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Constitution of Italy

The Constitution of Italy (Italian: Costituzione della Repubblica Italiana) is the supreme law of Italy. It was approved by the Constituent Assembly (Assemblea Costituente) on 22 December 1947; with 453 votes for, 62 votes against, and 3 votes canceled. The Constituent Assembly was elected with the universal suffrage on 2 June 1946; at the same time, italian people voted to switch the form of the state from Monarchy to Republic; This is the Birth of the Italian Republic.

We can group the forces that enliven the debate inside the assembly into three main trends: the christian democratic solidaristic one, the socialist-communist and the liberal (promoter of civil liberties, heir of the liberal tendencies of the nineteenth century). All of those tendencies agreed about refusing any authoritaristic choice, because they were deeply anti-fascist. Each party belonging to those trends worried about his future in the first election that there would have been after the promulgation of the Constitution and tried to insert in the constitutional act some regulations reflecting the opinions of the tendence they belonged to: the result was that, for example, some parts of the text refer much more to the christian-democratic believes (like parts concerning marriage and family), some others, for further example, remind communist and socialist topics (like parts concerning workers rights).

Promulgation of the Italian Constitution
Promulgation of the Italian Constitution

The Italian Constitution came into force on 1 January 1948, one century after the come in to force of Statuto Albertino, the past Italian constitution.

It's really important to underline that this act mainly contains general regulations; it's not possible to apply them directly. Only a few regulations, concerning particolar problems, are considered to be self-executing. So it's necessary to implement those general rules in the particular situations, and to do that, the Parliament needs to take a legislative act. This type of parlamentar activity is usually called accomplishment of constitution. This process took decades and some contend that, because of various political pressures, it is still not finished.


We can define Italian Constitution from differents points of view:

Long constitution: Regulations written in this text try to involve all problems of private and public life: from individual liberties to marriage, from work to governement, and so on.

Written constitution: This act is written. the constitutional assembly, according to the continental law experiences, chose not to leave to customary law the control of public organs, like some countries do, especially in common law.

Strong constitution: It's extremely hard to modify the constitution: to take this act the parliament needs a large majority, and, in some cases, a further public referendum. On the other side, normal legislative acts taken by the parliament that are in contrast with the constitution are removed by the Constitutional Court, after which it's like they never existed.

The Text
It is divided into three main parts, Fundamental Principles (Italian: Principii Fondamentali), Part I: Rights and Duties of Citizens (Italian: Diritti e Doveri dei Cittadini) and Part II: Organization of the Republic (Italian: Ordinamento della Repubblica). The last part is called Transitory and Final Provisions (Italian: Disposizioni transitorie e finali).

Politics of Italy

Politics of Italy takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Italy is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum (see birth of the Italian Republic). The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948.

Division of powers
The President of the Republic
Executive branch
Legislative branch
Judicial branch
Political parties and elections
Political parties
History of the post-war political landscape
First Republic
The Socialists enter the Government
The Lead Years
The Eighties
Second Republic
Administrative division
See also

Division of powers
The 1948 Constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a lower and an upper chamber (respectively Chamber of Deputies and Senate), a separate judiciary branch, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The government depends on confidence from each branch of the parliament, and has in turn the power to make decrees. Decrees have to be confirmed in the parliament, and "decree jam" has been a problem in recent years, as governments try to reform the structure of the state using chiefly decrees instead of passing laws directly through the parliament.

The President of the Republic
The President of the Republic represents the unity of the nation and has many of the duties previously given to the king of Italy. The president serves as a sort of point of connection between the three branches of power: he is elected by the lawmakers, he appoints the executive, and is the president of the judiciary. The president is also the commander in chief of armed forces.

The president of the Republic is elected by an electoral college consisting of both houses of Parliament and 58 regional representatives for a seven-year term. Its election needs a wide majority that is progressively reduced from two-thirds to one-half plus one of the votes as the ballots progress. The only presidents ever to be elected on the first ballot are Francesco Cossiga and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Mr. Ciampi is the current incumbent, and his term is due to end in May 2006. Whereas it is not forbidden by law, no president has ever served two terms.
Usually, the president tries to stay out of the political debate, and to be an institutional guarantee for all. The president can also reject openly anti-constitutional laws by refusing to sign them, since he acts as the "guardian" of the Constitution of Italy.

Executive branch
The President appoints the Prime Minister, whose government must receive a vote of confidence from both parliamentary chambers.

