CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) — Italy’s Parliament on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to reduce its number of parliamentarians by more than one-third to cut costs and make government more efficient, but critics warn that doing so will not save much money and will damage representative democracy.
Italy’s lower house voted to cut parliamentarians from 945 to 600. Only 14 members of Parliament voted against the measure and two abstained.
The overhaul is to take effect after the next scheduled elections in 2023. It is possible the reform will need to be approved by referendum because it changes the Italian constitution.
Premier Giuseppe Conte said slimming down Parliament will cut “the cost of politics and makes the workings of the chambers more efficient.”
The overhaul is likely to play well with Italian voters, who frequently complain that Italy’s government is bloated and run by overpaid politicians.
Members of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, will dwindle from 630 to 400 while the number of Senators drops from 315 to 200.
With 630 seats, Italy’s lower house is among of the largest in Europe. By comparison, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom has 650 seats and the Bundestag in Germany 709.
Cutting the number of elected national politicians was a longstanding goal of Italy’s governing party, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. The law’s passage gives the 5-Stars a major boost at a time when their popularity is sagging.
“This is a historic reform, an extremely great victory for Italian citizens,” said Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the 5-Stars and Italy’s foreign minister.
The vote also signaled strengthening bonds between the 5-Stars and its new coalition partner in government, the center-left Democratic Party. The Democrats voted in favor of the law even though the party opposed similar reform in the past.
The Democrats, long a major party in Italy, suffered crushing defeat in 2018 elections and found themselves ousted by the 5-Stars and the League, a party with far-right tendencies dominant in Northern Italy. The 5-Stars and the League formed an odd, maverick governing coalition after the 2018 elections based around anti-immigrant and anti-poverty policies. But that coalition collapsed in August, opening the way for the 5-Stars to bring the Democrats back into power.
After this success, the 5-Stars are eager to enact other constitutional reforms.
Many outside of government questioned the wisdom of cutting the number of parliamentarians, saying it undermines democracy and may boost the influence of powerful lobbies.
Gianfranco Pasquino, a politics professor at the University of Bologna, said fewer representatives does not mean better government.
“No one can say that by diminishing the number of parliamentarians those who enter Parliament will be more skillful, more qualified, more efficient,” he wrote on his website.
He called the 5-Stars’ boasts about the change being good for democracy “a baseless exaggeration.”
The leader of the fringe Radical Party, Maurizio Turco, said the law undermines democracy. He blasted the Democratic Party, saying it agreed to back the 5-Stars in voting for the law “out of a thirst for power.”
The 5-Stars tout the parliamentary overhaul as a means to cut wasteful spending. They say the reduction will deliver savings of around $330,000 a day. Cutting costs is critical for Italy because it is struggling under massive public debt.
In reality, critics say, the savings are tiny and will do almost nothing to tackle Italy’s massive debt, which stands at around 130% of its annual GDP.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)