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In few EU member states was the tension between EMU and commitment to the ESM so apparent as in Italy in the 1990s. It was a decade of political and policy upheaval that shaped, and was affected by, the EMU process. Moreover, EMU was the catalyst and the basis for a debate about modernization in Italy that left few areas of economic and social life untouched. It will be argued that the vincolo esterno (external constraint) of monetary integration has been instrumental to bringing about changes to the basic economic, social, and political structures of the postwar order (Dyson and Featherstone 1996). It would be wrong to assume that the political and economic elites were passive, benignly accepting European dictates that might undermine their position. A constellation of social and political forces looked to use monetary integration for profoundly different reasons and objectives. For some of the forces on the left, but not exclusively, it was a means to dismantle entrenched political and economic oligarchies of the postwar constitutional order. Some of those vested interests sought to manage the requirements of the external constraints to hold on to their position. There were other political forces that looked to monetary integration as a way of bringing about some form of institutional change, be it economic or constitutional. Yet, they all framed the debate about EMU and its attendant policies as one about “modernization.”
Perhaps in no other advanced industrialized democracy has government use of decree legislation become so common in the legislative process as it has in Italy since the mid-1970s. There is a certain paradox in this development, because decrees often are seen as the expropriation of the legislature's decision-making powers by an executive intent on providing leadership and direction. Yet Italian governments, which have been so generous in their use of decrees, have been described as anything but strong and decisive; nor have they been able to provide policy and political leadership (Cassese 1980). This brings us to one of the questions raised by Carey and Shugart in the first chapter of this book – namely, do decrees necessarily imply the displacement of law-making and political powers from the legislature to the executive? If not, what factors may account for the use of decrees and what does this tell us not only about the legislative process, but of the balance of power between institutions and between political forces?
The Italian case suggests that some significant revisions in the conventional understanding of decree legislation may be in order. First, Italy has a parliamentary and not a presidential system of government. As other chapters in this volume indicate, attempts by presidents to usurp law-making powers of legislatures are not uncommon in many presidential systems. However, the conventional view of parliamentary systems assumes that the legislature's ability to discipline the executive discourages the use of nondelegated decree authority in law making.