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Love him or loathe him, Silvio Berlusconi is widely assumed to be Europe's most remarkable politician of recent decades, one who has not only affected the nature of electoral competition or the shape of the party system in Italy, but one who has influenced the country's political agenda to the extent that he himself and his role in politics have for long periods been the most important issues around which party competition has taken place.
We began this book by placing the Italian polity in its temporal context; we finish by placing it in its spatial context, looking at foreign policy. The reason for doing this is simply that the Italian state, like any other, is not a self-contained, isolated, entity. Rather, along with other states, it is embedded in a system of social relations – the international state system – with profound implications for what goes on internally. As Jackson and Sørensen (2003: 1–9) point out, there are a series of values that the citizens of most states expect their governments to uphold, at least to some minimal degree. They include security, freedom, order, justice and welfare. States' success in upholding these values presupposes their membership of the international community of states: when cut off from that community, states' populations usually suffer as a consequence (Jackson and Sørensen, 2003: 1). It presupposes, too, states' success in managing the pressures and responsibilities that arise from membership of the international community: peace, and therefore the orderly conduct of international relations, is a prerequisite for the achievement of most if not all of the values.
An understanding of a country's position in the international state system and of the foreign-policy issues this gives rise to are therefore indispensable for an understanding of its politics and of how its governing institutions retain their authority.
The focus of this and of the following two chapters is on the structures and institutions of government: Parliament and the executive; the bureaucracy; sub-national government structures; the international and supra-national organisations of which Italy is a member. These institutions lie at the core of the policy-making process which is itself ‘the pivotal stage of the political process’ (Almond and Bingham Powell, Jr, 1992: 91). Policy-making is ‘the pivotal stage of the political process’ in the sense that it is the link which connects the input of demands from political parties, pressure groups and so forth, to political outputs in the form of policies designed to respond to and to shape such demands. If policy-making is ‘the pivotal stage of the political process’, then government institutions ‘lie at the core of’ policy-making. They do so in the sense that in most societies they are the basic structures through which policy is made. In describing how these structures work and are related to each other, we shall highlight what is distinctive about them as compared to recognisably similar structures in other countries. Central to this will be the attempt to identify the actual as opposed to the formal locus (or loci) of power over policy-making in the Italian system. Before doing this, however, we begin by spelling out the basic features of the Italian Constitution; for if constitutions can be defined as sets of rules specifying how the political process is to be carried on, then they define what government structures exist in the first place.
Law no. 270, of 21 December 2005, introduced a series of amendents to the laws governing elections to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic. The nature of these amendments were such as to alter substantially the basis on which seats in the two chambers of Parliament had been distributed since the electoral-law reform of 1993. As a consequence, the details of the electoral system for each branch are now as follows.
The Chamber of Deputies
The country is divided into twenty-six constituencies among which 617 of the 630 seats are assigned according to the population of each constituency.
Parties field a list of candidates for each constituency, voters making a single choice among these lists. That is, the voter chooses a list but cannot choose between the candidates making up the chosen list.
In presenting their lists, parties may either declare themselves to be independent entities or, with the consent of the parties concerned, declare themselves to be allied with others as part of a coalition.
This innovative text offers a completely fresh approach to Italian politics by placing it in its historical, institutional, social and international contexts. Students will get to grips with the theories and concepts of comparative politics and how they apply specifically to Italy, while gaining real insight into more controversial topics such as the Mafia, corruption and the striking success of Berlusconi. The textbook uses clear and simple language to critically analyze Italy's institutions, its political culture, parties and interest groups, public policy, and its place in the international system. Often regarded as an anomaly, Italy is frequently described in terms of 'crisis', 'instability' and 'alienation'. Sceptical of these conventional accounts, Newell argues that, if understood in its own terms, the Italian political system is just as effective as other established democracies. With features including text boxes and further reading suggestions, this is an unbeatable introduction to the politics of Italy.
In the last chapter we saw that the Italian state has lost autonomy in economic policy-making in recent years. According to some scholars, the same can be said of policy-making in relation to welfare. The reason for this, it is argued, is that in common with the governments of many other advanced industrialised countries, the Italian authorities are facing changes, outside their sphere of control, in the international economy and in the age structure of the population:
On the one hand, it is said, growing world trade, along with increases in international capital flows, have placed governments under pressure to embark on a ‘race to the bottom’ in welfare by cutting taxes and spending – this being the price they must pay to remain internationally competitive.
On the other hand, with the OECD population over sixty-five having nearly doubled in the past four decades and set significantly to increase in the future, governments are also facing the opposite pressure on welfare budgets. The political difficulties this exposes them to are revealed by the protests that took place in France, Austria and Sweden in 2003 against proposals to reduce the generosity of existing old-age pensions schemes (Castles, 2004: 5).
The actual dimensions of these pressures in the Italian case, and how governments have responded to them, are matters we consider below. For now we need to define terms.
‘Welfare policy’ here means the predispositions of governments with regard to decisions concerning the provision of social services to individual citizens.
In the last chapter we looked at how policy is made through the institutions of Parliament, the executive and the public administration. A focus on institutions (Box 5.1) and how they function can provide insight into a wide range of political processes. This is because the rules and procedures embodied in institutions exercise a powerful influence on the behaviour of individuals. Political scientists see this influence taking place in one or other of two ways. That is, from what is known as the ‘behaviouralist’ perspective (Box 5.1), rules and procedures influence individuals' behaviour because they define institutional roles and stipulate norms (which individuals internalise) concerning how role incumbents ought to act. Alternatively, from a ‘rational choice’ perspective (Box 5.1), they do it by structuring (a) the alternative political goals that are available to individuals to pursue, and (b) the resources available to them.
However, a focus on institutions can only get one so far. In particular, if our attention remains confined to the formal properties of institutions, it is likely that we will come to understand little of how politics – the acquisition, retention and relinquishing of power – actually takes place through those institutions. Accordingly, the focus of our attention in this chapter shifts to another dimension of political behaviour, the cultural dimension.