The Italian Constitutional Reform: Is Prime Minister Matteo Renzi Open to Discussion? – July 11

This week the main themes of the Italian political debate converge on the upcoming constitutional reform being debated in the Italian parliament. The Renzi administration has been obliged to change its strategy in response to pressures from his party’s internal opposition and his governing coalition allies.

The latest polls show that public support for the constitutional reform is declining, falling to 37% after a high of 50% in February.  The percentage of the opposed and undecided have increased to 30% and 33% respectively. According to the noted Italian political scientist Ilvo Diamanti one of the main factors driving these trends is the “personalization” of the referendum after Prime Minister Renzi declared that he would resign if the “NO” camp prevailed. This, Diamanti explained, has strongly polarized public opinion and consolidated opposition forces hoping to push Matteo Renzi’s government to collapse. Continue reading

More Mosques in Italy – March 10

In 2015, the President of Lombardy, Roberto Maroni, passed a law that restricted the construction of any new religious buildings; contingent upon whether or not they were cohesive with the already established local infrastructure. This was particularly problematic for the Muslim community. Considering there are currently only four legally recognized mosques in Italy for 1.5 million Muslims, the push to build mosques is continually increasing. This law, titled the Regional Law of Lombardy 2/2015, very quickly became known as the “anti-mosque law” of Lombardy, as it seemed to be specifically directed towards the Muslim faith.

On February 24, 2016 the Constitutional Court of Italy declared the Regional Law of Lombardy, 2/2015, unconstitutional. New head of the Constitutional Court, Paolo Grossi, led the repeal: “Our concern is to be the guardian of fundamental rights: the core of the judgment rests on avoiding discrimination, which the Court believed was present in the law.”  This decision was met with strong opposition from members of the Northern League (one of Italy’s more conservative political parties), with its leader, Matteo Salvini, posting his reactions on Twitter and Facebook. He claimed that the nullification of this law was “an accomplice to illegal immigration,” and that the Italian Constitutional Court was acting as an “Islamic court.”

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This act comes at a complicated time within Italy and the rest of Europe. Islamophobia has drastically increased due to the current refugee crisis, making some Italians wary of anything that resonates with the Middle East or the Islamic religion. It will be interesting to see how the community of Lombardy reacts as the construction of new mosques begins, and how it affects the landing place of refugees who are continuously flooding to Italy.

The Two Sides of the Same Coin – November 16

In the aftermath of the tragic events that occurred in Paris, Italian newspapers have been divided. The morning after the attacks, the headline of the Italian newspaper Libero read “bastard muslims”, openly labelling the terrorist attacks as acts initiated by the entire muslim community. “Il Gazzettino” and “Il Messaggero” blamed Islam for the attacks similarly. Other Italian newspapers did not directly assault the islamic people, but underlined President Hollande’s decision to declare a state of emergency in France and close all borders in an attempt to prevent the escape of the presumed terrorists as well as the arrival of any more. Several analysts and intellectuals have also argued that the attacks in Paris are direct assaults against the West and therefore the retaliation should be from the west as a whole and not just France.

There was an Italian national amongst the victims of the attacks. Valeria Solesin was a Ph.d student at the Sorbonne University of Paris. She served as volunteer in the Italian NGO Emergency. From Turkey, where he was attending the G-20 meeting, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared that he wants to create a scholarship in Solesin’s name.

Italy is on high alert for two reasons: the first is that a few of the terrorists are still fugitives and there is a risk that they could cross italian borders. The second is that Rome is scheduled to host the Jubilee next december. These two reasons aside, the Islamic State has repeatedly threatened Italy and its capital; to further discuss this serious matter, Renzi announced a convention of the National Committee for Order and Public Security the day after the terrorist attacks. The Minister of Internal Affairs Angelino Alfano has increased the level of alert in the country.

The Unexpected Friendship Between Renzi and a Kangaroo – October 1

After Renzi’s interview with the Wall Street Journal, reported in our previous article, in which he called for the involvement of Russia to solve the current war in Syria, yesterday Russian military aircraft started bombing targets in Syria. As reported by Corriere della Sera Obama has asked that Putin stop the airstrikes responsible for at least 36 civilian deaths. US Minister of Defense, Ash Carter, claims that ISIS is not in the target zone of the airstrikes and others believe that he is aiming for the rebels; Putin is defending his stance by characterizing it as a preemptive strike. These attacks are just two days after Putin addressed the UN to request an international intervention in Syria.

