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Italy’s constitutional reform gets the green light from the Senate, the opposition leaves the floor

by Barbara Fiammeri

With a green light from the Senate, the constitutional reform that will dramatically change the upper house of Parliament has overcome its most difficult obstacle. The end goal is in sight.

The vote was 179 “yes”—18 more than than the required absolute majority (161). There were only 16 “no” votes, given the decision of the Lega, Five Star Movement and FI parties to leave the chamber, and 7 abstentions, which are counted as “no” votes.

The votes of Denis Verdini (the senator and former right-hand man of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi), who left Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party and founded his own group in Parliament, and his 12 supporters wasn’t decisive in the end.

The same for the vote of two Forza Italia dissenters (Villari and Bocca), and despite the missing “yes” votes of four members of the Democratic Party.

But there’s another political point to make: in August 2014, when the Nazarene Pact was still alive and Berlusconi ordered his senators to approve the reform, there were 183 votes in favor—or just four more than yesterday.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was once again exultant on Twitter: “Thanks to everyone who continues to believe in the dream of a simpler and stronger Italy: that’s what reforms are for.”

For the prime minister, the “yes” vote yesterday is a good omen for the coming confrontation with Brussels over the 2016 Stability Law, since Italy is trying to convince the Commission to allow it more deficit flexibility as Democratic Party whip Luigi Zanda pointed out in his speech in the Senate.

And alongside the Senate approval, the House okayed the new law on citizenship and started to examine the civil unions in the Senate. This is a clear demonstration for the prime minister, who called it “the end of an era of inconclusive politics.”

Renzi was taking an indirect stab at the opposition, and its decision to “stay out.” The decision to abandon the floor had taken place during the speech of former President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and then when it was time to vote, the opposion’s senators left, without there being a unified strategy.

The Northern League already for days has indeed left the floor; Forza Italia decided only after the meeting with Berlusconi; the Five Star movement left after the speech of their leader, while Sel, while not participating in the vote, has remained in their seats.

The only ones to vote against were the Conservatives and Reformists led by Raffaele Fitto, who with his “no” to the constitutional reform and to the electoral reform had split from Forza Italia.

Attention is already focused on the next step. The goal is to come out with a “yes” from the Chamber of Deputies before the end of the year, almost at the same time as the Stability Law.
The House only needs to examine and confirm changes made by the Senate. The Commission of Constitutional Affairs is already on alert and the measure will be reviewed immediately so it’s ready to be sent in November.

That looks likely since the Lower House only has to rubber stamp the changes of the Senate.

After that, the reform needs to be approved by a popular referendum, which could be held in June with administrative elections.

No worries about the outcome of the referendum: “The Italians will choose between a simpler Italy and those who want to remain anchored to the past,” said Minister for Reforms Maria Elena Boschi.