Italy’s birth as a nation began in 1861 when the city/states of the peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily united under the regime of King Victor Emmanuel.
Originally Greeks had settled in the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in the 7th and 8th century B.C. Etruscans and Romans populated the central and northern regions
By the third century A.D. the peninsula had been unified under the Roman Empire along with the neighboring islands. The Empire dominated the Mediterranean world from 1 A.D. until its collapse in 5 A.D. After the empire’s collapse all the once controlled regions were plagued by political discourse, which made them vulnerable to invasion.
In the 11th century the commercial prosperity in the country’s northern and central cities combined with the influence of the Renaissance tempered the effects of the existing medieval political rivalries. The calm allowed for the idea of a single Italian government to blossom.
By 1861 a nationalist movement had emerged and reunified Italy, except for Rome, which would follow in 1870, and Victor Emmanuel was proclaimed King.
Italy remained a constitutional monarchy with a parliament elected until 1922 when Benito Mussolini established a fascist dictatorship. Mussolini’s disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy’s defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and was buoyed by the economic revival that followed.
Italy is a charter member of NATO and the ECC (European Economic Community)
Italy has been at the forefront of the European economic and political unification and has been a member of the European Monetary Union since 1999.
Italy has the fifth highest population density in Europe (490 people per square miles). Though Italian is the primary language there are still a few minority groups through the country. The largest group is the German-speaking people of Bolzano province and the Slovene in Trieste. There are also small blocks of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French inhabitants as well.
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion among Italians but all faiths are granted equal freedoms under the present constitution. The Roman Catholic Church, though dominant, had its temporal powers ended in 1870 with a series of pacts with Italy’s government. The Lateran Pacts of 1929 recognized Vatican City as a sovereign entity. The pacts also include an end of Roman Catholicism as the nations state religion. This allowed for Protestant and Jewish communities to evolve as well as a growing Muslim immigrant community.
Italy’s Renaissance period during the 14th and 15th centuries began a cultural revolution that would eventually spread throughout Europe. Authors such as Petrarch, Tasso, and Arioso emerged and invoked a long lasting influence over the literary world, as did the
eras artists and composers. The Italian romantic operas penned by Rossi, Verdi, and Puccini along with the artistry of Raphael, Botticelli and Michelangelo set lofty standards that their colleagues today strive for. Todays Italy continues in today’s world to be a strong contributor to Western culture. Voting in Italian elections is open to anyone over eighteen years of age except in senatorial elections where the minimum voting age is twenty-five years.
The Italian government is a centralized one. Each leader of the five provinces are appointed by and made accountable to the central government. The Italian constitution also provides for twenty regions, which are governed by limited powers. The regions of Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d’Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Gullah operate under special autonomy statues. The remaining fifteen, which were established in 1970, vote for regional councils.
The Legislative Branch
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament made of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies (Camera Dei Deputati) consists of 630 seats of which 475 seats are directly elected. The remaining 155 seats are elected by regional representation. All members serve five-year terms. The Senate (Senato della Republica) is made up of 315 seats that are elected by a popular vote. 232 of the senate seats are directly elected and the remaining 83 are elected by a regional proportional representation. There is also a small number of “senators for life which includes former presidents. Legislation may originate in either House but a majority in both must pass it.
Between 1983 and 1998 there were three Parliamentary commissions appointed to make major revisions to the 1948 Constitution.
The 13th Legislature (1996-2001) passed four amendments that concerned the parliamentary representation of Italians living abroad, the devolution of powers to the regions and the direct election of the Regions Presidents and the guarantee of fair trials in the courts. More recently, the 14th legislature passed a law and an amendment. The law repealed by the legislature limited the civil rights of the male members and descendants of the House of Savoy (Italy’s Royal Family until 1946) and they installed a new provision meant to encourage more female participation in politics.
The Executive branch of the government is led by the president (Chief of State). An electoral college elects the president for a seven-year term. The Electoral College consists of both houses of Parliament and fifty-eight regional representatives. Italy’s leader today is President Carlo Aziglio Ciampi who was elected in 1999. The Prime Minister is referred to as the president of the Council Of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by the President.
