Italy’s system of government is that of a parliamentary republic. The Republic of Italy was formed upon the abolition of the monarchy by way of popular referendum on June 2, 1946. The Constitution of Italy was adopted on 22 December 1947. Power is divided among the executive, the legislative and judicial branches. The Italian Constitution establishes the balancing and interaction of these branches, rather than their rigid separation.
State power is centralized to a great degree, however, Article 131 of the Italian Constitution divides the State into 20 regions conferred with limited governing power. Moreover, five regions, namely, Sardinia, Sicily, Tretino-Alto, Adige, Vale d’Agosta and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, have been granted extended autonomy by statute. The remaining fifteen regions were established in 1970 and are governed by regional "councils". Additionally, special legal status has been granted to the cities of Trento and Bolzano. This delegation of legislative and executive power has resulted in some mitigation of the strong centralization of power inherent in the Italian system of government.
The Head of State of Italy is the President.The President of the Republic is elected by Parliament at a joint session of members, for a term of seven years (Articles 83 and 85 of the Constitution). Article 87 of the Constitution stipulates that the President, amongst other duties, promulgates laws, issues decrees having the force of law, calls elections of the two Chambers of Parliament, authorizes the submission of bills proposed by the Government to Parliament and calls referenda. The President is the Commander of the Armed Forces, declares war in case it is resolved upon by Government and is also the Chairman of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (discussed below). The President may also grant pardons and dissolve either or both Chambers of Parliament upon consultation with the Speakers. However, the power of dissolution may not be exercised in the last six months of his or her term of office, unless it coincides with the last six months of the term of office of either or both Chambers (as appropriate) (Article 88 of the Constitution). By virtue of Article 90 of the Constitution, the President may also be impeached by a majority vote of a joint session of Parliament for treason or attempted overthrow of the Constitution.
Legislative power is vested in the Parliament, which is composed of two Chambers, that is, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (Article 70 of the Constitution) (please note: "Parliament" and "Chambers" are referred to interchangeably). The Chamber seats 630 deputies and 12 seats are reserved for the Italian constituencies living abroad (Article 56(3) of the Constitution). The Senate numbers 315 seats, with six reserved for Italian citizens living abroad (Article 57(2) of the Constitution). The houses of parliament are elected directly on the basis of universal suffrage. Voting to Parliament takes place by way of a mixture of the majority and proportional systems, in practice, and in accordance with election legislation passed in 1993, this means that Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in Parliament and the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis. Both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate are elected for a term of five years (Article 60(1) of the Constitution). The Constitution also provides for "senators for life " in two instances. In the first instance this will be any person who has held the office of the President of the Republic unless the person chooses to waive this privilege (Article 59 (1) of the Constitution). In the second, this may be an amount of five people appointed by the President of the Republic for having brought honor to the nation for exceptional accomplishments in social, scientific, artistic and literary fields (Article 59(2) of the Constitution). Life senators are appointed in addition to the 315 elected directly by the people.
Legislative autonomy of the Regions is spelled out in Article 117 of the Constitution. Basically, pursuant to Article 117 (4) of the Constitution, the Regions are free to legislate on matter not governed by State law. Article 117 (2) lists the scope of legislative authority belonging only to the State, this including matters such as, foreign policy, defense forces, immigration, citizenship, State taxes, electoral law, courts, national boundaries etc. Concurrently, the State and the Regions legislate on matters such as foreign and EU relations with the Region, health protection, education, pension systems and many others (please see Article 117 (3) of the Constitution). The State may pass by-laws regarding the autonomous regions, so long as it does not effectively devolve such power to the regions. As to exclusive legislative power, a Region acting within its field of competence, may conclude agreements with foreign States and understandings with territorial entities that belong to a foreign State, in the cases and forms provided for by State law. Pursuant to Article 117(5) the Regions and Autonomous Provinces are responsible for the implementation and execution of international obligations and of the acts of the European Union, in accordance with the procedures set by State law. The Constitution also permits for the State to act in substitute for the Regions whenever those should fail to fulfil their responsibilities in this respect.
Executive power is exercised by the Government of the Republic and consists of the President of the Council and the ministers. Together they are the Council of Ministers. The President of the Republic appoints the President of the Council and on his or her advice, also appoints the ministers. The Government must have the confidence of both Chambers, this vote of confidence must be obtained ten days following appointment of the Government (Article 94 of the Constitution). The President of the Council conducts and takes responsibiity for the general policy of the Government. Each Minister is jointly responsible for the decisions of the Council of Ministers and individually for those of their own ministries. According to Artice 94, the functioning of the Presidency of the Council and the number, organization and responsibilities of ministires are regulated by law.
The process of legislation is set out in the Section Two of the Italian Constitution (Arts. 70-82). According to these Articles, bills may be introduced upon the initiative of the Government, by each member of the two Chambers, as well as other organs and bodies specified in the Constitution. Bills may also be introduced by not less than 50,000 voters. Every bill that is introduced into one of the Chambers is, according to its Standing Orders, reviewed by a committee, which has been delegated with the task of approving the bills article by article, followed by a final vote. Bills considered urgent are dealt with through an abbreviated procedure established by the Standing Orders. Standing Orders may also delegate the procedure of review and examination of the bill to committees, which are composed in a manner adequately reflecting the size of parliamentary groups. Where review is delegated in this alternative manner, the bill, until finally voted upon, may be submitted to the full Chamber, if the Government, or one-tenth of the Chamber itself, or one fifth of the reviewing committee demand for the bill be debated or voted upon by the full Chamber. The bill may also be submitted to the full Chamber for its final vote of approval, preceded only by statements of vote. However, this alternative method may not be applied in all cases, bills concerning constitutional matters, electoral law, the delegation of powers, or those authorizing ratification of international treaties or concerning approval of budgets must always be subjected to the ordinary procedure of debate and voting upon by each Chamber.
