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Analysis. To defend her reform – cast, as per tradition, as the “mother of all reforms from which everything else flows” – Meloni hammered on economic issues.

Meloni tiptoes toward ‘mother of all reforms’

As the reform expanding the prime minister’s powers arrived in the Senate, the premier started to display a different attitude. She stopped with the vintage populist tropes she was using to sell the direct election of the prime minister: “Do you want to decide for yourselves or do you want others to decide for you?” Instead, she put on the appearance of someone open to discussion, extolling dialogue even though in substance she is still barreling forward like a tank.

She ordered her parliamentary majority to avoid any radical maneuvers to bypass the opposition’s filibuster of nearly 3,000 amendments. The reform will almost certainly be voted on soon after the European elections, not before. That’s not bad for her: getting to the polls with the opposition manning the barricades on the Senate floor would be worse.

For its part, the opposition is openly on the warpath. The PD secretary, speaking in front of the extraordinary assembly of senators, denounced Meloni’s accelerated push, dictated “by electoral reasons: since they have nothing to run on, they want to boast about these dangerous reforms. I am asking you to make a wall with your bodies and your voices.” On the Senate floor, the voices have certainly made themselves heard. In the general debate alone, following the vote on the preliminary objections regarding the reform’s constitutionality, which were predictably rejected, 70 senators signed up to speak: nine from the majority, the others from the opposition. As for the bodies, we will all have an opportunity to bring them into play on June 2, at the national demonstration called by Schlein in Rome against the expansion of the prime minister’s role and against differentiated autonomy.

Nonetheless, the PD secretary is wrong on the claim that the rush is dictated by the elections. The premier understood that she was risking big at the referendum and that she could pay a price at the European polls if she adopted a too-conspicuously-overbearing position. So Meloni chose to do everything she could to throw the accusation of being inflexible back at the opposition: “I believe in dialogue, but how do you do that with those who want to ’build a wall with their bodies’? One can’t tell if that’s a threat or evidence of a lack of arguments.” Schlein had some harsh words of her own as she shot back: “What a shame, and what a sham. We did bring our arguments to the only meeting the government was willing to have, but our proposals were not taken into consideration.”

However, when not trading blows with her opponent, Meloni is avoiding polemical tones: for instance, in her long speech at the conference on the prime minister reform organized at the Senate on Wednesday, and this is no accident. She took the time to offer a direct reply to Luciano Violante, who had criticized the reform on its merits and pointed out its limitations, but had also said he was absolutely in favor of “democracy being the decider.” The whole rigmarole was meant to show that the government was willing to enter into dialogue if the other side is: “We did not barge into this, but are treading lightly. We haven’t ‘overturned the Constitution,’ we only touched 7 articles. It was a choice for dialogue, and we are always ready for dialogue, as long as it’s not a delaying tactic.”

To defend her reform – cast, as per tradition, as the “mother of all reforms from which everything else flows” – Meloni hammered on economic issues. She claimed it was the absence of stability that was setting the country back and clipping the wings of growth – “otherwise, we would have to say that in France and Germany, where growth before COVID was 20 points and not four points as here, the politicians are much better than ours, and that is not the case.” Stability means development, investment, the ability to put a long-term strategy in place. That’s exactly what the expanded powers for the prime minister would accomplish, according to the prime minister and originator of the reform.

What about the president’s powers? “We chose not to touch them. He will no longer appoint the prime minister and will not be able to dissolve Parliament, but those are things he doesn’t even do now when there are stable majorities. When he has to do that, he is exercising a supplementary role that doesn’t add to his own.” To avoid such deputization, the power to dissolve Parliament, that is, the essential prerogative of the president, would pass directly to the premier. This is specified in the government’s amendment that “clarifies” the ambiguous anti-reversal rule: in case of a no-confidence vote, it will be the premier who will decide whether to pass on the role to a member of the same majority or go to the polls. Nobody is saying what exactly is left for the president to do: deliver the new year’s speech on TV, we guess.

Meloni’s exchange with Violante also touched on the role of Parliament. Indeed, the former president of the Chamber was one of the few to point out that the real killer blow in the reform is the transformation of the republic into a “semi-parliamentary” one. “Now that is an interesting topic,” replied Giorgia the Apostle for Dialogue. She retorted that it was the use of emergency decrees that was stifling the power of Parliament, not direct election, and added: “I’m all for strengthening the legislative power of Parliament. Let’s talk about it.” Perhaps she would have done well to think about that and come up with something before putting together a reform that would eviscerate the little that remains of parliamentarianism.

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