History of the Italian Republic
Parts of this article (those related to the history after Renzi's resignation in 2016) need to be updated.June 2020)(
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After World War II and the overthrow of Mussolini's fascist regime, Italy's history was dominated by the Christian Democracy (Democrazia Cristiana, DC) political party for 48 years—from the 1946 election until the 1994 election—while the opposition was led by the Italian Communist Party (PCI).
This situation changed due to an external shock—the crisis and dissolution of the Soviet Union—and an internal one—the Tangentopoli corruption scandal and operation mani pulite (Italian for "Clean Hands"). These international and national political turmoils led to the reform of the electoral system (from almost perfect proportional to uninominal/multi-seat circumscriptions) and radical restructuring of the Italian political system, including the dissolution of most traditional political parties, including Christian Democracy and the Communist Party.
In 1994, in the midst of the mani pulite operation which shook political parties, media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, owner of three private TV channels, several newspapers and magazines, and Italy's main publishing house Mondadori, won the March 27 general election and formed the Berlusconi I Cabinet. Although ousted after a few months of government, Berlusconi became one of Italy's most important political and economic figures for the next two decades. After leading the Opposition to the Dini (1995–1996), Prodi I (1996–1998), D'Alema I (1998–1999), D'Alema II (1999–2000) and Amato II Cabinet (2000–2001), Berlusconi returned to power in 2001 after winning the 13 May general election. He eventually lost the 2006 general election five years later to Romano Prodi and his Union coalition but won the 2008 general election and returned to power in June 2008. In November 2011, Berlusconi lost his majority in the Chamber of Deputies, and resigned. His successor, Mario Monti formed a new government, composed of "technocrats" and supported by both the center-left and the center-right parties.
The birth of the Republic (1946–1948)
In the final phases of World War II, King Victor Emmanuel III, tainted by his former support for the Fascist Regime, had tried to save the monarchy by nominating his son and heir Umberto "general lieutenant of the kingdom"; the king promised that after the end of the war the Italian people could choose its form of government through a referendum. In April 1945, the Allies of World War II advanced in the Po plain supported by the Italian resistance movement, and defeated the fascist Italian Social Republic, a puppet state instituted by Nazi Germany and headed by Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was killed by resistance fighters in April 1945.
Victor Emmanuel formally abdicated on 9 May 1946; his son became king as Umberto II of Italy.
A Constitutional Referendum was held on 2 June 1946. Republicans won, and the monarchy was abolished. The Kingdom of Italy was no more. The House of Savoy, the Italian royal family, was exiled. Victor Emmanuel left for Egypt where he died in 1947. Umberto, who had been king for only a month, moved to Portugal. The referendum at the origin of the Italian republic was, however, the subject of some controversy, not least because of some contested results and because of a geographical divide between the North, where the Republic won a clear majority, and the South, where the monarchists were in a majority.
In 1946, the main Italian political parties were:
Each party had run separate candidates in the 1946 general election, and the Christian Democrats won a plurality of votes. The PSI and the PCI received some ministerial posts in a Christian Democrat–led coalition cabinet. PCI's leader Palmiro Togliatti was minister of Justice. However, as in France where Maurice Thorez and four other communist ministers were forced to leave Paul Ramadier's government during the May 1947 crisis, both the Italian Communists (PCI) and Socialists (PSI) were excluded from government the same month under Harry Truman's pressures.
Since the PSI and the PCI together received more votes than the Christian Democrats, they decided to unite in 1948 to form the Popular Democratic Front (FDP). The 1948 general elections were heavily influenced by the then flaring cold-war confrontation between the Soviet Union and the US. After the Soviet-inspired February 1948 communist coup in Czechoslovakia the US became alarmed about Soviet intentions and feared that the Soviet funded  PCI would draw Italy into the Soviet Union's sphere of influence if the leftist coalition were to win the elections. In response, in March 1948 the United States National Security Council issued its first document proffering recommendations to avoid such an outcome which were widely and energetically implemented. Ten million letters were sent by mostly Italian Americans urging Italians not to vote communist. US agencies made numerous short-wave propaganda radio broadcasts and funded the publishing of books and articles, warning the Italians of the perceived consequences of a communist victory. The CIA also funded the centre-right political parties and was accused of publishing forged letters in order to discredit the leaders of the PCI. The PCI itself was accused of being funded by Moscow and the Cominform, and in particular via export deals to the Communist countries.
Fears in the Italian electorate of a possible Communist takeover proved crucial for the electoral outcome on 18 April; the Christian Democrats (Democrazia Cristiana), under the undisputed leadership of Alcide De Gasperi won a resounding victory with 48 percent of the vote (their best result ever, and not repeated since) while the FDP only received 31 percent of the votes. The Communist party widely outdid the Socialists in the distribution of seats in Parliament, and gained a solid position as the main opposition party in Italy, even if it would never return in government. For almost four decades, Italian elections were successively won by the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) centrist party.