Laws are promulgated by the President of the Republic within a month of their passing through the Chambers (Article 73 of the Constitution). If the Chambers by way of majority vote, declare the bill as urgent, it may be promulgated within the time frame set out in the bill itself. Laws are published immediately following promulgation and enter into force on the fifteenth day following publication, unless otherwise established by the law itself.
By virtue of Article 74, the President of the Republic, may send the law back the Chamber with a request for review. The request must be accompanied by a substantiation of the return. If the bill again passes through the Chambers, it will be promulgated.
The Italian Constitution allows both the delegation of legislative power and the issue of decrees having the force of law by the Government. It should be pointed out however, that the two provisions dealing with such delegation of legislative power to the Executive, are expressed as negative covenants, thus, emphasizing this delegation as a limited exception rather than a positive right. Firstly, Article 76 states that the power to legislate may not be delegated to the Government unless it is on the terms set out by the Parliament which defines the principles of this delegation for a limited time and concerning a strictly defined subject matter. Secondly, Government may not issue decrees having the force of law unless duly and properly delegated by the Chambers. Thirdly, Article 77 addresses the situation of emergencey decrees, whereby, if the Government issues a provisional measure having the force of law, it must submit such decree to the Chambers on the very same day for conversion into law. Article 77 goes as far as establishing that even in the case where the Chambers (both houses of Parliament) have been dissolved, they must be expressly summoned for the purpose of approving a Government decree and meet within five days. If not converted into law by way of this procedure, decrees of this type will loose effect as of the date of issue within sixty days of their publication. However, the Chambers are given the option of approving laws to regulate the rights and obligations arising out of decrees that have not been properly converted into law.
Pursuant to Art. 104 of the Constitution, "the judiciary constitutes an autonomous and independent organ and is not subject to any other power of the State". The independence of the judiciary is ensured by an autonomous organ called the Consiglio Superiore della Magistura. This supervisory organ is presided over by the President of the Republic and composed of two members, that is, the Prosecutor General and the President of the Court of Cassation. The remaining members of this supervisory organ are elected (20 members are elected by judges and 10 by Parliament) from amongst lawyers or university law professors. According to Article 105 of the Constitution Consiglio Superiore della Magistura also participate in judges’ recruitment processes, assignments, transfers, promotions and disciplinary actions. Judicial power in Italy is divided into two distinct categories, that is, the ordinary jurisdiction and the special jurisdiction. The ordinary jurisdiction includes all civil and criminal law matters that have not been otherwise deemed as coming within the scope of the special jurisdiction. Justice, in the ordinary jurisdiction is administered by career judges. There are four areas of law considered special jurisdictions . The first, is the administrative jurisdiction exercised by the Regional Administrative Courts (Tribunali Amministrativi Regionali), consisting in the review of administrative decisions taken by public authorities. The second, is the State Auditors’ Department (Corte dei Conti) , reviewing matters concerning public accountancy. The third, is the military jurisdiction exercised by the Military Courts (Tribunali Militari), by the Military Appeals Courts (Corti Militari di Appello) and by the Military Surveillance Courts (Tribunali Militari di Sorvegianza) for cases concerning military offences committed by members of the Armed Forces. Finally, the fiscal jurisdiction, exercised by the Provincial Fiscal Commissions (Commissioni Tributarie Provinciali) and the District Fiscal Commissions (Commissioni Tributarie Distrettuali) for matters concerning taxation. Addtionally, there is the Court of Assize for serious criminal matters, and the Regional Courts and High Court of Waters, having jurisdiction over all matters of dispute regarding water belonging to the Italian State.
The Ordinary jurisdiction is exercised by Justices of the Peace (Giudice di pace), the trial Courts, the Court responsible for the enforcement of sentences, the Juvenile Court , the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation, which is the highest court of apeal in Italy.
Article 134 of the Constitution establishes the Constitutional Court, which has the authority to decide on matters concerning the constitutional legitimacy of law and acts having the force of law adopted by the State and the autonomous Regions. It also decides upon any disputes arising over the allocation of powers between branches of Government within the State and the Regions as well as, between the Regions. The Constitutional Court is responsible for deciding on accusations raised against the President of the Republic on the basis of the Constitution (Article 105 of the Constitution).
The Italian legal system is that of a civil law State, governed by codified law. Membership in the European Union has resulted in the implementation of a system of ratification set out in Law No.183, 1997 on the coordination of enforcement of EU legislation in the Italian national legal system. This aforementioned law requires the Prime Minister, or alternatively, the Minister for Community Policy to notify Parliament and the Regions of all new EU Directives within 30 days of their adoption. This policy also applies to the regions with special status (please see second paragraph above). The Government is under an obligation to inform Parliament about the compatibility of the Directives with Italian law within 90 days. Each year, the Minister for Community Policy must present the new law to the Parliament before the 31 of January for ratification by 1 March (of each year). The regions with special status (as well as the cities with special status – Trento and Bolzano) have the discretion to adopt new Directives immediately as published in the Official Journal. In the case where Directives have not been implemented as required, by the Regions or autonomous cities, the Government may set up a Commission consisting of three members, which will be given ministerial competency to exercise the powers normally vested in the relevant Ministry.
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