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News Analysis: Italy's Renzi takes on parliament in plan to slash spending

English.news.cn   2014-03-11 05:08:31

By Eric J. Lyman

ROME, March. 10 (Xinhua) -- If there is one thing most people in Italy know about new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi it is his dislike for the country's unwieldy and expensive parliament. Analysts say his legacy may depend on whether he'll be able to do something about it.

Before becoming prime minister, the 39-year-old Renzi criticized the upper house of parliament, the Senate, as unnecessary. And as the head of government -- a position he has held since Feb. 22 -- he has renewed calls for slashing the size and cost of the country's political system. His most visible target? Parliament.

Between its two houses, Italy's parliament includes 950 members -- far more than any other country in Europe, excluding Britain, where the House of Lords serves a consultative role and whose members are unelected.

There are historical reasons for the high number: Italy's 1948 constitution was designed to bolster the power of the legislative branch of government as a reaction to the Benito Mussolini-led Fascist government and its strong executive branch that led Italy into World War II.

But it's not just the size of the legislature that bothers Renzi and other critics, it is parliament's cost. A new study from the industrial lobby group Confindustria noted that the average salary in the lower house, now 121,000 euros excluding a raft of benefits ranging from free travel to free football tickets, is among the highest in the world, and more than double the pay rate in Britain, the only other European legislative chamber of comparative size.

On top of all that, parliament is ineffective. Almost all members miss votes on a regular basis, and a large handful show up for fewer than 1 vote out of 10. Legislation proposed in the chamber has only a 1 percent chance of becoming law, and the fractured blocs make reaching consensus a challenge for all but the most popular laws.

The trouble for Renzi's plans to confront parliament's excesses is that his reforms will need approval from the same legislative body he wants to shrink. Many of the reforms would require a super majority, meaning two-third of the country's lawmakers would have to vote for a process that could mean they would lose their job or at the very least see their salary and benefits cut.

Renzi is not the first political leader who set his sites on changing the country's political system. In the last two years alone, Renzi's predecessors Enrico Letta and Mario Monti tried and failed.

"This will be the ultimate battle," said Roberto Perotti, a macroeconomics professor at Bocconi University in Milan. "If he succeeds, he will go down in history as the man who finally defeated the political caste in Italy."

Perotti is a member of the task force Renzi created to study ways to downsize the legislature, but he is quick to point out that Renzi taste for cost cutting does not end with parliament. Regional councils, which include more than 1,000 elected regional councilors cost the country around 2.5 billion euros (3.5 billian U.S. dollars) a year, nearly half the estimated 6 billion euros spent on elected legislative bodies at all levels of government. That figure rose by around one-eighth last year, Perotti said.

Renzi addressed the issue in his address to parliament ahead of his confidence vote in late February: "The idea that there is a political class on one side and average citizens on the other is dying," he said.

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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