The First Republic (1948–1992)
The 1950s and 1960s: the economic boom
Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made to Italy's frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory. In 1954 with the London Memorandum of Understanding, the Free Territory of Trieste, which had remained under the administration of U.S.–UK forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was officially divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. Italy also lost its colonial Empire, except Somalia, which formed the object of a UN trusteeship mandate, expiring in 1960.
In the 1950s Italy became a founding member of the NATO alliance (1949), a member of the United Nations (1955) and an ally of the United States, which helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan. In the same years, Italy also became a founding member of the ECSC (1952) and of the European Economic Community (1957), later developed into the European Union. At the end of the 1950s an impressive economic growth was termed "Economic Miracle", a term that is still recognized in Italian politics (Silvio Berlusconi won the 1994 elections promising a new "Miracle"). Italian families used their newfound wealth to purchase consumer durables for the first time. Between 1958 and 1965, the percentage of families owning a television rose from 12% to 49%, washing machines from 3% to 23%, and refrigerators from 13% to 55%. As noted by the historian Paul Ginsborg
“In the twenty years from 1950 to 1970 per capita income in Italy grew more rapidly than in any other European country: from a base of 100 in 1950 to 234.1 in 1970, compared to Frances increase from 100 to 136 in the same period, and Britain’s 100 to 132. By 1970 Italian per capita income, which in 1945 had lagged far behind that of the northern European countries, had reached 60 per cent of that in France and 82 per cent of that in Britain.”
Christian Democracy's main support areas (sometimes known as "vote tanks") were the rural areas in South, Center and North-East Italy, whereas the industrial North-West had more left-leaning support because of the larger working class. An interesting exception were the "red regions" (Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria) where the Italian Communist Party has historically had a wide support. This is considered a consequence of the particular sharecropping ("mezzadria") farming contracts used in these regions.
The Holy See actively supported the Christian Democracy, judging it would be a mortal sin for a Catholic to vote for the Communist party and excommunicating all its supporters. In practice, however, many Communists remained religious: Emilia was known to be an area where people were both religious and communists. Giovanni Guareschi wrote his novels about Don Camillo describing a village, Brescello, whose inhabitants are at the same time loyal to priest Camillo and communist mayor Peppone, who are fierce rivals.
In 1953, a Parliamentary Commission on poverty estimated that 24% of Italian families were either “destitute” or “in hardship,” 21% of dwellings were overcrowded, 52% of homes in the south had no running drinking water, and only 57% had a lavatory. In the 1950s, several important reforms were launched: e.g. agrarian reform (legge Scelba), fiscal reform (legge Vanoni), and the country enjoyed a period of extraordinary economic development (miracolo economico, economic miracle). In this period of time, a massive population transfer, from the impoverished South to the booming industrial North, took place. This however exacerbated social contrasts, including between the old-established "worker aristocracy" and the new less qualified immigrants ("operaio-massa") of Southern origin. In addition, a wide gap between rich and poor continued to exist. By the end of the Sixties, it was estimated that 4 million Italians (out of a population of 54.5 million) were unemployed, underemployed, and casual labourers. As noted by the historian Paul Ginsborg, the affluent society to this section of the Italian population “might have meant a television set but precious little else.”
During the First Republic, the Christian Democracy slowly but steadily lost support, as society modernised and the traditional values at its ideological core became less appealing to the population. Various options of extending the parliamentary majority were considered, mainly an opening to the left (apertura a sinistra), i.e. to the Socialist Party (PSI), which after the 1956 events in Hungary had moved from a position of total subordination to the Communists to an independent position. Proponents of such a coalition proposed a series much-needed "structural reforms" that would modernize the country and create a modern social-democracy. In 1960, an attempt by the right wing of the Christian Democrats to incorporate the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in the Tambroni government led to violent and bloody riots (Genoa, Reggio Emilia), and was defeated.
Up until the Nineties, two types of governmental coalitions characterised the politics of post-war Italy. The first were “centrist” coalitions led by the Christian Democracy party together with smaller parties: the PSDI, the PRT, and the PLI. The first democratic government (1947) excluded both the PCI and the PSI, which brought about the political period known as “centrist government,” which ruled over Italian politics from 1948 to 1963. The centre-left coalition (DC-PRI-PSDI-PSI) was the second type of coalition that characterised Italian politics, coming about in 1963 when the PSI (formerly the opposition party) went into government with the DC. This coalition lasted in parliament first for 12 years (from 1964 to 1976) and then with a revival in the Eighties that lasted until the start of the Nineties.
The PSI entered government in 1963. During the first year of the new Centre-Left Government, a wide range of measures were carried out which went some way towards the Socialist Party's requirements for governing in coalition with the Christian Democrats. These included taxation of real estate profits and of share dividends (designed to curb speculation), increases in pensions for various categories of workers, a law on school organisation (to provide for a unified secondary school with compulsory attendance up to the age of 14), the nationalisation of the electric-power industry, and significant wage rises for workers (including those in the newly nationalised electric-power industry), which led to a rise in consumer demand. Urged on by the PSI, the government also made brave attempts to tackle issues relating to welfare services, hospitals, the agrarian structure, urban development, education, and overall planning. For instance, during the Centre-Left Government's time in office, social security was extended to previously uncovered categories of the population. In addition, entrance to university by examination was abolished in 1965. Despite these important reforms, however, the reformist drive was soon lost, and the most important problems (including the mafia, social inequalities, inefficient state/social services, North/South imbalance) remained largely untackled.
