[Editor’s Note: In this installment of I•CONnect’s Book Review Series, Matteo De Nes reviews The Italian Parliament in the European Union (Oxford: Hart 2017) edited by Nicola Lupo & Giovanni Piccirilli.]
–Matteo De Nes, Post-doc Fellow in Constitutional Law, University of Padua, Italy
Nicola Lupo and Giovanni Piccirilli’s edited book addresses a very hot topic in the recent legal and political debate in Italy. It represents an original and almost unique scientific contribution in the English language about the Italian Parliament.
The book was published at the end of the current legislature, close to the forthcoming parliamentary election announced for March 4, 2018. This perfect timing prompts some reflections on the role of the Italian Parliament within the EU legal order, especially since the European integration process is not as popular as before.
After about five decades of a general permissive consensus on the European project, the Italian political arena is now seeing a widespread euro-skepticism. This is mainly due to the massive austerity policies that Italy has implemented since 2011, following the mantra ‘This is required of us by Europe’. Moreover, the intergovernmental way to face the economic crisis and the central role played in it by non-democratic institutions – like the European Commission and the European Central Bank – increased the mistrust of the entire European project. Significantly, the first line of this book’s foreword, written by Professor Andrea Manzella, asks: “To what extent is the Parliament of a Member State of the European Union still sovereign?”.
Moving from this question, the numerous articles of the book, excellently written by several scholars and parliamentary officers, successfully show the evolution, features, and problematic aspects of the Italian Parliament within the European framework. This evolution has been characterized by a progressive and silent adaptation of the Italian Constitutional order in the European integration process – adaptation that has been primarily triggered by executive and judicial powers. According to the elitist origin of the European Union, the Italian representative assemblies – the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic – tended to play a secondary role.
However, since the early Nineties, the progressive increase of the EU competences, together with the greater impact of the EU law provisions on several social and economic fields, has fostered the debate on how to make national Parliaments closer to EU Institutions and EU decision-making processes. Consequently, the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon surely enhances Parliaments’ prerogatives, accelerating the Europeanization process of national representative assemblies. Lupo & Piccirilli’s book accurately addresses and assesses all the relevant provisions of the EU Treaties, as well as the correspondent national law on the participation of Italy in EU affairs (in particular, law n. 234/2012). Many profiles have been deeply and brilliantly analyzed, among which are: the evolution of the Italian parliamentary system and its electoral systems, the process of implementing EU law within domestic borders, the different approaches of the two Houses, the coordination with Italian Regional Councils, and the relationships between the Italian Parliament and EU Institutions.
Going through the different chapters of the book, the reader frequently runs into a potential paradox: just when the EU Treaties have started to grant national Parliaments a greater participation in European decision-making processes, the Parliaments’ role seems to be even more marginalized. Indeed, on the one hand, functions of national Parliaments have been expanded, in particular through the Early Warning System – namely the scrutiny on the compliance of EU draft proposals with the principle of subsidiarity –, the so-called ‘political and economic dialogue’ between national Parliaments and the European Commission, and interparliamentary cooperation. On the other hand, according to neo-liberal logic, the new European economic governance has developed pervasive tools to supervise national fiscal and financial decisions, channeling the parliamentary discretion towards specific budgetary policies established at the supranational level.
However, this paradox could be merely apparent. As the book clearly highlights, the new functions accorded to national Parliaments by the Treaty of Lisbon do not give Parliaments strong powers (e.g. veto powers) in the EU decision-making processes. These functions are rather oriented to increase the voice of representative assemblies, as well as their full awareness of mechanism under which EU provisions are taken. Therefore, in adopting and implementing EU law, the most significant prerogative of national Parliaments of Member States remains to monitor and supervise the activity of the Government. As a consequence, representative Houses are still at risk of being indirect and even formal executors of decisions taken elsewhere between national and EU executives.
The aforementioned substantial marginalization of representative assemblies seems emblematic looking at the Italian case in the recent austerity era. Just after the last parliamentary election in Italy in 2013, during a press conference, the ECB President Mario Draghi was asked to comment on the uncertainty created by the election result and the consequent potential turbulence in financial markets. The President answered that “much of the fiscal adjustment Italy went through will continue on automatic pilot” – meaning that austerity policies were far from being overturned.
From this point of view, the book probably could have put more emphasis on the potential weakening of Parliament’s prerogatives, especially in light of the 2012 constitutional reform. This reform has strengthened the external constraints in national budgetary policy, and the Italian Constitution now explicitly requires balanced budgets and the sustainability of public debt in accordance with EU law. Remarkable concerns on the protection of fundamental constitutional rights arose from these constraints, fostering an intense debate on how to balance two sets of constitutional provisions: social rights on the one hand, fiscal rules on the other. The Parliament is firstly called to make this delicate balancing, but its political discretion is considerably limited since it must comply with specific economic targets and guidelines defined at the EU level.
In conclusion, Lupo & Piccirilli’s book deserves a special credit for remembering that, after all, Member States’ Parliaments still represent the highest expression of popular sovereignty within the European Union; their ability to influence the EU decision-making processes is necessary to the democratic legitimation of the EU itself. However, as many chapters highlight, this is mainly a political problem: the success of a greater participation of national assemblies in EU affairs strictly depends on how different actors – Parliaments, Governments, and EU Institutions – interpret their role in this complex scenario.
Suggested Citation: Matteo De Nes, Review of Nicola Lupo & Giovanni Piccirilli’s “The Italian Parliament in the European Union”, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Feb. 27, 2018, at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2016/07/book-review-matteo-de-nes-on-nicola-lupo-giovanni-piccirillis-the-italian-parliament-in-the-european-union.