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A New Political System for Post-Monti Italy

Observing Mario Monti’s technocrat government knock out-of-form Italy into better shape is fascinating.  The rapidity with which he is moving is most out of character with Italy’s traditionally slow ineffective political system.

However, Monti’s attempts to liberalise Italy are being hampered by well-entrenched special interest groups, as Bloomberg has noted.

Despite the hiccups, what is amazing, if not miraculous, about Monti is that he has somehow managed to convince Italy’s unruly political parties to collaborate.  This does seem to be happening.  Ideas from both Italy’s left and right are being taken on board by Monti and his team giving Italy a kind of collaborative government.

In many ways, this is how I think a country should be run.  The right is keeping things ticking over for business, while the left, at the same time, is watching over the social well-being of the country’s citizens.  The result, potentially, is a win-win situation in which businesses create jobs, generate profits and, of course, tax income.  Profit should mean more people are working, which, in turn, means greater consumption, and demand.  Greater tax income means better services can be provided, and as a consequence, Italy will move forward, instead of stagnating.

The above scenario is, admittedly, rather simplistic, but at the end of the day, it is how countries should be run. Coordination is much more effective than fragmentation, and more productive too.

Even if it is a little early to see concrete results in Italy, Monti is working.  Previous Italian governments simply bickered and collapsed with predictable regularity.

The trouble is Italy’s traditional and utterly ineffectual Italian political system may raise its ugly little head once Monti’s tenure comes to an end in 2013.  What a terrifying thought, and I know I am not the only one who worries about this prospect.  Ex-politician and Italy Chronicles contributor, Stephen Lusher feels the same way.

The question is then, what can be done to ensure a Monti type collaborative technocratic system can be integrated into democracy?  Here is one possible solution which may provide a little food for thought.  Let’s call it Montocracy in tribute to its founder.

This how Montocracy would work in Italy.

Technocrat Cabinet

Prior to national elections, Italy’s president and political parties would work together to nominate potential cabinet ministers and and deputy ministers.  The president would have the final say on the make up of the technocrat cabinet.  The reason behind this restriction is that it should ensure only the most technically competent make it into the highest echelons of government.

Mario Monti, along with Italy’s president, selected a team of competent technicians and administrators who are putting the interests of Italy ahead of political ideology.  This, I feel, is correct – as both left and right political philosophies can be combined to produce policies which benefit all sectors of the population.

The nomination process for cabinet or deputy minister positions would commence a year before national elections are due.

In answer to criticism that such a system is not democratic, I would say that as the cabinet is nominated by democratically elected politicians and a president who is also appointed by elected politicians, the technocrat core would be a product of democracy, albeit indirectly.

Three Houses

The total number of elected members sitting in Italy’s lower house would be proportional to the population of each region to ensure fair representation.

In Italy’s upper house, there would be fewer seats, but the total would be tied to the number of regions of Italy, with more populous regions obtaining great representation in Italy’s parliament.

Less populous regions could always form alliances in either house to ensure their regions interests are protected.

The top tier would become a third non-political technocratic house which would decide policy, but would not be able to create laws without the support of the elected houses.

Candidates Linked to Policy Areas

Before being elected, each politician from each region of Italy and each political party who wished to be proposed as a candidate to stand for election to either the upper or lower house would have to specialise in one of the following policy areas: foreign policy, employment, health, social welfare, law and order, civil defense and national defense, finance, education – schools and higher education (two candidates), tourism, culture, and trade, etc, etc, if I have missed a few.

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The candidates would present themselves as experts on their chosen policy area at both regional and national level.  Smaller regions could combine to nominate enough candidates to represent the total number of policy areas.   Political parties would select and ‘train’ candidates.

Five Year Elections

National elections, held every five years, would decide who sits where in the directly elected chambers, so the system would be democratic.  A right wing majority could vote for laws which favor its electorate, and vice versa if a left leaning majority should clinch power.

To avoid hung parliaments, the party or coalition which won the national elections with the greatest number of votes overall would automatically be granted a majority in the lower house.  The extra seats would be offered to the members of the winning party or coalition on the basis of the total votes the individual candidates received, or on the basis of their specialist knowledge, provided they obtained a specific minimum number of votes.

Seats in Italy’s upper house would be assigned on a simple majority basis.

Two Terms

Members of both houses would be limited to two terms of office, but both during and after their two terms could also be proposed as candidates for cabinet and deputy ministerial positions in subsequent governments.

The ministers and their deputies which would comprise the cabinet would be skilled experts in their fields – technocrats, and would decide on policy and on which legislative proposals made by the political parties should become laws.

Working in conjunction with all-party committees, the technocrat cabinet would then draft the requisite laws, which would only become transformed into legislation after the holding simple majority vote in Italy’s parliament – at both levels, the chamber of deputies and the senate.

After a maximum of three readings, laws, originating in either house which do not receive a majority vote will be shelved.  Such laws may be re-proposed at any time.

As is the case today in Italy, newly established laws could be challenged by judges in order to add an extra check mechanism.  Although such a check mechanism may not be necessary.

Italy’s president could also retain the right to return laws to one of the two houses for one final reading and vote, on constitutional grounds, or at the behest of the cabinet.

The Benefits

Italy would have a government which governed in the interests of Italy – not, as is the case at present, solely for the benefit of the parties.

Democracy would exist because if the right wins a majority and pushes though effective laws, it will be rewarded at election time, or punished in which case the left would take control.  Parliament would act as a form of training ground for future ministers.

The technocrat cabinet would only suggest pass workable laws and measures which are viewed as being productive for Italy’s future – which is what is happening at present in Italy.

The Problems

Italy’s age old bugbear – corruption.  It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Italy’s political parties would connive and propose candidates for the technocrat core which would be, how can one put this, er, friendly and flexible.  Monti has, to an extent, tried to distance concerns over his ministers vested interests by obliging his cabinet to place wealth declarations, including share holdings and investments, online.

Transparency is a fairly effective corruption counter-measure.  Stiffer jail sentences would be another, as would requiring all of Italy’s politicians to put details of their income and possessions on the world wide web for all those in Italy to see.   While some party politicians are doing this now – others appear to be rather reluctant.

Will such a system emerge?  Maybe not, and the thoughts expressed here may not be workable anyway, but somebody may read them and start thinking, and not only in Italy – democracy needs rejigging for the modern world, and countries need to be managed by skilled professionals, not simply by fast talkers.

Interestingly, Monti’s predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi is proposing a post-Monti mega-coalition of all parties.  This is not such a bad idea, except for the fact Italians will worry that their country will fall into the hands of one huge corrupt clique – as has been the case in Italy since the end World War 2.

Over to you. Thoughts more than welcome.

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