The Italian Parliament voted, in December 1962, a law which created an Antimafia Commission. Any question about the need for such a law was obviated by the Ciaculli massacre in June of the following year, in which seven policemen and soldiers were killed attempting to defuse a car bomb in the suburbs of Palermo. The existence of the bomb had been disclosed by an anonymous telephone call. The massacre took place in the frame of the First Mafia War in the 1960s, with the bomb intended for Salvatore Greco, head of the Sicilian Mafia Commission formed in the late 1950s. The Mafia was fighting for the control of the profitable opportunities brought about by rapid urban growth and the heroin trade to North America. The ferocity of the struggle was unprecedented, reaping 68 victims from 1961 to 1963. The Antimafia Commission submitted its final report in 1976. The Mafia had created ties with the political world. The period 1958–1964, when Salvo Lima (DC) was mayor of Palermo and Vito Ciancimino (DC) was assessor for public works, was later referred to as the "Sack of Palermo".
The difficult equilibrium of Italian society was challenged by a rising left-wing movement, in the wake of 1968 student unrest ("Sessantotto"). This movement was characterized by such heterogeneous events as revolts by jobless farm workers (Avola, Battipaglia 1969), occupations of universities by students, social unrest in the large Northern factories (1969 autunno caldo, hot autumn). While conservative forces tried to roll back some of the social advances of the 1960s, and part of the military indulged in "sabre rattling" in order to intimidate progressive political forces, numerous left-wing activists became increasingly frustrated at social inequalities, while the myth of guerrilla (Che Guevara, the Uruguayan Tupamaros) and of the Chinese Maoist "cultural revolution" increasingly inspired extreme left-wing violent movements.
Social protests, in which the student movement was particularly active, shook Italy during the 1969 autunno caldo (Hot Autumn), leading to the occupation of the Fiat factory in Turin. In March 1968, clashes occurred at La Sapienza university in Rome, during the "Battle of Valle Giulia." Mario Capanna, associated with the New Left, was one of the figures of the student movement, along with the members of Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia such as (Antonio Negri, Oreste Scalzone, Franco Piperno and of Lotta Continua such as Adriano Sofri.
The 1970s: strategy of tension and Years of lead
The period of the late 1960 – 1970s came to be known as the Opposti Estremismi, (from left-wing and right-wing extremists riots), later renamed anni di piombo ("years of lead") because of a wave of bombings and shootings — the first victim of this period was Antonio Annarumma, a policeman, killed on November 12, 1969 in Milan during a left-wing demonstration.
In December, four bombings struck in Rome the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II (Altare della Patria), the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, and in Milan the Banca Commerciale and the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura. The later bombing, known as the Piazza Fontana bombing of 12 December 1969, killed 16 and injured 90.
On May 17, 1972, police officer Luigi Calabresi, who was subsequently awarded a gold medal of the Italian Republic for civil valour, was assassinated in Milan. Sixteen years later, Adriano Sofri, Giorgio Pietrostefani and Ovidio Bompressi and Leonardo Marino were arrested in Milan, accused by the confession of Leonardo Marino, one of the participants in the assassination. Highly controversial, the trial concluded, after an alternance of convictions and acquittals, to their guilt.
Count Edgardo Sogno revealed in his memoirs that in July 1974, he visited the CIA station chief in Rome to inform him of the preparation of a neo-fascist coup. Asking him what the US government would do in case of such an operation, Sogno wrote that the CIA officer responsible for Italy answered him that: "the United States would have supported any initiative tending to keep the communists out of government." General Maletti declared, in 2001, that he had not known about Sogno's relations to the CIA and had not been informed of the right-wing coup, known as Golpe bianco (White Coup), and prepared with Randolfo Pacciardi.
General Vito Miceli, chief of the SIOS military intelligence agency from 1969 on, and head of the SID from 1970 to 1974, was arrested in 1974 on charges of "conspiration against the state." Following his arrest, the Italian secret services were reorganized with a 24 October 1977 law in a democratic attempt to regain civilian and parliamentary control of them. The SID was divided into the current SISMI, the SISDE and the CESIS, which had a coordination role and was directly led by the President of the Council. Furthermore, a Parliamentary Committee on Secret services control (Copaco) was created at the same occasion. 1977 was the year with the most terrorist actions.
