President of the Council of Ministers

   The Italian Constitution of 1948, drawn up by the Constituent Assembly elected in June 1946 was a political compromise based upon careful choices by its authors. One choice was to impede the reappearance of a “Man on Horseback.” If executive powers had been concentrated in the hands of either Palmiro Togliatti or Alcide De Gasperi, the other would have perceived a threat. The postwar Italian republic was thus created on a parliamentary model, which is to say that the executive was chosen by and depends for its life on the support of the legislature. The president of the Council of Ministers has had much less control than, say, an English prime minister over the composition of his cabinet, although he (so far there have been no women) is often referred to as primo ministro or premier. Cabinets have normally been chosen from among the coalition partners’leaders, with account being taken of the intense rivalry among intraparty factions. The Constitution gives the president of the Council only the power to “coordinate” the activities of the government. One consequence of the dominance of the political parties has been the ease with which parties excluded from a share of power and its perquisites can join forces to bring down a government without necessarily being able to agree on the composition of an alternative. In all, Italy had 55 presidents of the Council in the first 50 years of the republic, almost all of whom were drawn from the centrist factions of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC). The exceptions were Giovanni Spadolini (whose government lasted 17 months beginning in June 1981), Bettino Craxi (1983–1987), Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (1993–1994), Silvio Berlusconi (May–December 1994), Lamberto Dini (1995–1996), and Romano Prodi, made president of the Council in May 1996. Ciampi and Dini were apolitical technocrats pressed into service by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro because Parliament was unable to agree upon a nominee from the political parties. Dini’s government, in particular, was unique in that it did not contain a single member of either branch of the legislature, only jurists, professors, economists, and military men brought in to head the main departments of state.
   Enhancing the powers of the chief executive is a central theme in Italian politics today, even though it clearly reverses one of the fundamental institutional choices made in the Constituent Assembly.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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