(By Denis Greenan).
(ANSA) - Rome, June 6 - The unprecedented left-right
government of Premier Enrico Letta on Thursday launched a
bill setting out procedures to reform the Italian Constitution
to streamline government.
Letta has set an 18-month deadline for the reform, which
will be framed by a panel of 40 parliamentarians helped by 35
Reforms will include a new electoral law, cutting the number
of MPs and stripping the Senate of its equal status to the Lower
Law-making is slower in Italy than other countries because
the Senate has the same powers as the House.
The current electoral law has been widely criticised because
it does not let voters pick their MPs and tends to produce
different majorities in the two houses, as happened in
February's general election which led to two months of deadlock.
President Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected to solve the
impasse and shepherded into existence a coalition between
ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom
(PdL) party and Letta's own Democratic Party (PD), traditional
Announcing the reform bill, Constitutional Reform Minister
Gaetano Quagliariello said the path was clear for parliament to
approve it by the end of October 2014.
"The bill lays out the playing field and sets the duration
of the match," he told reporters.
The 40 members of the Italian parliament's two
Constitutional affairs committees will hammer out the reforms
after consulting the 35 'wise men', who are mainly academic
experts on the Constitution and jurists and represent both sides
of the political spectrum.
The reform panel of 20 members of the Lower House and 20
Senators will be set up in October this year when the experts'
recommendations have been received, Quagliariello said.
"By that time, the committee of experts that has been
appointed today will have finished its work and presented
its report to the government," he said.
Reforms to make the House the sole legislative body, cut
the number of MPs and change an electoral law dubbed a 'Pig's
Sty' by its creator in 2006 have almost universal backing.
But another mooted reform, changing the way the Italian
president is elected, is more controversial.
Currently the head of State is voted in by parliament.
There is a groundswell on the right for changing this to
let the Italian people choose him, as in France and the United
States, but this is opposed by some on the left, despite Letta
saying earlier this week he was "open" to it.
The PD is divided over whether having a president elected
by the people is a good idea, with some fearing a charismatic
leader like Berlusconi or anti-establishment
comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who scored heavily in
the general election but is boycotting the old parties, might
ride roughshod over parliament.
Any changes to the Constitution require a two-thirds
majority in both chambers.
If they do not get this, they are subject to a popular
referendum, which can abrogate the reform.
Quagliariello said the new reforms would in any case be put
to a referendum.
Letta has said he will resign if the reforms are not framed
within the 18-month limit he has set.
Previous attempts at sweeping institutional reform have
failed, most notably a two-year Bicameral convention which was
scuppered by Berlusconi.
The government on Thursday put the reform bill on a fast
Some, like employers' body Confindustria, think the
government has its priorities wrong.
Confindustria head Giorgio Squinzi earlier this week said
the PD and PdL should stop "chattering" over such issues and
instead get cracking on reviving an economy that is in its
longest recession for 20 years, with unemployment at record
highs, especially among the young.
Letta replied that growth and jobs were just as high on the
government agenda, as shown by Wednesday's scheduling of a
four-way European jobs summit in Rome June 14 bringing together
ministers from Germany, France, Spain and Italy.