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The Italian Legislature and Legislative Process: A Recent Institution in an Ancient Legal System

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The following is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  Dante has previously written blog posts on canon law and the papacy:  Canon Law Update; Citizenship in the Vatican City State; Medieval Canon Law; and The Papal Inquisition in Modena.  

Dante recently spent three weeks at the Italian Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies) on a professional program to study the Italian legal system and legislative procedure.  This post is a joint collaboration between Dante and Claudio Nardone, Parliamentary Councillor at the Camera dei Deputati and an in-house counsel of the Avvocatura della Camera dei Deputati.

Piazza de la Colonnata
Piazza de la Colonnata (front of Parliament).  Photo by Dante Figueroa.


In the context of European history, the Italian Republic is a recent creation. For most of its history, Italy consisted of a loose amalgam of kingdoms, born following the fall of the Roman Empire in 476. These different kingdoms went through various configurations until the 19th century, when a political movement called Risorgimento launched the idea of the unification of the kingdoms on the Italian peninsula. Giuseppe Mazzini with his Giovine Italia (Young Italy), Giuseppe Garibaldi and his famous Spedizione dei Mille (mission of a thousand people to unite the South to the North of Italy), Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour (the first prime minister of the new Regno di Italia (Kingdom of Italy) are among the most well known leaders of this movement.

At first, the Savoia royal family, sovereigns of the Regno di Sardegna (Sardina kingdom, composed of the modern northern regions of Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta, Liguria and Sardinia) began the unification process through the conquest of nearby regions in the first two wars of independence (1848-1849 and 1859).

In 1860 the Mille expedition added the south of the country to the Regno di Sardegna, with the exception of Romeand the Lazio region, which remained under the control of the Pope. On March 17, 1861, the new Italian Parliament proclaimed the Reign of Italy; the King of Regno di Sardegna, Vittorio Emanuele II, became the king of Italy. In 1866, following the third war of independence, the North-Eastern part of Italy was joined to the new Regno. On September 20, 1870, Rome was conquered by the Italian Kingdom troops, and in 1871 the capital of the kingdom was moved from Florence to Rome. In 1848, Carlo Alberto di Savoia, king of Sardinia, signed the Statuto albertino which provided for a constitutional system of government. This law was later extended to the Kingdom of Italy and was the basis of government until the adoption of the present Constitution in 1948.

According to the Statuto, the Italian Parliament was a bicameral organization, composed of the Senato del Regno (Senate of the Reign), whose members were appointed by the king with a lifelong mandate, and the Chamber of Deputies, elected by a very limited élite of the population. Only in 1918 was the right to vote granted to all men over the age of 21. Legislative power belonged jointly to the Parliament and the king. The king had executive power as well while judicial power was granted to the magistrates.

The Statute recognized individual freedoms, freedom of press and of assembly, right to private property and the principle of equality under the law. Roman Catholicism was proclaimed as the religion of State. In 1922 after a period of social and political unrest Benito Mussolini took power and became Prime Minister.  He established a dictatorship which operated under the Statuto albertino in name, but denied most of the freedoms and rights that it granted. Under the Fascist dictatorship, many of the opponents of the regime were exiled or killed.

The Chamber of deputies was transformed into the Camera dei fasci e delle corporazioni (Chamber of representatives of the Fascist party and corporations), whose members where no longer elected, but chosen by the Head of the Government from the members of the National Council of the Fascist party and the National Council of the Corporations (which represented all the economic sectors).

The Gran Consiglio del Fascismo (Grand Council of Fascism) became a constitutional organization of the State. In 1943, after the defeat of the Italian-German troops in Sicily, Mussolini was removed as Head of Government and arrested. A new Government was appointed by the king; however, Mussolini was freed by the German troops and established the Repubblica sociale italiana (Italian social Republic, known also as the Republic of Salò), a puppet Facist regime in the north of Italy, dividing the country into two parts: the south under the control of the Regno d’Italia and the Allies, and the north under the control of the Fascists and the German troops. The Republic declared Rome as its capital, but was de facto based in Salò, a small town on Lake Garda; it never had full sovereignty – depending both economically and politically on Germany – and collapsed with the end of the German occupation.

With the end of the Second World War, the royal family was forced to accept a referendum aimed at choosing between a monarchy or a republic. The results of the referendum – which took place on June 2, 1946 – were in favor of a republican system.  At the same time, a constituent assembly was elected by universal suffrage and given the task of writing and approving a new republican constitution, which entered into force on January 1, 1948.

The 1948 Constitution declares that Italy is a Democratic Republic founded upon the following main democratic principles: popular sovereignty (art. 1); inviolability of human rights, and political, economic and social solidarity (art. 2); freedom and equality before the law (art. 3); right to work (art. 4); separation of religion and the state (art. 7); and religious freedom (art. 8).

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