Normalizing Italy

LONDON – Italy’s political exceptionalism – its chronic inability to marshal coherent governments backed by stable parliamentary majorities – is weakening Europe and threatening the eurozone’s survival. More than electoral reform is needed: Italy requires comprehensive institutional renewal.

Italy’s particular characteristics put its political system and institutional framework at odds with other democracies, and expose the challenges that it faces in becoming a “normal” country. Indeed, these features have made it difficult to produce from a disparate coalition of political forces and interest groups a government that is greater than the sum of its parts.

First, complex structural reforms have been carried out mainly at the initiative of technocratic governments, such as Prime Minister Mario Monti’s current administration. The governments of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 1993 and Lamberto Dini in 1995 implemented significant labor-market and pension reforms, respectively. But elected governments, even those with a large parliamentary majority, such as the last cabinet, led by Silvio Berlusconi, have repeatedly failed to deliver major structural reforms.

Second, Italian politics has long been dominated by “career” politicians who have transformed public service into a lucrative profession. Vested interests often prevail over the public good, and corruption abounds. According to the journalists Marco Travaglio and Peter Gomez, 70 of the 945 members of parliament who were elected in 2008 are under criminal investigation or face pending charges.