Italy’s Renzi Wins Conservative Backing for Senate Reforms

Italy’s two main conservative parties support the prime minister’s effort to significantly weaken the Senate.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi delivers a news conference in Reggio Calabria, May 14
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi delivers a news conference in Reggio Calabria, May 14 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, reached agreement with the conservative opposition parties Forza Italia and Lega Nord on Friday to significantly weaken his country’s Senate.

The proposed reforms take away the upper chamber’s ability to block legislation and should make it easier for a single party or alliance to win a parliamentary majority.

The Senate, currently an elected body, would be reduced to one hundred members, most of whom will be deputized by local governments. They would only be able to delay laws and propose amendments before a final vote takes place in the lower chamber.

Renzi agreed to the outlines of electoral reforms with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia in January but the former prime minister had repeatedly threatened to go back on the deal since.

A separate reform of the country’s voting system, which is widely blamed for making Italy close to ungovernable, is still up in the air. Representatives of Renzi’s Partito Democratico are due to meet with members of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement next week to discuss an overhaul. The group had earlier refused to take part in discussions.

In January, Berlusconi and Renzi proposed to introduce a 5 percent election threshold as well as runoffs in case no single party or bloc won an absolute majority. The threshold was later lowered to 4.5 percent which is almost exactly the support Renzi’s coalition party, Nuovo Centrodestra, got in May’s European Parliament election.

Nuovo Centrodestra, led by interior minister Angelino Alfano, split from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia last year when the latter left the government.

The biggest left- and right-wing parties had been forced into a coalition when neither won a majority of the seats in the Senate.

Before finalizing the Senate reform — designed to avoid a repeat of last year’s political crisis — Renzi had to quell a minor rebellion in his own party. Fourteen Democratic senators last week said they were “suspending themselves” from the party in protest to the proposed overhaul. They dropped their threats on Tuesday.