Rome

Italy's '10 wise men' reveal proposals to end deadlock

Now up to parties, my successor, says President Napolitano

Italy's '10 wise men' reveal proposals to end deadlock

(By Paul Virgo) (see related story on Berlusconi) Rome, April 12 - The 10 experts Italian President Giorgio Napolitano asked to prepare a government programme capable of winning cross-party support and breaking the nation's political impasse delivered their proposals on Friday. The proposals included a new election system in which only the Lower House of parliament would have political functions, instead of the current system in which the House and Senate are equally powerful. Napolitano said his group of highly respected political and institutional figures had found "common ground" and that it is now up to the political parties to make a "similar effort of good will for an agreement" to break the deadlock Italy has endured since February's inconclusive general election. The head of state, whose seven-year term ends next month, added that he considered his efforts to end Italy's post-election political impasse over. "Now the word and the decisions pass over to the political parties and whoever will be my successor to draw the conclusions," said Napolitano, who turned to the so-called wise men last month. "The initiative to set up these working groups, the mandate I gave them and the reports they produced, represent my final contribution - on the eve of the conclusion of my mandate and the choice of the new president - that I have been able to give to find solutions to the problem of government after the February 24 elections". One of the priorities of the wise men was to find a proposal for a new electoral law to replace the much-criticised current system that failed to produce a clear winner two months ago. Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left alliance came first but has been unable to form a government as it failed to win a working majority in the Senate. The wise men said the current system, in which all laws must be approved by both the House and Senate, was "one of the causes of our institutional system's difficulties in functioning". They proposed that confidence votes and definitive votes on bills should only take place in the Lower House of parliament. While the House will remain "political", they suggested that the Senate become an assembly representing regional governments. They said a new electoral law "could foresee a mixed system (in part proportional representation, in part first-past-the-post) and a high threshold" for parties to enter parliament. The proposal also envisions a "reasonable" quota of bonus seats to the party that comes first in elections, to ensure it can govern, as well as the abolition of specific parliamentary seats for Italians living abroad. The experts said that Italy needs a law on conflicts of interest but stressed that this should not be adopted in a "partisan spirit". The issue is a contentious one in Italy as many have argued ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's political role is incompatible with him owning a massive business empire. They said a law could be forged from proposals prepared by Italy's antitrust authority. They said that "public funding of political activities...is an indispensable factor for democratic competition and to prevent private wealth from improperly impacting political activity". The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which holds the balance of power in a hung parliament, wants all public funding of political parties scrapped after a long series of corruption scandals. The wise men also proposed taking the power to decide on the eligibility of lawmakers from parliament and giving it to "an independent, impartial judge" and forming a register for lobbyists in both the House, Senate and regional assemblies. "Special-interest groups perform a legitimate role, but one that is not always transparent," they said. They proposed asking Brussels to let Rome exceed the 3% budget-to-GDP limit for growth-stoking investments, "especially for projects that receive EU funds". Another suggestion is that the number of permanent parliamentary commissions should be cut from 22 to a maximum of 10 to save money. The experts added that the next government should boost Italy's social safety nets, including greater help for migrants and the unemployed, by the summer. "We did our homework," said a satisfied Valerio Onida, the president of Italy's Constitutional Court and one of the wise men.

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