Chamber of Deputies 22/04/2013

Speech before the Chambers by the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano

Madame Speaker, honourable deputies, honourable senators, delegates from the Regions,

First of all, allow me to express - together with what for me is a very deeply felt tribute to the institutions you represent - the gratitude I owe you for having elected me President of the Republic by such a large vote. It is a sign of renewed trust that I accept with a full understanding of its spirit and meaning, even though it poses a serious challenge to my strengths. And I appreciate, in particular, that it has been extended to me by so many men and women newly elected to Parliament, who belong to a generation so far removed - not just in terms of their date of birth - from my own.

I know that all of this reflects something that moves me even more deeply. It reflects the trust and affection that I have seen grow in these years among the great mass of citizens, Italians, men and women of every age and region, for me and for the institution I represented. Starting from the people I met in the streets and squares of our towns and cities, in the most diverse social and cultural spheres, to relive, together, the birth and coming of age of our national unity.

As you all know, I did not expect to return to this chamber to utter a new oath and message as President of the Republic.
Last December, I declared that I agreed with the influential conviction that non-re-election, at the end of the seven-year mandate, was "the alternative that best conforms to our constitutional model of the President of the Republic". I also stressed the need to send out a signal of institutional continuity and normality, with a natural succession in the office of Head of State.

These reasons, and other more strictly personal ones linked to the obvious factor of my age, were finally overlaid by others put to me after five ballots in this chamber here in Montecitorio failed, in an increasingly tense atmosphere, to reach a result. They were put to me by members of a broad range of parliamentary forces and nearly all of the Presidents of the Regions.

It is true that the latter, in particular, seemed to me to be keenly aware of the unknowns that can best be perceived at the level of the local institutions, which are closer to the citizens, even though they are at present labouring under leaden clouds of corruption and laxness. Yours are institutions that I listen to and respect, Delegates of the Regions, since you embody the non-centralising vision of the state that was already present at the time of the Risorgimento and must at last be pursued in a serious and coherent spirit.

Those meetings on Saturday morning sounded a dramatic alarm bell for the now looming risk of Parliament - both Chambers - falling in a tailspin into a state of inconclusiveness that renders them powerless to perform the supreme constitutional task of electing the Head of State. Hence the appeal that I felt I could not refuse - much as it may have cost me to accept it - spurred by my long-standing and deeply rooted feeling of identification with the destiny of our country.

The out-going President has never before, in the history of the Republic, been re-elected for a second mandate, even though the Constitution does not rule out this eventuality but - as was significantly noted - has left "a window ajar for exceptional times". So we found ourselves together taking a fully legitimate, but exceptional, decision. Because the risk that I have just mentioned appeared to be unprecedented: unprecedented, and all the more serious at this time of acute difficulty - emergency, even - that Italy is going through in a most critical, and for us ever more urgent, European and international context.

The need, therefore, was to offer - to the country and the world - evidence of awareness and national cohesion, of institutional vitality, of a will to provide answers to our problems. With a rediscovered sense of self-confidence and a re-awakening of international confidence in Italy.

That is the test I did not back away from. In the knowledge, however, that what has happened here in the past few days was simply the end-point of a long series of omissions and faults, of narrow-mindedness and failings of responsibility. Let me put to you just a rapid summary, a brief overview.

Recent years have seen a failure to provide satisfactory solutions to well-founded needs and urgent calls for institutional reform and a renewal of politics and of the parties, in a situation that became interwoven with an acute financial crisis, a grave recession, and growing social malaise. Confrontation, feet-dragging, hesitations over the choices to be made, calculations of expediency, tactical manoeuvring and instrumentalism ended up prevailing. That is what condemned the dialogue between the political forces and debates in Parliament to remain sterile or achieve just minimal outcomes.

What little success was achieved in terms of adjustments and innovation to reduce the operational costs of our Institutions and increase transparency and morality in public life was easily ignored or undervalued. And dissatisfaction with and protest against politics, the parties, the Parliament, were easily (but also heedlessly) fuelled and magnified by deleterious opinion campaigns, by one-sided, indiscriminate and unilateral representations of the world of politicians and of the organizations and institutions in which they act.

But be careful: your applause to this last comment that I felt I had to express should not induce any sense of self-leniency. And I am not referring just to those who share responsibility for the spread of corruption in the various spheres of political life and government, but also to those responsible for so many failed attempts at reform.

Unforgivable was the failure to reform the electoral law of 2005. Just a few days ago, Prof. Gallo, President of the Constitutional Court, was obliged to point out that the Court's recommendation to review, in particular, the provisions concerning the attribution of a "majority bonus", without the minimum threshold of votes or seats having been reached, had been ignored.

Failure to review that law led to a ruthless race to win, on the razor's edge, that anomalous prize, the winner of which ended up unable to govern the resulting over-representation in Parliament. And it is a fact, a fact that was by no means impossible to predict, that the election result produced by the law in question was one of difficult governability, and of new frustrations among citizens who had not been given the chance to choose those elected to represent them.