Christian Democrat Aldo Moro was assassinated in May 1978 by the Red Brigades, a terrorist leftist group then led by Mario Moretti. Before his murder, Aldo Moro, a central figure in the Christian Democrat Party, several times Prime Minister, was trying to include the Communist Party, headed by Enrico Berlinguer, in the parliamentary majority, an operation called the historic compromise. At this point, the PCI was the largest communist party in western Europe; this was largely due to its reformist orientation, to its growing independence from Moscow and to the new eurocommunism doctrine. The communist party was especially strong in Central Italy, in the three "red regions" (Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria) which it had administered rather efficiently, as well as other local administrations, since the post-war years.
In the period of terror attacks of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the parliamentary majority was composed by the parties of the "Arco costituzionale", i.e. all parties supporting the Constitution, including the Communists (who in fact took a very strong stance against the Red Brigades and other terrorist groups). However, the Communists never took part in the Government itself, which was composed by the "Pentapartito" (Christian Democrats, Socialists, Social Democrats, Liberals, Republicans).
Although the 1970s in Italy was marked by violence, it was also a time of great social and economic progress. Following the civil disturbances of the 1960s, Christian Democracy and its allies in government (including the PSI) introduced a wide range of political, social, and economic reforms. Regional governments were introduced in the spring of 1970, with elected councils provided with the authority to legislate in areas like public works, town planning, social welfare, and health. Spending on the relatively poor South was significantly increased, while new laws relating to index-linked pay, public housing, and pension provision were also passed. In 1975, a law was passed entitling redundant workers to receive at least 80% of their previous salary for up to a year from a state insurance fund. Living standards also continued to rise, with wages going up by an average of about 25% a year from the early 1970s onwards, and between 1969 and 1978, average real wages rose by 72%. Various fringe benefits were raised to the extent that they amounted to an additional 50% to 60% on wages, the highest in any country in the Western world. In addition, working hours were reduced so that by the end of the decade they were lower than any other country apart from Belgium. Some categories of workers who were laid off received generous unemployment compensation which represented only a little less than full wages, often years beyond eligibility. Initially, these benefits were primarily enjoyed by industrial workers in northern Italy where the “Hot Autumn” had its greatest impact, but these benefits soon spread to other categories of workers in other areas. In 1975, the escalator clause was strengthened in wage contracts, providing a high proportion of workers with nearly 100% indexation, with quarterly revisions, thereby increasing wages nearly as fast as prices.
A statute of worker's rights that was drafted and pushed into enactment in 1970 by the Socialist labour minister Giacomo Brodolini, greatly strengthened the authority of the trade unions in the factories, outlawed dismissal without just cause, guaranteed freedom of assembly and speech on the shop floor, forbade employers to keep records of the union or political affiliations of their workers, and prohibited hiring except through the state employment office.
From 1957, Italian workers had partly been sheltered from the falling value of money by what was termed a “moving staircase,” which automatically raised wages as prices increased. In 1975, this provision was extended so that all workers received a flat fee that automatically compensated them for as much as 75% of the previous three months’ price increases. This meant in practice that money wages rose faster than the cost of living, because better-paid groups fought for extra sums to maintain their differentials, and also because various industries negotiated local and national wage deals in addition to the increments that all workers received. By 1985, the average Italian was twice as rich in real terms as he was in 1960.
By the mid-1970s, Italy had the most generous welfare provisions in Europe, while average Italian workers were among the best paid, most protected, and best treated on the continent.
As noted by one historian in 1985,
“Measured by almost every index of well-being, the Italians are better off than most of them imagined possible. They eat better; they have better education; fewer of their babies die and most adults live longer. In the crasser terms of consumer goods-televisions, cars, washing machines and television sets- Italian ownership approaches, matches and even exceeds the Western European average.”
Because of reforms carried out in the Seventies, Italian families in the Eighties had access to a far wider range of state services than before, such as recreational and sports facilities, subsidies for medicines, proper medical care, and kindergarten schools. In addition, the growth in the income of most Italian families during the Seventies and Eighties was so significant that Giuseppe De Rita wrote of this period as a “watershed in the history of the Italian family.”
Despite these achievements, socio-economic inequalities continued to pervade Italy by the early Eighties. In 1983, it was estimated that over 18% of the population of the South lived below the official poverty line, compared with 6.9% of the population of the North and Centre.
In the 1980s, for the first time since 1945, two governments were led by non-Christian Democrat Premiers: a Republican (Giovanni Spadolini) and a Socialist (Bettino Craxi); the DC remained however the main force supporting the government.
With the end of the "Years of Lead", the PCI gradually increased their votes under the leadership of Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialist Party (PSI), led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the Communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favour of US President Ronald Reagan's positioning of Pershing II missiles in Italy, a move the Communists hotly contested.
As the Socialist Party moved to more moderate positions, the ranks of the PCI increased in numbers, and the Communist Party surpassed the Christian Democracy (DC) in the European election of 1984, barely two days after Berlinguer's death, that likely drew sympathy in the population. Huge crowds attended Berlinguer's funeral. That was to be the only time the Christian Democracy was not the largest party in a nationwide election they participated in. In 1984, the Craxi government revised the 1929 Lateran Pacts with the Vatican, which concluded the role of Catholicism as Italy's state religion.