The judicial branch of Italy’s government is the Constitutional Court (Camera dei Deputati). Its basis for law is the Italian Constitution of 1948, a written document, which has been amended thirteen times.
The court, as well, was established after World War II. The court is composed of fifteen judges of which a third are presidential appointee, another third are elected by Parliament and the remaining third is elected by ordinary and Administrative Supreme Courts.
The Italian judicial system bases itself on a civil law system where appeals are treated as new trials. The powers of the court are not as extensive as the ones used by the Supreme Court and though judicial review exists it also are not equal to what is practiced in the United States. Italy gives the ultimate decisions to special tribunal rather than to their regular courts.
Political parties (ranked by registered voters)
1. Forza Italia -28.8%
2. Democrats of the Left- 22.1%
3. National Alliance -16%
4.Democrats and Unions of Democrats for Europe-13%
5. White flower Coalition (2 Centralist Parties) 6. %
The rankings apply for both Houses where both of the top two parties are dominant.
Since 1945 turnovers in Italy’s government have been commonplace. Recently as the 1990’s there have been breakdowns in governments, large debt, the end product of organized crime, and extensive government corruption. The “Clean Hands” campaign in the early 90s exposed the high levels of business and politics that corruption had reached. Italians insisted there be massive political, economic, and ethical reforms and voters in 1993 approved referendums for substantial change. The results were eliminating the proportional electoral system for one that was largely a majority electoral system. In 1996 the center-left coalition began a five-year run of dominance in the Italian political arena.
Italy has the fifth largest economy in the world. Italy primary trading is within the European Union. Since World War II Italy has moved from an agricultural based economy to an industrial state. Italy is a member of the Group of 8 (G-8) industrialized nations, the European Union, and OECO.
The division of wealth in Italy is similar to that of the United States. The southern region of Mezzogiorano is similar to that of America’s Appalachia region. These regions both suffer severe conditions of despair and poverty. Governmental solutions ironically are both stymied by the belief that helping out the poor will only take from the rich
Italy lacks few natural resources but as found cash cow in natural gas. The natural gas systems in Pro Valley and offshore in the Adriatic have proven to be Italy’s most significant resource. Still, Italy imports 80% of its energy sources.
Italy is also short in farmable land but it still boasts 1.8million employed by farming. Italian farms average 7acres which reasons why most of Italy’s food supply is imported.
The small and medium sized family operated manufacturing businesses is Italy’s economic strength. But, most of the ingredients needed in manufacturing are also imported. Italy’s major industry consists of precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and fashions.
Italy had an economic downturn after 9/11 but now appears to be on equal footing with its western European neighbors. Today Italy has a primary budget surplus, which is the result of many years of government cutbacks in spending. Also key to the result was Italy’s ability to control their national debt. Since 1992 the Italian government has made these practices primary as well as developing new ways of generating revenue.
Labor unions in Italy used to be affiliated with political parties but now operate as individual entities. Over 40% of Italy’s work force is a union member. Italy’s unemployment issue, likes it’s division of wealth, is similar to the United States because it’s regional. Italy’s unemployment rates run high in the south and low in the north.
During the 1990’s Italy’s unions made major strives for their members. Among these achievements were a four-year wage moderation agreement, pension reform, and plans to stimulate the market in the economically depressed areas, like the southern region.
But, the same issues that plagued Italy’s government, inadequate infrastructure, corruption, and the effects of organized crime, have made investors suspicious of moving into the southern region.
Women and young people are the most effected and many others choose to work illegally. Illegally hiring practices are widespread but the jobs feature low wages and no protections or benefits. In April of 2002 Prime Minister Berlusconi’s labor reform caused a successful strike to protest by union members.
In 2003, Italy is still famous for its cultural influences, history and cars but still has gray clouds over its political arena. President Ciampi is presently on criminal trial for extoration and was the first President to testify at his own trial. Also, Prime Minister Berlusconi drew headlines for his desire for a close friendship with President George W. Bush. The Prime Minister was aloud supporter for Operation Iraqi freedom. The thousands of big businessmen that were investigated in “Clean Hands” along with the many politicians’ keeps an eagle eye on the sway of the right wing Eurosceptics that reside in Berlusconi’s government.