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Renzi stakes credibility on Senate reform

Premier says will have 'lost bet' if Upper House revamp fails

05 March, 20:11
Renzi stakes credibility on Senate reform (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Siracusa, March 5 - Premier Matteo Renzi said Wednesday that his government's credibility was on the line over a reform that would transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives stripped of law-making powers. The aim of the move is to make passing legislation, and therefore governing Italy, easier and help reduce the massive cost of the country's political apparatus. On Tuesday Renzi struck a deal with the leader of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, that limits another key reform - the introduction of a new election law - to the Lower House. This effectively obliges Renzi to pass the Senate reform, otherwise Italy will find itself voting with two different election laws the next time it goes to the polls, one for the Lower House and another for the Upper House. "The victory of my wager is at stake over the reform of the Senate," Renzi said. "If we are not able to do it, we'll have lost, even if we get the economy going again. "You cannot change the country if you don't start from the political arena, the civil service, and the Constitutional reform of the Senate. "I respect the Senate, but that's precisely why I say that the current perfect two-chamber parliament system is a brake on Italy". Renzi is hopeful the new election law will be passed in the Lower House this week and quickly win definitive approval in the Senate shortly after. Reforming the Senate, however, is expected to take over a year as it requires amending the Constitution, which is a far lengthier and more difficult process.

Both initiatives are seen as key factors to instill greater stability in the country's notoriously shaky political system, which has changed governments 62 times since Italy reconstituted itself as a republic in 1946, the year after the fall of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A year ago this time, parliament was just beginning a two-month deadlock on the heels of inconclusive February elections that produced no clear winner. The standstill was ultimately brought to an end in April by the reluctant formation of Enrico Letta's unprecedented left-right coalition, which was plagued by infighting mostly at the hands of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. But it was ultimately brought down by Renzi, the head of Letta's own center-left Democratic Party (PD), who sparked a party coup over Letta's perceived ineffectiveness.

Analysts say that, after coming to power on a fast-paced and radical reform agenda, Renzi's Senate initiative could make or break his fledgling government.