Legislative branch
Italy elects, on the national level, a Parliament consisting of two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) (630 members) and the Senate of the Republic (Senato della Repubblica) (315 elected members, plus a few senators for life).

Judicial branch
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. It is based on a civil law system. Appeals are treated as new trials, and three degrees of trial are present.

There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. Judicial review under certain conditions in Constitutional Court, which can reject anti-constitutional laws after scrutiny.
The Constitutional Court is composed of 15 judges: one-third appointed by the president, one-third elected by Parliament, one-third elected by the ordinary and administrative supreme courts. The constitutional court passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Italy has not accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

Political parties and elections

Summary of the 9–10 April 2006 Chamber of Deputies of Italy election results (percentages exclude overseas ballots)





Parties inside coalitions




The Union




Olive Tree (L'Ulivo)

  • Democrats of the Left (Democratici di Sinistra)

  • Daisy-Democracy is Freedom (Margherita - Democrazia è Libertà)

  • European Republican Movement (Movimento Repubblicani Europei)




Communist Refoundation Party (Rifondazione Comunista)




Rose in the Fist (Rosa nel Pugno)

  • Italian Democratic Socialists (Socialisti Democratici Italiani)

  • Italian Radicals (Radicali Italiani)




Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani)




Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori)




abroad: 1

Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi)




Popular-UDEUR (Popolari-UDEUR)




Pensioners' Party (Partito dei Pensionati)




South Tyrolese People's Party (Südtiroler Volkspartei)




The Socialists (I Socialisti)




Consumers' List (Lista Consumatori)




League for Autonomy-Lombard Alliance (Lega Alleanza Lombarda)




Autonomy Liberty Democracy (Autonomie Liberté Démocratie)




Veneto Front League (Liga Fronte Veneto)




The Union (L'Unione)

abroad: 6

House of Freedoms
(Casa delle Libertà)




Forza Italia




abroad: 3

National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale)




Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e dei Democratici di Centro)




Northern League-Movement for Autonomy

  • Northern League (Lega Nord)

  • Movement for Autonomy (Movimento per l'Autonomia)




Christian Democracy-New PSI (DC-Nuovo PSI)

  • Christian Democracy for the Autonomies (Democrazia Cristiana per le Autonomie)

  • Socialist Party New PSI (Partito Socialista - Nuovo PSI)




Social Alternative (Alternativa Sociale)

  • Social Action (Azione Sociale)

  • National Social Front (Fronte Sociale Nazionale)

  • New Force (Forza Nuova)




Tricolour Flame (Fiamma Tricolore)




No Euro Movement (No Euro)




United Pensioners (Pensionati Uniti)




Environmental List-Ecological Democrats (Ambienta-Lista-Ecologisti Democratici)




Italian Liberal Party (Partito Liberale Italiano)




S.O.S. Italy (S.O.S. Italia)




For Italy in the World with Tremaglia (Partito per Italia nel mondo con Tremaglia)

abroad: 1

Other Parties


Italian Association in South America (Associazioni Italiane in Sud America)

abroad: 1

Progetto Nordest




All other parties











(1) Includes bonus seats allocated to largest coalition, according to the new electoral system

Political parties

Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a proportional to an Additional Member System (with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation) also altered the political landscape.
Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved; the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet. A new liberal movement, Forza Italia, gained wide support among moderate voters. The Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) broke from the (alleged neo-fascist) Italian Social Movement (MSI). A trend toward two large coalitions (one on the center-left and the other on the center-right) emerged from the April 1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center-right united again under the House of Freedoms.

The May 2001 elections, where both coalitions used decoy lists to undermine the proportional-compensation part of the electoral system, ushered a refashioned center-right coalition dominated by Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, into power. The Olive Tree coalition now sits in the opposition.

This emerging bipolarity represents a major break from the fragmented, multi-party political landscape of the postwar era, although it appears to have reached a plateau, since efforts via referendums to further curtail the influence of small parties were defeated in 1999 and 2000. The constant debate among the components of both coalitions is however intense, and some observers noted in this infighting some similarities with the previous system.

History of the post-war political landscape

First Republic
There have been frequent government turnovers since 1945. The dominance of the Christian Democratic party during much of the postwar period lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political situation, mainly dominated by the attempt of keeping the Italian Communist Party (PCI) out of power, to maintain Cold War equilibrium in the region.

The communists were in the government only in the national unity governments before 1948, in which their party's secretary Palmiro Togliatti was minister of Justice. After the first democratic elections with universal suffrage in 1948, in which the Christian Democracy and their allies won against the Popular front of the Italian Communist and Socialists parties, the communist party never returned in the government.

