5.1 General context
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The right of participation is included in Art. 3 of the Constitution: “It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organization of the country.”
The Constitution also includes the freedom of association, the right to establish political parties, as well as trade unions.
The Italian institutional system contains tools for direct democracy such as the referendum, the petition, and the bill of popular initiative.
Institutions of representative democracy
Italy has been a parliamentary democratic Republic since June 2nd, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished through an institutional universal suffrage referendum, with women taking part for the first time. On 1 January 1948, the Constitution came into force.
The President of the Republic is the Head of the State and represents its unity. He/she is elected by the Parliament in a joint session.
The President, among other responsibilities, appoints the Prime Minister and the Ministers, chairs the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Defense Council, and commands the Armed Forces.
The President is responsible for calling elections and referendums.
The legislative power is exercised by the Parliament, composed of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic which are elected every 5 years. Following the approval of Constitutional Law 1/2020, the number of parliamentarians was reduced, respectively, from 630 to 400 for the Chamber of Deputies and from 315 to 200 for the Senate of the Republic.
The national Government is composed of the President of the Council and the Ministers. According to Art. 95 of the Constitution “The President of the Council conducts and holds responsibility for the general policy of the Government. The President of the Council ensures the coherence of political and administrative policies, by promoting and coordinating the activity of the Ministers.”
In addition to the executive power, in case of necessity and urgency, the Government may adopt a decree having force of law. However, within sixty days of its publication, the decree must be transposed into law by Parliament.
The President of the Council and the Ministers are appointed by the President of the Republic, and must receive the Parliament’s vote of confidence.
The Italian Constitution grants the universal suffrage to all citizens of age, and defines the right to vote as a “civic duty” (Art. 48). No sanction is applied in case of abstention.
The vote is cast by secret ballot. Citizens residing abroad may vote by mail through the Embassy.
Voting by proxy is not allowed.
According to the Constitution (art.114) “The Republic is composed of the Municipalities, the Provinces, the Metropolitan Cities, the Regions and the State. Municipalities, provinces, metropolitan cities and regions are autonomous entities having their own statutes, powers and functions in accordance with the principles laid down in the Constitution.”
The Law on local authorities, approved with legislative decree 267/2000 and subsequent amendments contains the principles and provisions regarding the organization of local authorities. Furthermore, law 56/2014 contains provisions relating to metropolitan cities, provinces, unions and mergers of municipalities.
Italy is composed of 20 Regions (Art. 131 of the Constitution). Five of them - i.e. Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Valle d'Aosta - have a “special statute”, which grants them special forms and conditions of autonomy. The Trentino-Alto Adige Region is composed of the autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, which have legislative powers similar to those of the Regions.
According to Art. 121 of the Constitution, the bodies of the Region are:
the Regional Council (Consiglio regionale), which exercise legislative powers attributed to the Region;
the Regional Executive (Giunta regionale), which is the executive body;
the President of the Executive (Presidente della Giunta regionale), who represents the Region directs the policymaking of the Executive and is responsible for it, promulgates laws and regional statutes, directs the administrative functions delegated to the Region by the State, in conformity with the instructions of the Government of the Republic.
The provinces are territorial entities governed by law 56/2014 (para. 51 to 100).
The bodies of the Province are the following:
the President of the Province;
the provincial Council;
the Assembly of Mayors.
According to the Constitution (Art. 114), the Municipality is an autonomous entity having its own statute, powers and functions.
The bodies of the Municipality are the following:
the municipal Council;
the municipal Executive, chaired by the Mayor and composed of Councilors, appointed by the Mayor;
the municipal Secretary.
The Mayor and the municipal Council are elected by the citizens every 5 years.