Quirinale romance, part VII: the epilogue

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The re-election of President Sergio Mattarella has put a long-awaited point on one of the most controversial events in recent republican history. His second seven-years-term sanctioned the triumph of stability and conservation just when the political crisis seemed to plunge the country into another season of uncertainty and institutional instability.

Mattarella received fifty-five ovations during his oath in front of the Parliament gathered in common session. Impressive and unprecedented numbers (Napolitano stopped at 32 cheers in 2013, Ciampi at 19 in 1999, Scalfaro at 14 in 1992), which also say a lot about the degree of hysteria widespread in our decision-making class or the level of spectacle achieved by the public speech.

If nine years ago the re-election of Giorgio Napolitano was the result of a common agreement between the leaders of the political forces (which came in a distinctly more favorable historical-political context), this time, the specter of early voting, the confusion due to the swirl of candidates, the need to protect the ruling majority and the political structure of the coalitions in view of the 2023 vote weighed decisively on the outcome of the Quirinale match.

A harvest of applause marked the unfolding of an inaugural speech that for many observers resembles a real agenda for Italy. Guidelines intended to project well beyond the pandemic emergency and the exception represented by the government of Mario Draghi, to shape the country of the future. And that inaugurate an unprecedented seven-year presidential term, with its ruling class called to the double task of restructuring politics and implementing the commitments of the NRP.

To consider Napolitano’s precedent, there is little to be happy about. In 2013, the former head of state believed that he had imposed on Parliament a program of political-institutional reforms as an antidote to decline, which was not dealt with due to the inconclusiveness of politics and parties. The only attempt to reform the Constitution ended with a thunderous failure in late 2016, caused by a chain of errors of substance and communication.

This explains why the current president has exhibited a certain caution when speaking about reforms, except for a couple of overly sensitive issues. In the first place, the mother of all battles, that of the judiciary. A text has been under scrutiny in the Chamber for more than a year now, but this has not prevented the assembled MPs from paying Mattarella one of their most thunderous applauses precisely on the issue of justice reform – as if it did not concern them directly. Cause of disagreement are how to solve the problem of revolving doors between politics and the judiciary, and what is the best electoral law to appoint the members of the Superior Council of Magistracy.

The second decisive point concerns the role of Parliament in Italian democracy and its lost centrality, which is due to the use of legislative decrees and the abuse of votes of confidence by governments. Montecitorio and Palazzo Madama have been complaining about some time that they are no longer able to work or to express themselves fully on the executive’s measures, especially due to lack of time (see the Budget laws’ example). But even when there is time (justice reform), the chambers show that they are unable to pronounce themselves on some of the most important bills.

The re-election of Mattarella offers us at least two other relevant things to consider. On the one hand, we must ask ourselves to what extent the implications of a second seven-year term have been considered, bearing in mind that if the president will remain at the Colle for another seven years until 2029 (difficult, but not impossible), in the meantime the Italian parliamentary system will have experienced a double jump of the legislature (2023 and 2028) which could sanction the potential conclusion of the political career of most of those who yesterday sat in Montecitorio during his second inaugural speech after having elected him.

What this means for the quality of our democracy is an open point on which we should reflect. Even more so if the prophecy that many feared would come true with the election of Draghi were to come true with Mattarella: the de facto semi-presidentialism of our Republic.

That is because the current head of state has a full term of seven years in front of him; he was elected not thanks to political leaders but from below, with the out-of-control push of individual lawmakers; he enjoys a popularity that has never been seen before in the country, precisely because the parties are in crisis; he has before him the prospect of returning to be decisive for the birth of future governments if, as it seems, the next elections will give Italy another parliament without solid majorities.