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The idea for this special issue of Modern Italy emerged from the Association for the Study of Modern Italy's annual conference ‘The Second Italian Republic Ten Years On: Prospect and Retrospect’, which was held at the Italian Cultural Institute, London, in November 2004. The conference afforded an opportunity for scholars and observers of contemporary Italy to reflect on one of the most eventful decades in the history of the Italian Republic and to offer an appraisal of how political, economic, social and cultural life had fared since the first election based on the new majoritarian voting system which first brought Silvio Berlusconi's coalition to power in April 1994.
The Italian Second Republic was meant to have led to a bipolar polity with alternation in national government between conservative and progressive blocs. Such a system it has been claimed would undermine the geographical structure of electoral politics that contributed to party system immobilism in the past. However, in this article I argue that dynamic place configurations are central to how the ‘new’ Italian politics is being constructed. The dominant emphasis on either television or the emergence of ‘politics without territory’ has obscured the importance of this geographical restructuring. New dynamic place configurations are apparent particularly in the South which has emerged as a zone of competition between the main party coalitions and a nationally more fragmented geographical pattern of electoral outcomes. These patterns in turn reflect differential trends in support for party positions on governmental centralization and devolution, geographical patterns of local economic development, and the re-emergence of the North–South divide as a focus for ideological and policy differences between parties and social groups across Italy.
Between 1994 and 2006 Berlusconi has been the dominant figure of Italian politics. Following his electoral defeat in the April 2006 elections, it is possible to begin an initial evaluation of the many roles he has played as well as to assess his overall accomplishments in politics. This article focuses on five roles—party builder, coalition maker, institution builder, Prime Minister, and opinion leader. The article briefly explores Berlusconi's achievements and inadequacies and attempts to explain the reasons for his failures. Because Berlusconi has been unable fundamentally to institutionalize his politics and to reform Italian institutions, the article comes to the conclusion that his legacy will be of limited duration. All this notwithstanding, Berlusconi's political trajectory may not yet have reached its conclusion.
Scholars argue that the realignment of the electorate which took place with the transition to the so-called Italian Second Republic followed mainly a traditional partisan pattern, with electors of the former centre ruling parties (the Christian Democrats and the Socialists) turning to vote for the new centre and right parties (Forza Italia and the National Alliance), while left-wing voters continued to hold their traditional allegiance. Behind this apparent electoral turmoil there would appear to be little in the way of voter mobility. Such a reading implies continuity in the motivations of voters who behaved according to their previous ‘personal electoral history’ and in accordance with their sub-cultural political identification. Here an alternative interpretation is proposed in which it is argued that as a result of the 1994 realignment elections voters who deserted the centre (the heirs of the Christian Democrats) did so also according to their class interest and in response to the policy proposal of the centre-right. Since that time a ‘valence model’ of electoral behaviour has begun to emerge where ‘reasoning voters’ react to the performance of the incumbent, and voting also depends on an assessment of leadership, policy performance and issues.
Considering the increasing quantitative usage and expanding qualitative scope of instruments of delegated legislations as the predominant means of enacting welfare reforms, this article investigates the consolidation throughout the Second Italian Republic of a new interpretation of executive prerogatives in the exercise of legislative functions. This is not only a problem in relation to the constitutional balance defining the relationship between the executive and legislature, but also an issue for executive policy leadership and capacity to steer the legislative process. It is argued that since the 1990s the usage of legislative decrees has become a sui generis and the predominant means of decision-making, adopted in particular for welfare reforms. In particular, delegated legislation to the executive has changed the impact that interest groups, such as trade unions, have on the policy process. Two case studies are presented by way of illustration, namely the health care reforms of the early 1990s and the education reform in 2003.
The birth of the ‘Second Republic’ was at least partially due to the changes in international relations in Europe and the rest of the world. The instablity in the Balkans forced Italy to face security issues close to home, while instability in the Middle East meant that Italy had to reconsider its energy security policy as well as military security in the region. The change in the form of government in Italy under both the centre-right and centre-left has involved the Prime Minister taking on a much more important role in foreign policy. The two traditional pillars of Italian foreign policy—Atlanticism and an attachment to the European institutions—have remained largely unchanged, but their relative importance and emphasis have altered markedly with the alternation of administrations. During the course of the Second Republic we can therefore conclude that Italy has moved from being a ‘consumer of security’ to being a ‘producer of security’ due to a combination of external necessities and internal reforms.