Renzi and Berlusconi announce deal on electoral reform

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Financial Times – Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi took a big step towards revamping Italy’s electoral laws on Wednesday, cementing an unusual alliance between the current and former prime ministers in an attempt to bring more stability to its political system.

Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi issued a joint statement late on Wednesday announcing a deal that would give more seats in parliament to the winning party in a poll and therefore give its leader a stronger majority in parliament. “Italy needs an institutional system that guarantees the ability to govern [and] a certain winner on election night,” Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi said, adding that this would help bring “respect among political forces so they can confront each other in a civil manner, without partisan hatred”.

Not all the details of the law have been ironed out, and some differences remain, but the pair said it could move through the senate by year end. Since taking office nine months ago, Mr Renzi has sought to push through several political reforms to make it easier on himself – and future leaders – to govern. Mr Renzi’s focus on political reforms has attracted some criticism internationally from critics who say he should spend more time on economic reforms instead. The prime minister’s advisers say streamlining legislation is essential to competitiveness.
As well as the electoral changes, Mr Renzi has proposed stripping the senate of many of its powers on the grounds that a single legislative chamber would make it significantly easier, and faster, for policies to gain parliamentary approval. Such big changes could only be enacted with the support of a wide range of political views, so it is natural that Mr Renzi courted Mr Berlusconi.

In their statement, Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi said the current parliament, elected in 2013, should continue until the end of its term in 2018. But there is already speculation that Mr Renzi could push for new elections if his agenda is stymied by lawmakers or his high levels of popular support begin to dwindle.
On paper Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi are foes – Mr Renzi from the centre-left and Mr Berlusconi, forced out of office at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2011, from the centre-right. However, in January of this year, a month before Mr Renzi rose to power, they met to forge a common strategy on certain reforms, a plan that appears to be sticking.

The “Nazareno” pact, as it was dubbed in reference to the name of the street of the Democratic party’s headquarters, has taken on an almost mythical importance this year, with critics portraying it as a shadowy secret pact between the pair. The relationship between the two has ebbed and flowed since then, but Wednesday’s agreement shows it is alive and well, assuming the electoral law is passed and progress is made on shaking up the senate.
One breakthrough after Wednesday’s talks was that Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi agreed on the threshold beyond which a winning majority would gain a special premium in terms of seats in parliament, from 37 per cent to 40 per cent. But they are still split on whether individual parties should receive the boost in lawmakers, as Mr Renzi wants, or whether it should go to winning coalitions, as Mr Berlusconi prefers. On economic policy, too, Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi have found some areas of convergence, with some centre-right politicians supporting the former mayor of Florence’s efforts to make it easier for companies to hire and fire, in defiance of trade unions.

The “Nazareno” pact, as it was dubbed in reference to the name of the street of the Democratic party’s headquarters, has taken on an almost mythical importance this year, with critics portraying it as a shadowy secret pact between the pair. The relationship between the two has ebbed and flowed since then, but Wednesday’s agreement shows it is alive and well, assuming the electoral law is passed and progress is made on shaking up the senate. One breakthrough after Wednesday’s talks was that Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi agreed on the threshold beyond which a winning majority would gain a special premium in terms of seats in parliament, from 37 per cent to 40 per cent. But they are still split on whether individual parties should receive the boost in lawmakers, as Mr Renzi wants, or whether it should go to winning coalitions, as Mr Berlusconi prefers.

On economic policy, too, Mr Renzi and Mr Berlusconi have found some areas of convergence, with some centre-right politicians supporting the former mayor of Florence’s efforts to make it easier for companies to hire and fire, in defiance of trade unions. Meanwhile, in the event that President Giorgio Napolitano steps down as expected early next year, the pair will have to seal a deal on a new head of state and referee of politics.

James Politi

Financial Times

12 November 2014

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