Silvio Berlusconi’s government has long championed the controversial reforms bill that is to modify 55 articles of the Italian constitution. Broadly speaking, the bill grants greater powers to the prime minister and aims at an eventual devolution from Rome to the regions.
The reforms will allow the prime minister to dissolve parliament and he will be able to sack ministers which is currently the sole preserve of the president. The head of state on the other hand will see his powers shrink. In addition to this, the lower house of parliament will see its seats fall from 630 to 518 and the Senate’s will drop from 315 to 252.
The Senate will become a federal body, with its members elected regionally and it will concentrate on regional issues. Under this new federalism, the country’s regions will be given near exclusive power over health, education and local policing. Critics say that the plans basically amount to the rich northern regions ridding themselves of the financial burden of the poorer south.
But Berlusconi’s key coalition partner, the Northern League has several times threatened to walk out if the text was not approved. The left-wing opposition feels differently, Its head Romano Prodi has described this as a sad day for Italy, denouncing the reforms as the preparation for a dictatorship led by the prime minister.
A national referendum that may repeal parts of the bill appears certain. If it does come into force devolution is not expected until 2012 and other amendments may only happen in 10 years time.