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Can Italy's Meloni really bring in a new presidential system?

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
Can Italy's Meloni really bring in a new presidential system?
Italy's Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italy's hard-right government has said it aims to push through major reforms to Italy's political system by altering the constitution. But how would it do this - and is it a realistic plan?


Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was in meetings at the Chamber of Deputies' Montecitorio Palace throughout the day on Tuesday, having summoned the country's opposition leaders one by one to discuss her plans to overhaul Italy's political system by changing the constitution.

The country's ruling coalition wants to change Italy's system of government from that of a parliamentary democracy to a French-style semi-presidential system, with direct elections of a president who has the authority to appoint a prime minister and cabinet members, and can even dissolve parliament.

Elly Schlein, the new leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), raised concerns that that issue was being used "to distract from the issues that affect people and the needs of the country: work, healthcare, Pnrr"; while Giuseppe Conte, head of the populist Five Star Movement, emphasised his party's lack of interest in changing the role of the Italian president.

But Meloni's Brothers of Italy party has long campaigned for the change, arguing that it will provide greater political stability and make it easier for governments to enact the wishes of voters.

So what are the prime minister's chances of reaching an agreement with members of the opposition - and what are her options if she doesn't?

Meloni has repeatedly said she has a "mandate" from the Italian people to change the constitution, but this is more rhetorical than meaningful: her only real mandate is the one she received to govern the country when the hard-right coalition she leads was voted into power in September.

READ ALSO: How could Italy's new government change the constitution?

It's true, though, that reforming Italy's political system was a centrepiece of her coalition's programme in the lead up to the elections - alongside a number of other issues, including immigration and the country's declining birth rate.

As The Local wrote when Meloni was first elected, her coalition doesn't have the 'supermajority' it needs to push such a constitutional reform through parliament, so she'll need to call a referendum if she can't bring enough members of the opposition on side to win a two-thirds majority.


In hopes of avoiding this, she appears to have softened from her previous stance of presidenzialismo-or-nothing to being willing to settle for the less radical premierato, which would instead entail giving more powers to the prime minister.

This is the one option that Italian news outlets had speculated some opposition leaders might possibly accept - though as commentators have pointed out, there's currently no clear consensus as to what premierato actually is: it could be anything from giving the premier the power to sack members of their cabinet to direct elections of the prime minister.

In the absence of such a compromise, Italians can expect to be called to the polls in the coming months to decide the matter by constitutional referendum. But according to Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, members of her coalition are divided as to whether this is a good idea.


The outlet raises the spectre of former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who in 2016 tried to pass another (less radical) constitutional reform by a public vote. He staked his premiership on its passing, and he had to step down when it didn't.

Meloni hasn't suggested she would do the same, but it would undoubtedly be embarrassing for her if she lost - which is why the ultimate outcome of Tuesday's meetings will be key for the government, as well as for the rest of the country.

Follow The Local's latest political news from Italy here.


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