With the Mani Pulite investigation, starting just one year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the discovery of the extent of corruption, which involved most of Italy's important political parties, apart from the PCI, led the whole power structure to falter. The scandal became known as Tangentopoli, and seemingly indestructible parties like the DC and the PSI disbanded. The Communist Party, although it had not been much worried by legal investigations, changed its name to Democratic Party of the Left. Observing the fall of the Soviet Union, it took the role of being essentially just one more democratic party in Italy. What was to follow was then called the transition to the Second Republic.
The Second Republic (1992–)
This section needs to be updated.June 2020)(
Tangentopoli corruption scandal and mani pulite inquiry
From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters (disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence collectively called Tangentopoli after being uncovered by Mani pulite – "Clean hands") demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the DC underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, among which were the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center. The PSI (and the other governing minor parties) completely dissolved.
This "revolution" of the Italian political landscape, happened at a time when some institutional reforms (notably changes in the electoral laws intended to diminish the power of political parties) were taking place. For this reason, Italian political commentators refer to the post-1992 period as the "Second Republic", despite the absence of any major constitutional change.
In the Italian referendums of 1993, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to an Additional Member System (with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation) which is largely dominated by a majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries (some of which have however been reintroduced with only partly modified names, as the Ministry of Agriculture being renamed Ministry of Agricultural Resources).
Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, underwent far-reaching changes. The main changes in the political landscape were:
- The left-wing vote appeared to be close to winning a majority. As of late 1993, it appeared that a coalition of left-wing parties may have won 40% of the vote, which would have sufficed to obtain a majority with the new electoral system given the disarray of other factions;
- The neo-fascist Italian Social Movement changed name and symbol into National Alliance, a party that its president Gianfranco Fini called "post-fascist". Some new members entered into the newly formed party, such as Publio Fiori from the Christian Democracy, but not to a large extent. The new party, however, managed to gather large portions of the Catholic vote in the south and centre.
- The Northern League movement vastly increased its support, with some polls indicating up to 16% on a national basis, remarkable when considering that it was only presenting itself in one-third of the country. Secretary Umberto Bossi was gathering protest votes and the support of northern people, but had no clear government agenda.
- In the meantime, Silvio Berlusconi, previously very close to Bettino Craxi and even having appeared in commercials for the Italian Socialist Party, was studying the possibility of making a political party of his own to avoid what seemed to be the unavoidable victory of the left wing at the next elections. Only three months before the election, he presented, with a televised announcement, his new party, Forza Italia. Supporters believe he wanted to avert a Communist victory; opponents that he was defending the ancien regime by rebranding it. Whatever his motives, he employed his power in communication (he owned, and still owns, all of the three main private TV stations in Italy) and advanced communication techniques he and his allies knew very well, as his fortune was largely based on advertising.
Berlusconi managed, in a surprise move, to ally himself to both the National Alliance and the Northern League, without these being allied with each other. Forza Italia teamed up with the League in the North, where they competed against National Alliance, and with National Alliance in the rest of Italy, where the League was not present. This unusual coalition configuration was caused by the deep hate between the League, which had many supporters who wanted to separate from the rest of Italy and held Rome in deep contempt, and the nationalist post-fascists; on one occasion, Bossi encouraged his supporters to go find National Alliance supporters "house by house," seemingly suggesting a lynching (which however did not actually take place).
The left-wing parties formed a coalition, the Progressisti, which however did not have as clear a leader as Berlusconi. Achille Occhetto, secretary of the Democratic Party of the Left, was however considered to be its main figure.
The remains of the Christian Democracy formed a third, centrist coalition, proposing reformist Mario Segni as their prime minister candidate. The Christian Democracy reverted to the old name "Popular Party," first used at the beginning of the 20th century, and was led by Mino Martinazzoli.
The election saw a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time.
Silvio Berlusconi's first government (1994–1995)
The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of "Pole of Freedoms" coalition, which included Forza Italia, the regionalist far-right Lega Nord party and the far-right Alleanza Nazionale), into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in December 1994 when the Lega Nord withdrew support.
Center-left governments (1996–2001)
A series of center-left coalitions dominated Italy's political landscape between 1996 and 2001, which introduced a number of progressive reforms in areas such as social security. In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a center-left coalition under the leadership of Romano Prodi. The Olive Tree included PDS, PPI (the largest surviving piece of the former DC), and other small parties, with "external support" from the communists (voting confidence but not entering government). Prodi's government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence, by three votes, in October 1998. Prodi's programme consisted in restoring the country's economic health, in order to pursue the then seemingly unreachable goal of leading the country within the strict Euro convergence criteria set at Maastricht and make the country join the Euro. He succeeded in this in little more than six months.