During his visit to the  U.S. Pope Francis has written a letter condemning the death penalty. As reported by Corriere della Sera it seems to be having an effect as two scheduled executions for Wednesday and Thursday have been suspended. The governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, has put an execution on hold in order to evaluate the method of execution and ensure that it is in line with federal standards. In Virginia, a federal judge has put an inmate’s death sentence on hold to examine the use of pentobarbital as an execution method.

Huffington Post Italy reports that  German UN official Martin Kobler will allegedly substitute Bernardino Leon, the current United Nations Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission to Libya. Just a few days ago Renzi  declared, from the podium of the UN General Assembly, that  Italy would take a leading role in the Libya crisis. However, according to the Huffington Post, if  Kobler is appointed, Germany would reinforce its role in Libya. In Italy, the Senate is trying to pass the Constitutional reform  that Renzi’s administration proposed. Opponents had filed thousands of amendments in an attempt to slow Renzi’s initiative. A few days ago, the President of the Senate Pietro Grasso rejected the request of Northern League representative Roberto Calderoli to present 75 million amendments for deliberation. The Democratic Party passed an amendment called the “kangaroo” that allows the parliament to reject amendments that are similar to an amendment that has already been rejected. Corriere della Sera reports that despite strong opposition from non majority parties, the “kangaroo” amendment passed.

Renzi addresses the UN General Assembly while Italians Go Back to Work – September 30

Yesterday, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addressed the room of the UN General Assembly during the opening of the 70th regular session. All of the Heads of member states were invited to participate. Renzi confirmed that his administration intends to take a leading role to stabilize the current crisis in Libya, respecting the UN Charter as well as the prerogative of the Italian Parliament, which has the power to authorize any military operation. In his statement, Renzi also discussed the refugee crisis in Europe, condemning the Hungarian initiative to build a wall between the Hungarian and Serbian border. Quoting the Pope, Renzi called for an international moratorium on the death penalty. During his visit to the U.S., Renzi in an interview with the Wall Street Journal affirmed the key role of Russia in Syria saying that “It is impossible to achieve peace without Russia involved,” it would be “an incredible mistake” to exclude Russia from talks on a solution.

This morning, Italian police started an operation close to the French-Italian border to clear activists and migrants from the coastal town of Ventimiglia (Italy). Since the French government’s decision to suspend the Schengen agreement and temporarily close the French border to prevent the transit of migrants to France, migrants have installed a few tents on the cliffs with the support of activists from the association ‘No Borders’. As reported by Corriere della Sera, the operation conducted by Italian police went smoothly and without resistance. Some activists and migrants are still staying on the cliffs.

The main Italian newspapers reported that last night the state of Georgia executed Kelly Renee Gissendaner, a woman found guilty for the murder of her husband in 1998. She was the first woman condemned to death since 1945 in Georgia. La Repubblica reports that executions in the U.S. are not slowing down, listing upcoming executions in Oklahoma and Virginia scheduled to take place next Wednesday and Thursday. Italian newspapers highlighted that the execution took place a few days after the Pope’s visit to the U.S. where he called for the abolition of the death penalty.

Il Sole 24 Ore, the most important economic newspaper in Italy, reports good news for the Italian economy. This morning the Italian National Institute for Statistics (Istat) released a study that confirmed the decrease of the Italian unemployment rate from 12% to 11,9%. It is the second consecutive decrease in the unemployment rate and the lowest rate since 2013. Renzi commented on the news on his Facebook page saying that this data confirms that his labour reform “The Jobs Act” is working. Since Prime Minister Matteo Renzi took his office the unemployment rate has decreased by 2%.


