After talks with President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, and after Monti's trip to Brussels, the President of Italy is back in Rome and making some remarkable assertions on his role in the formation of a government for Italy.
Giorgio Napoliano claims his autonomous capacity, as President, to determine who is the person to be nominated as prime minister. While he has done this once already, in appointing Mario Monti (so he's had a practice run on building a confidence vote for his nominee, with who knows what settlements, and built, too, a precedent) there are constitutionalists who might argue that the settled role of the President is to act as a sort of neutral clearing-house for the views and interpretations of well-defined categories of informants: Speakers of both houses of Parliament, senior Party figures, Regional elected governors, voices from industry and finance, the Church, the voluntary and civic sector, former presidents, and appropriately distinguished academics. The President, on this interpretation and for much of past practice, acts with no agenda but conformity to constitutional and national requirement.
Well that's not what's happening. Napolitano has already ruled out minority government supported on a confidence and supply basis - on the face of it the most likely government to succeed in forming at all given the intransigent characteristics of the three, evenly balanced, parties elected (two of them coalitions and one the largest single party in the Lower House). Given his constitutionally questionable presidential stance, the President must be intent on one of two possible outcomes:
yet another 'technical' imposition (difficult immediately after a general election);
the breaking up of one of the coalition parties ( or the dispersion of the unitary party) and the creation of a governing coalition in a form not offered to, or chosen by, the electorate.
This is not a proper role of the President of Italy. This 'restructuring' of the allegiances of deputies and senators is, quintessentially, the role of the Prime Minister designate, using two wholly political tools - the offer of office, and the legislative programme. Both of these tools are being taken up to himself by President Napolitano in this repeat perfomance of his intervention in parliamentary politics 14 months ago. That was just about justifiable considering the state the government had brought the country to - an uncontrolled and thus catastrophic bankruptcy which would be suffered and accompanied by institutional changes in which the people had no say.
This time the people have spoken but crucially President Napolitano, and all he regards as central to any national agenda, cannot accept the verdict. He has also had his say, and it is that nothing must threaten or interrupt the ongoing ever-closer union of Europe. Not just an ever-closer union but a particular, anti-democratic, managed, social democratic (once called euro-communist) progressive United States of Europe. Italy is to be a geographical expression albeit infused with cultural pride and italianita' but not a self-determining nation state. The ideological imperatives of 'fairness', of 'equality', of 'redistribution', require the managed, even the centrally-planned, economy and its associated (pan-European) administrative structures and administrative class.
Without this 'vision' Parliament would meet on 15 March, the Speakers of the two Houses would be elected (with some particularly distasteful political argy-bargy) the 'candidate premier' of the Democrats would be handed the mandate to try and form a government by the President, would fail to gain a vote of confidence in the Senate, would be followed by some secondary figure who would fail again, possibly losing in the Lower House as well, and the Parliament then move on to electing the new President (which would be a long drawn-out series of votes finally reduced to a simple majority which then produces a victor). And the new President will call a general election. (We should have had a general election when Berlusconi's last government fell but instead we got Napolitano's 'intervention' and fourteen Monti-months of the slow destruction of the Italian economy and standard of living with a Bersani-led Democratic Party backing this all the way, to the hilt, on the deal that it would be his turn in 2013.).
At which point , in May, we will all go and vote our socks off again for: renegotiating the debt, lowering taxes, ending 'austerity' and regaining Italy from Clemens von Metternich's contemptuous dismissal. The stumbling block is not really Bersani, he's lost anyway and continues to lose face as well, in his attempts to find support where we have denied it to him. The real holder of the euro-communist pass is Napolitano and under the infinite courtesy, charm, intelligence he is capable of almost anything.