His government fell in 1998 when the Communist Refoundation Party withdrew its support. This led to the formation of a new government led by Massimo D'Alema as Prime Minister. As the result of a vote of no confidence in Prodi's government, D'Alema's nomination was passed by a single vote, with the support of a loyal communist faction (PdCI) and of some centrist MPs (UDR) led by former president of the Republic Francesco Cossiga. While D'Alema was Prime Minister, Italy took part in the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. The attack was supported by Silvio Berlusconi and the centre-right opposition, but the far left strongly contested it. It was a very important test about the government loyalty to NATO and the country's foreign policy, as it concerned the first post-communist leader of Italy and the first military action formally outside a UN mandate.
In May 1999, the Parliament selected Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as the President of the Republic. Ciampi, a former Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury, and before the governor of the Bank of Italy, was elected on the first ballot with an easy margin over the required two-thirds votes.
In April 2000, following poor performance by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned. The succeeding caretaker center-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato (who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93) until the 2001 election.
Berlusconi's first comeback (2001–2006)
The May 2001 election, where both coalitions used decoy lists to undermine the proportional-compensation part of the electoral system, ushered a refashioned center-right coalition, House of Freedoms dominated by Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia (29.2%) and including Alleanza Nazionale (12.5%), the Lega Nord, the Christian Democratic Center and the United Christian Democrats. The Olive Tree coalition (The Daisy (14.5%) and the Democrats of the Left (16.7%)) sat in the opposition.
Berlusconi's II foreign policy was characterised by a strong atlanticist trend, coupled with a positive attitude towards Putin's Russia and Erdogan's Turkey. Berlusconi advocated the accession of Turkey to the EU (notwithstanding the opposition of coalition partner Lega Nord) and at the 2002 Rome summit a NATO-Russia Council was set up. In UN reform issues, Italy took the lead of the Uniting for Consensus group, aiming at blocking a new German seat at the UN Security Council, while advocating for a unitary EU seat
The 27th G8 summit, held in Genoa in July 2001 represented the first international task of the government. The huge protest, mounting to 200,000 demonstrators from all over Europe, was countered by strong police repression. Dozens were hospitalized following clashes with police and night raids by security forces on two schools housing activists and independent journalists. People taken into custody after the raids have alleged severe abuse at the hands of police. One demonstrator was shot dead.
Berlusconi made Italy take part in the Afghanistan war (2001) and in the US-led military coalition in Iraq in 2003, although always stressing that Italy was taking part in a "peace operation" and not in a war operation outside the UN framework (prohibited by art.11 of the Italian Constitution). The move was widely unpopular (especially in the case of Iraq), and was met by protests and manifestations. Italy's participation in the Iraq war, with the control over the Nassiriya sector was marked by the 2003 Nasiriyah bombing, in which 17 soldiers were killed, and by an incident with the US, concerning the death, by friendly fire, of a SISMI agent, Nicola Calipari, during the March 2005 rescue of Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter from Il Manifesto.
In labour law, the government introduced extensive flexibility through the 30/2003 Act. In the field of justice, a reform of the Right of self-defense Act was introduced to please the Lega Nord. The 2002 Bossi-Fini Act represented a restrictive approach to immigration, while the 2006 Fini -Giovanardi Act strengthened the prohibitionary approach to drug policy. A point-system driver's licence was introduced in 2003, and compulsory conscription was replaced by a professional army since 2005. A constitutional reform including federalization and strengthened executive powers, passed in the Parliament, was rejected by a confirmation referendum in 2006.
Berlusconi's term was widely criticised for the approval of ad personam (personal)laws (usually named from the rapporteur minister or MP), especially in the field of justice, such as:
- the Frattini Act on conflict of interest;
- the 2002 Cirami Act on the recusation of judges by the accused;
- the 2003 Schifani Act, shielding the five highest state posts from criminal proceedings (declared unconstitutional in 2004);
- the 2005 ex-Cirielli Act, about statute of limitations, especially applicable in the case of Cesare Previti, Berlusconi's lawyer;
- the 2006 Pecorella Act, making it impossible for the public prosecutors to appeal a sentence of acquittal (partially declared unconstitutional in 2006);
- the de-criminalisation of false accounting;
- the Gasparri Act on the radio & TV market, making it easier for Mediaset to escape roof limits of advertisement collection, and considered not in compliance with EU Law by the EU Commission;
Internally, Berlusconi set up the Mitrokhin Commission, directed by senator Paolo Guzzanti (Forza Italia), to investigate on alleged KGB ties by left-wing (then-opposition) politicians. The Commission, closed in March 2006 without producing a final report, was very controversial, in particular after claiming that Romano Prodi, at that time Prime minister of Italy, and former President of the European Commission, had been "KGB's man in Italy." One of the Senator Guzzanti's informants, Mario Scaramella, was arrested at the end of December 2006 for defamation and arms-trade.