Even though many repeat the cliché that Italy had over fifty governments in its first fifty years of democracy to stigmatise its alleged political instability, Italy's main political problem was actually the opposite: in all the course of the so-called First Republic, the government was in the hands of the Christian Democrats and their allies, since it was unacceptable for a communist party to rule a western country during the Cold war. The system had been nicknamed the imperfect bipolarism, referring to more proper bipolarism in other western countries (the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France etc.) where right-wing and left-wing parties alternated in government.

The Socialists enter the Government
The main event in the First Republic in the sixties was the inclusion of the Socialist party in the government, after the reducing edge of the Christian Democracy (DC) had forced them to accept this alliance; attempts to incorporate the fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in the Tambroni government led to riots, and were short-lived.

Aldo Moro, a relatively left-leaning Christian democrat, inspired this alliance. He would later try to include the Communist Party as well, with a deal called the historical compromise. This attempt at compromise was, however, stopped by the kidnapping and murder of Moro in 1978 by the Red Brigades, an extremist left-wing terrorist organisation. However, there is evidence that shows that the actual organizers of the kidnapping were members of The Christian Democrats and the mafia.

The Communist party was at this point the largest communist party in western Europe, and remained such for the rest of its existence. Their ability to attract members was largely due to their pragmatic stance, especially their rejection of extremism, and to their growing independence from Moscow (see eurocommunism). The Italian communist party was especially strong in areas like Emilia Romagna, where communists had been elected to stable government positions. This practical political experience may have contributed to their taking a more pragmatic approach to politics.

The Lead Years
The lead years (anni di piombo) spans from the December 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing to at least the 1980 Bologna bombing.

On December 12, 1969, a roughly decade-long period of left- and right-wing political terrorism, known as the lead years (Italian: anni di piombo), began with the Piazza Fontana bombing in the center of Milan, which neofascist Vincenzo Vinciguerra later declared to be an attempt to push the Italian state to declare a state of emergency, which the neofascists hoped would lead to a more authoritative state. A bomb left in a bank killed about twenty, and was immediately blamed on anarchists. This accusation was hotly contested by left-wing circles, especially the Maoist Student Movement, very strong in those years in Milan's universities, who considered the bombing to have all the marks of a fascist operation; their guess was proved correct, but only after many years of difficult investigations.

The strategy of tension attempted to blame the left for bombings carried out by right-wing terrorists. Fascist "black terrorists," such as Ordine Nuovo or Avanguardia Nazionale, were, in the 1980s-90s, found to be responsible for most terrorist attacks, some of which had been blamed on the Red Brigades. However, the Red Brigades mainly carried out targeted attacks against specific persons, and weren't responsible for any blind bombings. This strategy of tension, as it was to be known with the publication of the 2000 Olive Tree Parliamentary report on terrorism, was actively supported by the Italian military secret services, Propaganda Due masonic lodge (who became outlawed after its 1981 discovery), Gladio, NATO's stay-behind paramilitary anticommunist organizations, and the CIA. The Red Brigades killed socialist journalist Walter Tobagi, and, in their most famous operation, kidnapped and assassinated -- under obscure circumstances -- Aldo Moro, president of the Christian Democracy, who was trying to involve the Communist Party in the government through the compromesso storico ("historic compromise"), to which Washington was opposed. "P2" was allegedly behind Aldo Moro's murder, either by directly manipulating the Second Red Brigades, led by Mario Moretti, or by refusing to negotiate with his captors. The head of Italian intelligence services was accused of negligence. As a member of P2, this accusation aroused suspicions about the possible involvement of P2's headmaster, Licio Gelli, in this affair. It is worth noting that the Red Brigades met fierce resistance from the Communist Party and the trade unions; some left-wing politicians used the condescending expression "comrades who are mistaken" (Italian: Compagni che sbagliano) to refer to the Red Brigades. Some have alleged that the Red Brigades (at least the 2nd Red Brigades) were actually being exploited by right-wing or possibly foreign forces to destabilize Italy or to discredit the Communist Party and impede the historic compromise.

The last and largest of the bombings, known as the Bologna massacre, destroyed the city's railway station in 1980. This was also found to be a neofascist bombing, in which Propaganda Due was involved.

