Analysis. Evidently, the President of the Republic deems it important to counterbalance the government's actions with his own interventions when the former turn out to be divisive for public opinion in the country.

Mattarella responds to the government’s inaction to protect Ilaria Salis

The speed with which the President of the Republic chose to respond to Roberto Salis’ appeal, in less than 24 hours, says a lot about several aspects of the case of Ilaria Salis, the Italian citizen jailed in Hungary awaiting trial in conditions that violate European standards. But it also leads us to reflect on the more general subject of the relationship between the government and the head of state and the proposed reform of a directly-elected prime minister which would overturn the current system.

On Friday afternoon, after the outrageous hearing in Budapest, Ilaria’s father announced that he was sending an appeal to Sergio Mattarella, asking him to “move the Italian government to action, because it hasn’t done what it was supposed to do.” The President of the Republic’s phone call came on Saturday morning, practically immediately, and this was already a signal of agreement with Roberto Salis’s complaint that the Meloni government “hasn’t done what it was supposed to do.”

Another signal confirming this interpretation is the fact that Mattarella himself told his interlocutor he was authorized to spread the news about the phone call. Similarly, a few days ago, on March 26, he authorized the vice-principal of the Pioltello High School, Professor Maria Rendani, to make public his “letter of appreciation” for the work done by the teachers at that school, which had ended up in the crosshairs of Education Minister Valditara.

Evidently, the President of the Republic deems it important to counterbalance the government’s actions with his own interventions when the former turn out to be divisive for public opinion in the country, such as the attack on the Pioltello teachers for their choice of an inclusive approach towards families of a different faith from that of the majority of citizens, or such as the government’s inaction in the case of Ilaria Salis.

The divisiveness of this inaction was explicitly mentioned by Mattarella on the phone call, in which he spoke of a “disparity of treatment between two Italian citizens, a disparity that is hitting a nerve with the public.” The disparity that Roberto Salis and Mattarella discussed is, first of all, the one between Ilaria and Gabriele Marchesi (whom the Italian judiciary decided not to extradite to Hungary, precisely because of the prison conditions he would face if transferred to Budapest). But there is a second implicit disparity, namely that between Ilaria and Chico Forti, the Italian convicted in the U.S. who has been in prison for 24 years, for whom Giorgia Meloni’s activism has been histrionic. Such a deliberate approach taken by Meloni can only magnify her inaction in Ilaria’s case. And knowing that an Italian citizen is only protected by the current government depending on what his or her political views happen to be is certainly a “disparity that is hitting a nerve with the public.”

In the Saturday morning phone call to Roberto Salis, Mattarella said he “will do what is within his powers, which are not extensive at the operational level and go through the government.” It was not so much a remark meant to prepare his interlocutor for a possible failure of his own interventions, but rather one meant to emphasize that the government has “operational possibilities” to help Ilaria, and there is no recourse against what it chooses to do.

Saturday’s phone call and the letter to the Pioltello vice-principal remind us of a famous phrase used by Meuccio Ruini on December 22, 1947, in the Constituent Assembly working on the Constitution. In a remark summarizing the work of the Commission of 75, he defined the figure and role of the President of the Republic in the architecture of the Constitution as follows: “The great moderator and regulator of the powers of the State, the spiritual rather than material head of common life.” Mattarella, a jurist, is very familiar with these words and is working to implement them from the Quirinale Palace. The question we are left with is: Do divisive acts by the government move an already-divided society forward or backward? Mattarella’s phone call is aimed not only at urging the government to take action, but also at holding society together, at the very least on the basis of the fundamental principles of our Constitution, particularly equal rights and inclusiveness. And a second question would be: Is it so difficult to understand that it would be a serious risk to approve the institutional reform of a directly elected prime minister that would introduce an additional divisive element – the direct election of a “Leader” who will come from one particular party – and which would lead to our Republic no longer having a “great moderator” and “a spiritual head” capable of holding the country together? It’s not just a gamble – it’s madness.

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