A new electoral law was established in 2005 by the Calderoli Law, and it is a form of semi-proportional representation. A party presents its own closed list and it can join other parties in alliances. The coalition which receives a plurality automatically wins at least 26 seats. Respecting this condition, seats are divided between coalitions, and subsequently to party lists, using the largest remainder method with a Hare quota. To receive seats, a party must overcome the barrage of 8% of the vote if it contests a single race, or of 3% of the vote if it runs in alliance. The change in the electoral law was strongly requested by the UDC, and finally agreed by Berlusconi, although criticised (including by political scientist Giovanni Sartori) for its comeback to proportionalism and its timing, less than one year before general elections. Provision was also included, on the input of Mirko Tremaglia, to ease the vote of Italians resident abroad; paradoxically, Italians abroad proved crucial in securing centre-left victory in 2006 elections.
The Union government of Romano Prodi (2006–2008)
Romano Prodi, with a center-left coalition (The Union), won the April 2006 general election by a very narrow margin due to Calderoli new electoral law, although Silvio Berlusconi first refused to acknowledge defeat. Prodi's coalition proved to be extremely frail, as the two-vote margin in the Senate allowed almost any party in the coalition to veto legislation and political views inside the coalition spanned from far-left Communist parties to Christian Democrats.
In foreign policy, the Prodi II Cabinet continued the engagement in Afghanistan, under UN command, while withdrawing troops from post-invasion Iraq. The major effort of foreign minister Massimo D'Alema concerned the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War, being the first to offer troops to the UN for the constitution of the UNIFIL force, and assuming its command in February 2007.
Less than a year after he had won the elections, on 21 February 2007, Prodi tendered his resignation to Head of State Giorgio Napolitano after the government was defeated in the Senate by 2 ballots in a vote on foreign policy. On 24 February, President Napolitano invited him to return to office and face a vote of confidence.
Major causes of friction inside the coalition were, the 2006 pardon Act (criticised by the right and by the IDV party), a draft bill to establish civil unions (vetoed by Christian Democrats), Italy's continued involvement in Afghanistan (strongly opposed by left-wing parties), and finally the much publicized house-arrest of Clemente Mastella's wife (then a prominent politician at the regional level) over a corruption scandal. Mastella's party, UDEUR, held just enough seats in the Senate that his eventual decision to withdraw its support for the government meant the end of the legislature on February 6, 2008. Mastella, who also resigned from his office as Minister of Justice, cited the lack of personal support from his coalition partners' as one the reasons behind his decision, together with a proposed reform of the electoral system which would have made it difficult for small parties like his own to gain seats in the Italian Parliament.
Berlusconi's third term (2008–2011)
Berlusconi won the last snap elections in 2008, with the People of Freedom party (fusion of his previous Forza Italia party and of Fini's Alleanza Nazionale) against Walter Veltroni of the Democratic Party.
The electoral campaign was waged by Berlusconi on the tones of criminal insecurity brought in the country by the 2006 pardon act, on the Naples waste management issue (although this will remain haunting the government in the following years), on the need to avoid bankruptcy of Alitalia or its takeover by Air France, on the need to limit the use of wiretapping by prosecutors and magistrates to avoid judicial prosecution of citizens, and on the abolition of the local council property tax.
The 2008 Lodo Alfano Act (declared unconstitutional in 2009) granted immunity from prosecution to the four highest political offices in Italy, including Berlusconi. The 2009 Maroni decree (dubbed security package) includes a set of measures against criminality and illegal immigration, allowing for the use of private patrols (however with modest actual impact), criminalisation of stalking and compulsory incarceration for sex offenses. The 2009 fiscal shield provided for the regularisation of capitals illegally detained abroad; local council property tax was abolished the same year.
A Treaty of Friendship was signed between Italy and Libya in 2008 in Benghazi. The treaty provides for the closure of colonial contentious, upon investments from Italy for 5 bln € in 20 years in infrastructure in Libya; for the mutual commitment not to act in a hostile way (criticised as not legally compliant with Italy's NATO obligations). Libyan Dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi subsequently visited Rome in June, July and August 2009, sparkling controversies for his initiatives and speeches. The Berlusconi government was criticised for the lack of firmness toward the Libyan autocracy and the lack of requests of respect of human rights.
The case of Eluana Englaro (who had been comatose for 17 years) re-ignited the debate on the right to die in Italy. After the family of Eluana Englaro succeeded in having her right to die recognised by the judges and getting doctors to stop her forced feeding in the way established by the court, the government issued a legally controversial decree to stop the doctor from letting her die, thrusting Italy into a constitutional crisis when the President of the Republic refused to sign the decree. The crisis was defused by Eluana's final death.
The 2009 L'Aquila earthquake caused the death of 308 persons and made about 65,000 homeless. Berlusconi made a point of honour of the reconstruction, although this was accompanied by criticisms, especially by the inhabitants of L'Aquila. The 35th G8 summit of 2009 was hastily moved from La Maddalena to L'Aquila in an effort to promote reconstruction.