On October 24, 1990, Prime minister Giulio Andreotti (DC) revealed to the Parliament the existence of Gladio, NATO's secret "stay-behind" paramilitary organizations. Further juridical and parliamentary investigations in the 1990s led to the conclusion that the "strategy of tension" was supported by the United States in order to impede the Communist Party from governing. In 2000, a Parliament Commission report from the Olive Tree (left-wing) coalition concluded that the strategy of tension followed by Gladio had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI and, to a certain degree, the PSI [Italian Socialist Party] from reaching executive power in the country."

The Eighties
With the end of the lead years, the communist party gradually increased their votes under the leadership of Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialist party, led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favor of Ronald Reagan's positioning of Pershing missiles in Italy, a move many communists strongly disapproved of.

As the socialist party moved to more moderate positions, it attracted many reformists, some of whom were irritated by the failure of the communists to modernize. Increasingly, many on the left began to see the communists as old and out of fashion, while Craxi and the socialists seemed to represent a new liberal-socialism. The Communist party surpassed the Christian Democrats only in the European elections of 1984, held barely two days after Berlinguer's death, a passing that likely drew sympathy from many voters. The election of 1984, however, was to be the only time the Christian Democrats did not emerge as the largest party in a nation-wide election in which they participated.

In 1987, one year after the Chernobyl accident following a referendum in that year, a nuclear phase-out was commenced. Italy's four nuclear power plants were closed down, the last in 1990. A moratorium on the construction of new plants, originally in effect from 1987 until 1993, has since been extended indefinitely.

In these years, corruption began to be more extensive, a development that would be exposed in the early nineties and nicknamed Tangentopoli. With the Mani Pulite investigation, starting just one year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the whole power structure faltered, and seemingly indestructible parties, such as the Christian Democrats and the Socialist party, disbanded; the communist party changed its name to the Democratic Party of the Left and took the role of the socialist party as the main social democratic party in Italy. What was to follow was then called the transition to the Second Republic.

Second Republic

Bettino Craxi
Bettino Craxi contested by students.
Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi, media magnate and leader of the Italian right wing of politics since 1994.
Romano Prodi
Romano Prodi, professor and leader of the Italian left wing of politics since 1996.

From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges, as voters, disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence--collectively called Tangentopoli after being uncovered by Mani pulite)--demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms.

In the Italian referenda of 1993, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to an Additional Member System, which is largely dominated by a majoritarian electoral system and the abolition of some ministries, some of which, however, have been reintroduced with only partly modified names, such as the Ministry of Agriculture reincarnated as the Ministry of Agricultural Resources).

Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, underwent far-reaching changes. New political forces and new alignments of power emerged in the March 1994 national elections. This election saw a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time.

The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of "Pole of Freedoms" coalition) into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in December 1994 when the Lega Nord withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which left office in early 1996.

A series of center-left coalitions dominated Italy's political landscape between 1996 and 2001. In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a center-left coalition, the Olive Tree, under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence, by three votes, in October 1998.

In May 1999, the Parliament selected Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as the President of the Republic. Ciampi, a former Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury and, before entering the government, the governor of the Bank of Italy, was elected on the first ballot by an comfortable margin over the required two-thirds of the votes.

A new government was formed by the Democrats of the Left leader and former communist Massimo D'Alema, but in April 2000, following poor performance by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned.

The succeeding center-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato, a social-democrat, who had previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93, and had at the time sworn never to return to active politics.

National elections held on May 13, 2001 returned Berlusconi to power at the head of the five-party center-right "Freedom House" coalition, comprising the prime minister's own party, Forza Italia, the National Alliance, the Northern League, the Christian Democratic Center, and the Democrats' Center Union.

Administrative division
The Italian State has twenty regions and about a hundred provinces. The constitution of Italy provides for twenty regions, most of them with limited governing powers. Regions are further divided in provinces. Provinces also have their own local elections. For each of the provinces, a prefect is appointed by and responds to the central government, which he locally represents. While the number of regions is somewhat stable (the only modification to the original set is the separation of Molise from Abruzzo), there has been a tendency in later years to create new provinces, such as Crotone, Verbania, Lodi, Biella, Lecco and others.

Five regions (Aosta Valley, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-South Tyrol) have special charters granting them varying degrees of autonomy. The raisons d'être of these charters is in most cases the presence of significant linguistic and cultural minorities, but in the case of Sicily it was historically an early attempt by the mafia to create its own independent state in the 1950s. The other 15 regions were in practice established in 1970, even if their ideation had been a much earlier idea. They vote for regional councils.

See also

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