Sunday, 3 March 2013

Ultra Vires: Reaching for Power Beyond Office

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.


Nick Drew said...


hatfield girl said...

In April Italy must pay out its share of the third tranche of the paid in capital of the ESM stability mechanism.

Italy's debt stands at 2 trillion euros. Perhaps another 2,8 billion euros is but a trifle in the circumstances. What is now plain is that the plan was to have a stable Italian government capable of fulfilling the requirements of a counter-party acceptable for the raising of the EMS shield. We have denied them that because it means years more of unforgiving and unrewarded impoverishment.

No confidence and supply arrangement, no technical imposition government, no coalition can fulfil those counter-party requirements. And another general election after the election of a President to whom the power to call one has returned doesn't do it either. We cannot be trusted to elect their kind of government. We will elect a debt-restructuring kind of government.

With the rise in interest on the debt as the glamours of Monti's potemkin-village of a financial reconstruction fade it must be clear that we cannot go on.

And as goes Italy so goes the Euro. Italy is not Greece. It is not Spain. It is not Ireland or Portugal. Italy is too big and Europe must now choose - stop it with the wrecking of whole industries and economies in the interest of a particular Europe and respond to democratically expressed policy changes or else.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"the President must be intent on...
yet another 'technical' imposition"

I am shocked - shocked I tell you.

And if this is in fact what happens, I take it we may assume that whoever is "imposed" will be entirely acceptable to the great and good of the EU, and will do "whatever is necessary" to keep the Euro project on track, regardless of national and electoral considerations.

Are the Italians just going to lie down and take this?

Is democracy in Europe actually over, or is there still hope?

hatfield girl said...

Shocking the whole set up, Yacht. When we think that the President was born in the 1920s: his whole acculturation is that of a man from the long ago past. He is the man from Mars, not the 5 Star deputies and senators derided as being so. For a measure, think of a man born in the 1820s determining political outcomes in 1913. I'm less familiar with Italian history (indeed Italy was not to come into existence till 1870 or so) but in English terms that is an unacceptable, almost an inconceivable, disjunction for people to accept. And the 20th century wasn't less momentous than the 19th. We had Queen Victoria as head of state all that time, true, but she wasn't poking her nose into politics, she was doing the constitutional thing (more grist to your mill for the worth of constitutional monarchy).

I cannot grasp why Italians are letting these geriarchic elites get away with it. They'll be consulting Life Senator Andreotti next on mafia interests.

Jeff Wood said...

A very good analysis, HG.

Yes, Giorgio has had his instructions from Brussels, Berlin and the bankers, but I suspect you are correct and he will have trouble carrying them out.

I recall after the Costa Concordia disaster, when the behaviour of the Captain was revealed, listening to the conversations in the Piazza. My Italiano is limited, but I understood well enough that the dignity of Italia had been violated. Had the Captain been there, and a couple of fathoms of rope been handy, the fellow would have finished with a longer neck.

The EU, and the political classes here and abroad, may wish to tread warily.

My dear Yacht: got a yardarm?