Integration and Shady Business – June 4

From May 9th to November 22nd the city of Venice is hosting the Venice Biennale, one of the most important events around world for art, architecture and exhibitions. Every country is invited to create a pavilion where they can showcase their own conception of art and architecture. This year, the Icelandic pavilion attracted attention over their controversial exhibition. The Icelandic-Swiss artist Christoph Büchel, famous for his provocative works, transformed the unused church of Santa Maria della misericordia into a mosque. Although Büchel had received authorization for the installation which was scheduled to last for seven months, the city police suspended and closed the church because it was not only being used to host an exhibition, but had become a place of worship and he had not received the required  authorization from the city as well as the Patriarchate of Venice. ‘The mosque’ in Venice lasted 10 days, but the Icelandic art center, managed by the Icelandic Ministry of Culture for the Venice Biennale, is preparing to appeal to an administrative court for a re-opening. According to Mohammed Amin Al Ahdab, President of the Muslim community of Marghera, a city close to Venice, “this deed is going to be like a match in a barn and will damage the image of Venice around world”.

This morning all the headlines are about a new chapter in Mafia Capitale, a scandal that broke last year in which several leading Roman politicians were accused of colluding with the mafia. Behind the immigrant shelters used to host asylum seekers in Italy, the Italian police has discovered  a shady business controlled by the mafia being carried out with the direct involvement of several local politicians. The investigation, which started last December, and  led to the arrest  of 37 people, has continued and, this morning, 44 more people were arrested. According to investigators, the managers of several associations and companies that owned the migrant shelters corrupted influential members of local governments to obtain the contracts. The long hand of the mafia has been found in the management of some migrant shelters and, in particular, the mafia of Rome.


Everybody Won and Nobody Lost: Italy Reconfirms Its Happy Disposition – June 3

The day after the regional elections carried out in seven regions, it is time to analyze the results. In five regions a center-left wing coalition won and in two a center-right wing coalition won, the same number of regions both factions controlled  the day before the elections with just one change: Liguria passed from the center-left to the center-right and Campania from the center-right to the center-left. Apparently, nobody lost and nobody won, but in Italy, everybody wins. For the Democratic Party five regions against two is a clear victory; for Forza Italia and its president Silvio Berlusconi, the win in Liguria, a region historically guided by the center-left, is a victory; for Matteo Salvini, secretary of the Northern League, it is a victory because in several regions the Northern League is the second most voted party, reaffirming a Northern League presidency in Veneto with Luca Zaia that took twice as many votes as Alessandra Moretti, Democratic Party opponent. For the 5 Star Movement it is a victory because the party confirmed their presence in all regions, contradicting the pessimistic judgement of several political analysts that declared the movement ‘dead’ before the elections.

But reality is more real than propaganda. The Democratic Party has to admit that it lost votes; twelve months ago at the European elections the Democratic Party was able to obtain 40,8% of the vote, at this round Liguria and Veneto were the most important contests and it lost in both regions obtaining just 22% and  27% of votes.

The Northern League is the real winner of this election confirming its positive trajectory. Matteo Salvini, the young leader of the Northern League is the leader of the most voted center-right party in Italy, although he is not able, at the moment, to re-create a winning coalition of the center-right, as Silvio Berlusconi has in the past. And for this reason, looking at the 2018 national elections, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s opponent is not Matteo Salvini, but rather Luigi Di Maio, the rising leader of the 5 Star Movement.

According to Roberto D’Alimonte, professor at NYU Florence and one of the most respected political analysts in Italy, in an article published on Huffington Post Italia, the electoral law passed by the parliament a few weeks ago ‘sees’ in the 5 Star Movement, rather than the Northern League, a credible opponent to the Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi. In fact, the new electoral law establishes a majority bonus for the most voted party in order to ensure more stability for the government. Salvini will be able to challenge Renzi only if he takes the lead of the entire center-right, creating a solid coalition. According to D’Alimonte it will be hard for him to achieve itfor two reasons: Salvini has extremist positions on several issues and he guides a party that is only really popular in Northern Italy. In Apulia, for instance, he only won 2% of the votes. On the other hand, the 5 Star Movement “has more chances” because it “has a homogenous distribution of votes in Italy”, D’Alimonte said. However, a system, like that introduced by the new electoral law, which establishes a second ballot between the two most voted parties in case nobody reaches the threshold of 40%, pushes the parties to choose a candidate that is appreciated by other political forces in addition to their own. For D’Alimonte, “Salvini doesn’t have a transversal appeal” and, for this reason, he sees in Luigi Di Maio and in the 5 Star Movement the real opponent to Renzi at the next national elections.

