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The Italian Constitutional Conundrum and the Rise of Populism

The Italian Constitutional Conundrum and the Rise of Populism
Francesco Bilancia
Publication date: 
Tue, 18 Dec 2018

One of the driving principles behind the contemporary populist vision of democracy is to no longer respect legal boundaries and constitutional constraints to the so-called ‘will of the people’.

Through analysis of the contemporary Italian political situation, this policy brief addresses a number of critical constitutional strains caused by populism, including:

  • conflicts between the needs of the people in the electoral spectrum and deficit spending within the Euro system;
  • the refugee crisis and the reshaping of the constitutional protection of fundamental rights;
  • criticism of the independence of the judiciary;
  • state democratic institutions and their capacity to rule within the EU system of government; and
  • the call for EU constitutional changes, in order to open a new democratic legitimizing process of the European institutions. 


The refugee crisis has been another opportunity for populists in Italy to manipulate popular consent and to capitalize in votes and poll ratings, just as during the UK referendum campaign on Brexit.


The policy brief concludes with a series of proposals for Italian constitutional changes called by the Italian parliament in order to integrate the people more closely into the political and institutional system:

  • reducing the number of MPs;
  • reforming the referendum procedures;
  • implementing the role of the people in the legislative procedure by strengthening its capacity to promote legislative initiatives; and
  • granting these proposals a stronger position within parliamentary procedures.


In order to avoid the rise of charismatic leaders who rule without regard for the constitution and the rule of law, a decay of popular consensus on their screaming reasoning is needed.