On 13 December 2009 Berlusconi was hit in the face with an alabaster statuette of Milan Cathedral after a rally in Milan's Piazza Duomo, suffering facial and teeth injuries. The attacker was found to have a history of mental illness but no previous criminal record
Between 2009 and 2010, Berlusconi was involved in a prostitution scandal leading to his divorce: he was revealed to having had close acquaintance with pre-18-year-old girls, and several call girls presented proofs of having had sex with him and having been paid for that. In one case, Berlusconi was accused of using his influence to obtain the release of a 17-year-old Moroccan girl, of his acquaintance, who was arrested for theft; Berlusconi pretended she was a close relative of Hosni Mubarak.
In 2010, Berlusconi's party saw the splintering of Gianfranco Fini's new faction, which formed a parliamentary group and voted against him in a no-confidence vote on 14 December 2010. Berlusconi's government was able to avoid no-confidence thanks to support from sparse MPs, but lost a consistent majority in the lower Chamber. A controversial university reform was passed in late 2010 and carries the name of Education minister Mariastella Gelmini.
Berlusconi's already low international credibility fell further in 2011 during the European sovereign-debt crisis. Financial markets showed their disapproval through an unsustainable increase of spreads between Italian and German government bond yields. Berlusconi resigned in November 2011; he later blamed German chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Monti government (2011–2013)
On 12 November 2011, Mario Monti was invited by President Giorgio Napolitano to form a new technocratic government following Berlusconi's resignation. Monti's government was made up of non-political figures but received very wide support in Parliament, both on the centre-right and on the centre-left; the Northern League was in opposition. Monti proceeded to implement structural reforms and to cut government expenses. The People of Freedom party lost support under the nominal leadership of Angelino Alfano, widely regarded as Berlusconi's puppet. New political forces started to emerge.
Some observers regard the Monti government as the first government of an Italian Third republic following Berlusconi's demise. The shadow of the ageing Berlusconi has not however fully dispersed.
The coalition governments (2013–present)
After the general election held on 24 and 25 February 2013, the centre-left alliance Italy Common Good led by the Democratic Party obtained a clear majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, thanks to a majority bonus that has effectively trebled the number of seats assigned to the winning force, while in the popular vote it narrowly defeated the centre-right alliance of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Close behind, the new anti-establishment Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo became the third force, clearly ahead of the centrist coalition of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti. In the Senate, no political group or party won an outright majority, resulting in a hung parliament
On 22 April 2013, the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, after his re-election and consultations with the political forces, gave to the vice-secretary of the Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, the task of forming a government, because Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the winning centre-left coalition Italy Common Good, could not form a government because it did not have a majority in the Senate.
Letta's cabinet lasted until 22 February 2014, as the government fell apart after the Democratic Party retired its support of Letta in favour of Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and nicknamed "Il Rottamatore" (the scrapper). Renzi succeeded Letta as Prime Minister at the head of a new grand coalition government with Democratic Party, New Centre-Right, Civic Choice, and a number of minor parties. The Renzi Cabinet is the youngest government of Italy up to date, with an average age of 47. In addition, it is also the first in which the number of female ministers is equal to the number of male ministers.
On 31 January 2015 Sergio Mattarella, judge of the Constitutional Court, former DC minister and former member of the PD, was elected President of the Italian Republic at the fourth ballot with 665 votes out of 1,009, with support from the government parties, Left Ecology Freedom, and non-party independents. Mattarella was officially endorsed by the Democratic Party, after his name was put forward by the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Mattarella replaced Giorgio Napolitano, who had served for nine years, the longest presidency in the history of the Italian Republic.
The Renzi cabinet had several new laws passed: labour was reformed (Jobs act), same-sex unions were recognized, and a new electoral system was approved (labelled Italicum). The latter, however, was eventually abolished by the Constitutional Court. The government also tried to amend the Constitution to reform the composition and powers of the Parliament: however, when the voters were called to confirm or reject the reform through referendum, the majority (59%) voted against it.
Renzi and his government resigned and President Mattarella appointed new Prime Minister, Renzi's minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni, who led Italy until the 2018 Italian general election, where the first party of Parliament become the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
Through an alliance with Matteo Salvini's eurosceptical Lega Nord , Five Star Movement proposed to President Mattarella the appointment of Giuseppe Conte as new Prime Minister of a coalition government. After a failed attempt, caused by the veto of President Mattarella to the appointment of Paolo Savona as Minister of Finance, Conte formed the new government (Conte I Cabinet).
However in August 2019, after the 2019 European Parliament election where Lega Nord exceeded the Five Star Movement, and the increase of the tension between the political parties, Lega Nord proposed a no-confidence vote versus Conte, so the Prime Minister resigned. After new consultations, President Mattarella reappointed Conte as Prime Minister in a coalition government between the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party, led by the new Secretary Nicola Zingaretti (Conte II Cabinet).
In 2020 Italy was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with several other countries. The Italian government implemented restrictive measures of social distancing and lockdown with the aim to slow down the contagion.
- Giulio Andreotti
- History of Europe
- History of the European Union
- List of Presidents of the Italian Republic
- List of Prime Ministers of Italy
- Operation Gladio
- Tangentopoli and mani pulite
- Silvio Berlusconi
- Years of Lead (Italy)
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