By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Italian Senators have locked horns over a plan from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to dramatically reduce the power of parliament's upper house, casting the future of Renzi's signature reform in doubt.
More than 8,000 amendments have been proposed to Renzi's plan to reduce the power and size of parliament as well as to update the country's electoral law, most with the aim of bringing the reform process to a crawl.
On Tuesday, Senators hurled insults at each other and debate on moving the process forward often broke down into shouting matches. Some Senators threatened to walk out in protest.
"Italians deserve better than the scenes they saw in the Senate," Maria Elena Boschi, Minister of Constitutional Reforms and Parliamentary Relations, told reporters Tuesday after the debate was adjourned.
Experts predicted opposition to Renzi's reform agenda -- particularly among senators asked to vote themselves out of a job. But the intensity of the opposition so far has caught many observers off guard.
"It is embarrassing that while Italy is trying to hold itself up as one of the leaders of Europe, a debate among lawmakers to dissolve into something just short of a schoolhouse brawl," Adrian Wilson, an Italy scholar with the State University of New York system, said in an interview.
The plan is to reduce the size, budget, and power of Italy's Senate so that it more closely reflects the consultative body populated by leaders in commerce and arts and sciences outlined in Italy's 1946 constitution.
Renzi's plan would combine those figures with regional and local leaders who would most likely serve on a volunteer basis. The result would save millions in cost and make passing legislation much easier.
The reform would also revamp electoral laws to make it more likely that a single party could run a stable and efficient government, sidestepping the kind of deadlock that left Italy without a government for three months last year.
But opponents say the plan is aimed at concentrating power in the hands of Renzi and his allies, undermining the power of legislators.
In order to pass, the plan either needs a simple majority of more than 50 percent of lawmakers followed by a national referendum, or two two-thirds majorities among lawmakers in votes held at least two months apart. Renzi prefers the latter, according to Luca Verzichelli, a political scientist with the University of Siena, in part because it would be much quicker and also because it would show a greater consensus.
"Renzi could become the first Italian prime minister to pass a reform of this importance within a year of taking office," Verzichelli told Xinhua. "But if it drags on too long, it would make him seem ineffective."
Renzi, who became Italy's youngest post-World War II prime minister when he took power in February, is not without options. He could build a strong majority by compromising on some of the substantive amendment proposals, for example, or threaten new elections.
What he cannot do, experts said, is abandon or postpone the reforms.
"Of all of Renzi's reform plans this is the one where there's a chance for a clear result," Verzichelli said. "He can try to boot the economy, but that depends a great deal on what happens elsewhere in Europe. Success in foreign affairs is tough to measure. But this is one part where it's clear if he's succeeded or not."