How pen-pushers have taken over Italian democracy

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We start this edition of Reporter with a guided tour by La Corriere della Sera journalist Sergio Rizzo

“Rome is really the city which sums up all the past and present symbols of power in Italy.

“There is the Pantheon cupola, first century BC. Or the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the Emperor Adriano was buried and where the Church’s fortress was built. Moving on, we find the tower of Montecitorio, on top of the Chamber of Representatives.

“The Columna Antonini stands in front of government headquarters. There you have the Presidency of the Republic.

“One grand yellow building is very significant for the city because it used to be the residency of Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of FIAT.

“And then there’s the grand monument dedicated to King Vittorio Emanuele II, built at the end of the 19th century to celebrate Italy’s unification.

“In this city, power has been exercised continuously for 2767 years,” says Rizzo.

Today, the power in Italy is with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his team of ministers. His government is the third one in little more than two years.

Just like the two previous ones, it is the result of a compromise deal among rival political forces aimed at making necessary reforms to put the Italian economy back on track.

Much has been said about these reforms, but little has been done. It is as if legislation was stuck, or politics had lost the power of making decisions.

“In the last few years, bureaucrats have taken over the legislative process. They are the ones making the law. They write it within the ministries, the law then moves to the parliament where it gets a vote of approval. But before the law can be adopted, further regulation is needed, and that job is done by the same people who wrote the law. This way, parliament’s only job is to ratify what bureaucrats write in the ministries. A situation like this produces huge conflicts of interest,” claims Rizzo.

In the past five years, 480 laws have been passed to change the rules on taxation. Out of these 480, around 60 have simplified the system, while the others have made it even more complex.

And often, as Sergio Rizzo pointed out, a further step is required for the law to be implemented: a regulation written by top-ranking bureaucrats.

The former Vice Minister for Economic Development, Antonio Catricalà, was a member of this select elite for many years, up until a few months ago.

He told euronews: “In many cases, the regulation is necessary because of the technicality of the law, which is extremely complex. In other cases, the regulation is required in order to find a political agreement. Is there a controversy? Representatives in parliament decide that the issue will be dealt with afterward with a regulation. But this doesn’t always happen.”

A parliament unable to take decisions makes the top officials of the public administration even more powerful, endowing them with political responsibility. It is a real takeover, considering that they are not elected and often they do not even have to quit when the government resigns.

“When a minister takes office, he hires a general director for a five-year term. Then, a year and a half later, when the government collapses and a new one, supported by a different political majority, takes its place, the new minister inherits the general director hired by his predecessor. Now the director must choose: he can change political affiliation – and this happens quite frequently amid our bureaucrats – or he can mount a sort of opposition to the new minister,” explained retired former parliamentary advisor Luigi Tivelli.

Italy’s Constitution says that top officials of the public administration must be selected by open competition among the members of the Council of State, the judges of the Administrative Court and a few other exclusive circles: bureaucrats today and judges tomorrow, or vice versa. And this raises questions.

“Often, the state councillor ends up being the judge who applies the law. Because there are laws that he wrote, literally, that he contributed to writing, together with the minister. Then, if he goes back to being a judge, he will make a decision in a courtroom based on the law, which he wrote. And here there is a kind of conflict: the role of the legislator and the role of the judge should always be separated,” said Law Professor Stefano Rodotà.

Since 1889, the Council of State has had its headquarters in the Palazzo Spada, one of the most impressive Baroque buildings in Rome.

In the courtyard, the forced perspective gallery by Francesco Borromini provides an apt metaphor: illusion is power – or is power an illusion in Italian politics? That is the question.

Renzi’s government is trying to do something similar with the bureaucracy as Borromini did with his statue, scaling down the power it has accumulated through the years.

“The new minister can change the top of his administration, the general directors: he has three months to do it. Therefore, saying that he is p