News Analysis: Why do Italian governments collapse so often?

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-27 06:18:08|Editor: Yamei
Video PlayerClose

ROME, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- When the government of Giuseppe Conte collapsed last week, it was 11 days short of its 15th month in power. That means it actually increased the average duration of a post-World War II government in Italy.

When a new government is named - most likely this week - it means Italy will have its 69th government since the end of World War II a little more than 74 years ago, an average of just less than 13 months per government.

That is a revolving door like no other in Europe. Over that same 74-year period, Spain has had 23 governments; France, 13 governments; the United Kingdom, 28 governments; Germany, 26 governments.

In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who became Germany's head of government in 2005, has been in power so long she has seen nine Italian governments come and go.

What is it that makes Italian governments so fragile?

Part of the problem, according to expert observers, is a characteristic of Italian culture that includes a lack of faith in government, something that contributes to high levels of tax evasion and the country's large black market economy.

Strong regional identities are another factor. The Italian peninsula has a long and rich history, but as a unified country, Italy has existed for only 158 years and allegiances and priorities still vary widely from region to region. Massimo d'Azeglio, one of the architects of Italian unification, famously declared after unification was complete: "We have made Italy; now we have to make Italians." For many, that is still an ongoing process.

But according to most commentators, the biggest problems are baked into the country's political DNA. The authors of Italy's 1946 constitution were wary of a system that could put too much power into the hands of a single figure, like Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, and who led Italy's into World War II.

That resulted in a parliamentary system with a relatively weak prime minister's office, forcing heads of governments to use risky confidence votes to pass reforms. If a leader loses a confidence vote, he and his entire government are required to step down.

The wide array of political identities has also created a wide array of political parties. In last year's general election, seven parties earned representation in parliament. No fewer than 16 parties earned at least 100,000 votes nationally, and a dozen more appeared on ballots in at least half of Italy's 20 regions. That means governments often include support from a patchwork of political groups. In some cases, the departure of just one or two can bring a government down.

"Italy has too many political parties, too many conflicting interests," Arianna Montanari, a sociologist and political scientist at Rome's La Sapienza University, told Xinhua. "The more interest there are the more difficult it is for them to work together."

According to researcher and historian Claudio Vercelli from the Gaetano Salvemini Institute for Historical Studies, the rise of the populist Five-Star Movement a decade ago further complicates things. Traditionally, Italy has had a large center-right political party and a large center-left political party. The rise of the Five-Star Movement, Vercelli said, creates three large blocks of voters with very limited overlap between them.

"There are many factors contributing to Italy's political fragility, but the latest is based on having three major political poles," Vercelli said in an interview. "It's hard to form a government with just one and joining any two makes for a weak coalition."

That is the case with the Conte government that just collapsed, which was built on an uneasy coalition featuring the Five-Star Movement with the rightwing League. Odds are the next government will be based on a coalition between the Five-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party. Conte is likely to head that government as well.