Italy votes to cut number of MPs and senators by more than a third

Italy's parliament on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to approve slashing the number of lawmakers in new constitutional reforms.

Italy votes to cut number of MPs and senators by more than a third
Italy's chamber of deputies in September 2019. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italy currently has the second-highest number of lawmakers in the EU after Britain – some 630 elected representatives in the lower house and 315 in the Senate.

Cutting the total number of MPs and senators in Italy by 345 – a move dubbed the “taglia poltrone” by Italian media – was a flagship manifesto promise of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is now in power as part of a coalition government, after promising voters it would tackle political elitism and wasteful spending.

The move, linked to broader electoral law reforms, was passed by 553 Mps, with just 14 voting against and two abstentions.

“It's done!” the M5S said on its blog. “Promise kept.”

The constitutional reform, which could be subjected to a popular referendum in the coming months, also needs to pass in Italy's upper house.

It cuts the number of MPs to 400 and senators to 200 from the next legislature, with an expected saving of some 100 million euros a year.

Five Star Movement leader and Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio. Photo: AFP

Italy currently has the second-highest number of lawmakers in the EU after Britain – some 630 elected representatives in the lower house and 315 in the Senate

Italy's current left-leaning government also hopes the planned constitutional reforms, which also include changes to electoral law, could help keep the populist right from power.

Critics have warned however that the cut could affect popular representation, and increase the influence of lobbyists over governing institutions – all for a minimal saving that will have little effect on debt-laden Italy's book balance.

Italy currently has one of the highest numbers of lawmakers in the EU – some 630 elected representatives in the lower house and 315 in the Senate.

Italy also has the third-highest number of lawmakers in the world, after China, which has nearly 3,000 members of parliament, and the UK, with a total of 1,443 (793 of which are unelected members of the House of Lords, or upper house).

This was Italy's eighth attempt to cut its number lawmakers since 1983, according to the Open news website.

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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.