Italian politics: Where dinosaurs rule

Picture: Moyan Brenn, Flickr

In early November the UPF Travel Committee carried out the first trip of this academic year, and the destination was Rome. The aim of the trip was, through meetings with political actors, to get a deeper insight into Italian politics and the current political issues. 

The Italian political system is complex in many ways. When a complex political system is connected with a complex political culture this can get to be too much. It is doubtless difficult to understand the political system for many Italians, and even more difficult for non-Italians. Something that strikes you, when analyzing Italian politics, is the high age of Italian politicians. There are many necessary factors to create a functioning political system and democracy and in Italy it seems that age has been included among those necessary factors. It is possible to imagine that the older a democracy is the better it works, but does democracy work better the older its participants are? In the Italian case: Are older people able to do democracy better than young people?

The Italian parliament consists of two chambers, the chamber of deputies and the senate. In the legislation process bills must be approved in both chambers. An interesting difference between the two chambers is that the voting age for the chamber of deputies is 18 and for the senate 25. The eligibility age for the chamber of deputies is 25 and for the senate 40. These rules might sound surprising, and for that reason the question of why having different voting and eligibility ages for the two chambers was raised during the trip. Though, none of those that were asked had any clear answers and others explained it with tradition. To make a comparison it can be said that the Swedish system is a single-chamber system and has no other voting age than 18. So is also the case for eligibility. The rules for being eligible to stand in parliament in Sweden are the same as those for voting. If you can vote, people can vote for you. When it comes to the EU, EU directives say that the voting age and eligibility age for the European parliament is 18. However, since these are only directives it is up to every country to decide their own rules. In Sweden the minimum age is 18 for both voting and the eligibility for the European parliament, while in Italy it is 18 for voting and 25 for eligibility.

When looking at the political structure and at the politicians sitting in power in Italy the high age is remarkable. The current president Giorgio Napolitano is 88 years old, which means that he will be 95 when his seven year term is over. The former Prime Minister Mario Monti is 70 and his government had an average age of 64. The other potential Prime Ministers in the national election were Berlusconi, aged 77 and Bersani, aged 61. In the senate there are a number of life-time seats appointed to ex officio politicians and people who have contributed extraordinary to Italian culture and society. The oldest of them all, who passed away at the end of 2012, was the Nobel Prize winner in medicine Rita Levi-Montalcini who died at the age of 103.

However, there are signs of change, both positive and negative. In this political sphere of dinosaurs, the current Prime Minister Enrico Letta is, at age 47, seen as a youngster. Another politician that is gaining popularity is the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, 38 years old, who ran for party leadership in Partito Democratico with the politics of “scrap the old guards”, as expressed by SVT correspondent Kristina Kappelin during our meeting with her. A point worth considering is that with Renzi leading the Partito Democratico in the last election the party might have attracted more young people as well as some of those who voted for Beppe Grillo’s MoVimento Cinque Stelle which, moreover, also was a reaction against the old politicians. Many young people are already dejected and effects such as brain drain are a fact. During 2012 80.000 people left the country of which 40.000 were students, according to Kappelin.

The Italian political system is in many ways seen as a gerontocracy – a state ruled by old politicians, but the reaction from its opponents seems to have begun. The importance of the youth for the political future of Italy was many times stressed during the trip. In a meeting with the charismatic politician and former prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro, he particularly expressed while explaining Italian’s corruption problem: “If not to you, who shall I tell?” In short, the future of Italian politics may be in the hands of younger generations and it may be that the question of the importance of age in democracy will not be answered until we see what the future holds.


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