments.
     In an exclusive interview with Market News, Anna Finocchiaro, the
pro-reform Parliament Relations Minister, expressed concern that Italy's
outdated and "frozen" constitution could boost political mayhem, triggering a
dangerous "authoritarian" drive in the long run. 
     "The reform rejected by the referendum balanced the needs of government
stability with those of citizen and institutional representation. I fear that if
the (political) situation worsens, eventual solutions would trigger a shift
towards a stronger central government rule" with all the risks that entails,
argued Finocchiaro.
     The reforms, launched in 2014 by then premier Matteo Renzi in an attempt to
update Italy's 70-year-old constitution, was rejected by Italian voters in
December 2016, pushing Renzi to resign. 
     Now, Renzi is back in the game as frontrunner at the next elections,
scheduled for March-April 2017. However, Italy's political scenario has worsened
and internal arty tensions are mounting for the former premier. 
     Renzi's Democrats are losing electoral support and members, while
centre-right and populist groups are on the rise. An uncertain electoral outcome
would likely jeopardise the ongoing economic recovery and rosier economic
outlook, with growth expected to be around 1.5% this year.
     "When I express fear of a possible overbalance in favour of central power,
I can't help but think about what happened with Weimar's Republic, when there
were conditions of deep political instability, with a parliament incapable of
efficiently carrying-out its role," Finocchiaro explained. 
     "It is well known that drives towards authoritarianism arise when the
democratic system is unable to translate political will into decisions. This is
why I fear that a crisis of the (political) system could, in future, lead
towards the temptation of authoritarian solutions," she warned. 
     Finocchiaro, who is also a member of the Senate's Constitutional Affairs
Committee, succeeded last year in pushing Renzi's reform through parliament,
liaising with opposition parties to reach a joint text. All her hard work was
thrown out when voters were called to the ballot boxes. 
     In Italy, all changes made to the constitution must be approved not just by
parliament but also the citizenship. 
     The minister believes Italy lost a great opportunity to modernise its
institutional framework. "After a political debate that had lasted more than 30
years, Italy was finally given the chance of having a parliamentary system more
similar to other European ones, more flexible and efficient," said Finocchiaro.
     If it took decades to outline constitutional reform and then just a day to
kill it, it will take longer to re-start the whole process again and the
pre-electoral campaign period is certainly not an appropriate timing. 
     "The reform had three crucial goals," explained Finocchiaro. "To boost
political stability and government lifespans by putting an end to Italy's long
history of wobbly, short-lived cabinets; scrap the Senate of its legislative
power to speed up reforms and the law-making process; and abolish power
conflicts between central and local bodies". 
     Today, the constitution grants a "concurrent" legislative power to both
government and the regions in certain sectors, which increases disputes, leading
to endless appeals to the constitutional court, hampering the decision-making,
slowing down the implementation of reforms and new laws. 
     If the reform had passed, the new Senate would have been composed of
regional councillors so as to increase local bodies' representation at central
level, leaving law-making to the Lower House. 
     At present, each new law must be approved by both branches of parliament,
often ruled by different majorities. If one branch votes for just one single
change to a law, the text must go back to the other branch for clearance. This
never-ending process is called "the shuttle" and often, years go by before a
shared law or reform text is finally given green light. 
     But given Italian voters rejected the reform, seemingly afraid of
"uncharted waters", according to Finocchiaro, the political scenario ahead is
gloomy.
     Instability threats are further increased by the absence of like-for-like
voting system in the Senate and Lower House. If parliament fails to approve a
unified electoral reform before the general election, chances are even higher
that ballots give way to yet another unstable government, unable to push through
change and speed-up the pace of reform. 
     According to Finocchiaro, part of the Democrat Party's "old guard" but a
supporter of Renzi's reform programme from the early days, Italian voters
rejected the new constitution because of a rising populist tide, mistrust in
institutions and political alienation that viewed any perceived change as a
danger. 
     "But I believe that the constitutional reform attempt cannot be stopped,"
she said. The referendum blow has certainly put it on stand-by, and probably for
a long time, but "the problems that we wanted to solve are all still there on
the ground and are perhaps fated to worsen".
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
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MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com