Blurred Elections, Italian Style – May 28

Next Sunday, citizens from seven regions are called to vote in regional elections, in particular in Veneto, Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Campania and Apulia. The results of regional elections can be unpredictable and this time the outcome is really uncertain. There are seven swing regions. Prime Minister and Secretary of the Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi is very concerned about the results. Support for the Democratic Party has declined over the last months because of criticism of new educational reforms strongly opposed by students and teachers and the government’s response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Renzi’s administration has had some successes, though, such as passing the electoral law (Italicum), introducing stronger legislation against corruption and environmental crimes, and reintroducing the crime of false accounting, i.e. ‘fudging the books’.

The electoral law was the most important piece of legislation passed by Renzi’s administration. After a long process, Italy adopted a new electoral law that substitutes the previous law which was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. The Italicum awards 55% of the seats in the parliament to the party that obtains at least 40% of the votes. If at the first round no party reaches the threshold of 40%, there will be a second round of voting between the first two most voted parties. The winner will receive 55% of the seats in parliament. This is expected to improve the stability of the government.

Renzi’s party over the last months has been shaken by scandals involving elected officials for cases of corruption and abuse of office. Several important members left the party because of disagreements over the government’s agenda. One high profile case is the Democratic Party candidate for the Presidency of the Region of Campania Vincenzo De Luca who last January was found guilty for abuse of office (he nominated a friend as Project Manager for a public contract without any justification) and was convicted to a year of reclusion by the first court of judgement. As established in a law passed in 2012 called ‘Legge Severino’, people found guilty by the court of last resort cannot run for elections. In the case of people found guilty by the first court of judgment, they can be a candidate, but upon election they will be immediately suspended, and must wait for the judgment of another court that will analyze whether there is an incompatibility between the alleged crime and the person’s ability to exercise their duties. That means that if De Luca wins the election, he will be suspended and a court will decide whether not to allow him to assume office, to allow him to assume office and to send the case to the Constitutional Court, or to suspend him with an act that needs to be countersigned by the Prime Minister, while waiting for the decision of the Constitutional Court. The government is suspended during the appeals process, making it highly likely that the second most voted candidate will request to assume office, adding another layer of complexity.

Italy Will Lead the European Mission Against Smugglers – May 19

After the approval by the European Commission of the European Agenda on Immigration last week (discussed in the IPD of May 14th) the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs of the EU adopted a plan that establishes an operation, with its headquarters in Rome, guided by Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, to fight human smugglers in Libya and to rescue people in the Mediterranean Sea who are attempting to reach Europe by boat through illegal channels. The EU hopes to launch the operation in June after approval during  the next Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy keeps on working to obtain the approval of the UN Security Council of a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to provide  a legal framework for the EU mission. According to several analysts, it will not be easy to avoid a veto by either the  US or Russia. The  United Kingdom is playing an important role because it is presenting the resolution on behalf of the EU in the Security Council.

During yesterday’s EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs meeting, the ministers were unable to reach an agreement on the numbers of immigrants that each European country will host. France and Spain did not agree on the proposal approved by the European Commission last week. According to Angela Mauro, journalist of Huffington Post Italia, the French and Spanish position can be explained by electoral reasons. In France, Marie Le Pen is gaining support because of her   tough stance on immigration  and Prime Minister Maurice Valls is trying not to alienate this large voting block . There is a similar dynamic in Spain, where the conservative party that supports Rajoy’s administration, and relies on a tough immigration stance, is already running for the upcoming fall elections.

The European Late Answer to the Mediterranean Crisis – May 14

Yesterday, the European Commission approved a document called “A European Agenda on Immigration”. The Agenda’s goal is to “respond to the need for swift and determined action in response to the human tragedy in the whole of the Mediterranean’.  t It underlines three key issues: saving lives at sea, targeting criminal smuggling networks, responding to high-volumes of arrivals within the EU (relocation) with a common approach to granting protection to displaced persons in need of protection (resettlement). The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini thanked the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans, the European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights, for their important role in passing the Agenda.

Mogherini sought a legal framework for the EU’s action against smugglers in Libya. At the beginning of last week she flew to New York to try to getUN Security Council approval for a resolution under  Chapter VII of the UN Charter that would allow EU member states the use force against smugglers within an international legal framework. As stated in the European Agenda on Immigration passed yesterday, Mogherini “has already presented options for possible Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations to systematically identify, capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers. Such action under international law will be a powerful demonstration of the EU’s determination to act”.