Italy’s Renzi Calls for German-Style Voting System

German voting rules could pave the way for a grand coalition to keep the Five Star Movement out of power.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and German chancellor Angela Merkel address a joint news conference in Berlin, March 25, 2014
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and German chancellor Angela Merkel address a joint news conference in Berlin, March 25, 2014 (Bundesregierung)

Italy’s Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi, has called for a German-style voting system in his country that could pave the way for a left-right coalition government.

Italy must have voting reform before elections can be held this year or next.

Renzi’s last attempt at rationalizing the system ended in failure when Italians rejected his plan to weaken the Senate in a referendum.

Earlier reforms for the lower house were enacted, meaning the two chambers would now be elected under different laws. Italy’s Constitutional Court has instructed lawmakers to harmonize the rules before calling elections.

Threshold

In an interview with the Roman newspaper Il Messaggero, Renzi said the German system was possible “in theory” and had “some virtues”.

One advantage — from Renzi’s perspective — is that it requires parties to get at least 5 percent support to qualify for seats in parliament.

As prime minister from 2014 to 2016, Renzi tried to introduce a similar threshold but was forced to lower it to 3 percent under pressure from small parties.

Since then, far leftists have split from the Democratic Party and they are polling at close to 5 percent support.

The Democrats are neck and neck with the populist Five Star Movement, which seeks to take Italy out of the euro and switch to a more Russia-friendly foreign policy.

Both would get around 30 percent support. But if a vote for the far left is wasted, it could boost the center-left’s numbers.

The right-wing Forza Italia and Northern League are polling at a combined 25 percent support.

Grand coalition

Forza Italia, which is led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has also come out in favor of the German model.

The parties previously teamed up to reform the electoral system only to fall out when Democrats in the Senate voted to ban Berlusconi from public office after he was convicted of tax fraud.

Another reform alliance could pave the way for a German-style “grand” coalition between the two parties.

Renzi left open the possibility in his interview with Il Messaggero. “If we don’t have the numbers, it’s obvious that we would have to do deals with others,” he said. “That’s what the German model means.”