No less unforgivable is the failure to make any headway on the reforms - limited and targeted as they were - pertaining to the second part of the Constitution, reforms that took such effort to agree on and yet which never managed to break the taboo of "equal bicameralism".

There is much more that I could say, but I shall stop here, because on these specific issues I have already expended all possible efforts of persuasion. Efforts that have been thwarted by the deafness of those political forces who have, nonetheless, now called me to take on a further responsibility to guide the institutions out of a fatal deadlock. But I have a duty to be frank: if I find myself once again faced with a wall of deafness like the one I have come up against in the past, I will not hesitate to draw the appropriate conclusions and act accordingly before the entire country.

We have simply had enough, in every field, of seeing people shirk their duty to make proposals, to seek practicable solutions, or to take clear and timely decisions on the reforms that Italian democracy and society urgently need if they are to survive and flourish.

Speaking in Rimini to a large gathering of young people in August 2011, I wanted to describe to them, in words, the inspiration behind the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of our unified State. An inspiration that can be summed up as a commitment to transmit a full awareness of "what Italy and the Italians have shown themselves to be at crucial times in their past" and the "great reserves of human and moral resources, of intelligence and labour that we have at our disposal". And I added that I hoped, in so doing, to awaken their pride and confidence, "because the challenges and tests awaiting us are more arduous, profound and uncertain in their outcome than ever before". "That is what the crisis we are going through tells us. Global crisis, European crisis, and inside this framework Italy, with its strong points and its weaknesses, with its baggage of old and more recent problems; problems of an institutional and political order, and of a structural, social and civil order".

Well, I can repeat those words first uttered a year and a half ago, both to urge everyone to speak the language of truth - leaving aside any trite distinction between pessimists and optimists - and to introduce a discussion on a set of objectives regarding institutional reforms and proposals for a new pathway of more equitable and sustainable economic development.

This is a discussion on which - including for obvious reasons of proportion in my message here today - I can only refer you to the documents drawn up by the two working groups I set up on 30 March. Documents whose authority and concrete nature cannot be denied - unless for the sake of intellectual debate. Not least because they are underpinned by systematic formulations not just by the institutions in which the members of the two groups work, but also by other authoritative institutions and associations.

If we feel that many of the recommendations contained in those two texts have already been acquired, then it is time to move on, at the political level, from recommendations to deeds. If we note that, especially in institutional matters, on certain issues the options have been left open, that means that it is time to take some conclusive decisions. And we could go even further, if the will is there, with everyone's contribution.

I would like to make just two observations on this point. The first concerns the need for the pursuit of certain essential goals - the goals of reforming the political parties and the channels of democratic participation, and of reforming the representative institutions and relations between Parliament and Government and between State and Regions - to be accompanied by a close focus on strengthening and renewing the organs and powers of the State.
I have been very close to these organs in the last seven years, so there is no need for me once again to pay formal tribute to them here today, whether to the armed forces or the forces of law and order, the judiciary or the Court that is the supreme guarantee of the constitutionality of our laws. We must be on our guard, given the need to protect freedom and security from new forms of criminality and the stirring of new subversive pressures, and given the tension and lack of order in relations between various powers of the state and institutions of constitutional significance.

Nor can we ignore the need to react to any misinformation and controversy that strike our military powers, which have rightly embarked on a serious reform. Their focus, however, in the spirit of the Constitution, remains that of safeguarding Italy's participation - with the selfless sacrifice of no small number of our young people - in the international community's stabilisation and peace missions.

The second observation concerns the value of the proposals developed in detail in the document I have just mentioned, "to tackle the recession and grasp any opportunities" that arise, "to influence the European Union in its next options", "to create and support jobs", "to strengthen education and human capital, and to foster research, innovation and the growth of our businesses".

In underscoring these last points, I can observe that I have been - and will continue to be - actively engaged in these matters in every institutional forum and opportunity for discussion. They are crucial points in defining our renewed and vital commitment to take forward a united Europe, by helping to define and respect the constraints of financial sustainability and monetary stability that must bind it. And by helping, together, to rekindle its dynamism and spirit of solidarity and grasp to the full its unique impetus and irreplaceable benefits.

These are also the crucial points - first and foremost, given the distressing growth in unemployment, the creation of jobs and good quality employment opportunities - around which a major social question revolves, a question that has thrust itself onto the agenda in Italy and Europe. The question of the future prospects of an entire generation. The question of the effective and full use of women's resources and energies. We cannot remain indifferent to the plight of entrepreneurs and workers who are forced to take desperate action, young people who lose their way, or women who live in conditions of marginalisation or low status that they view as unacceptable.
A desire for change, with each interpreting the consensus expressed by the voters in his or her own way, says little in itself and does not take us very far if we do not measure ourselves against problems like the ones I have just mentioned and which have recently been described in some detail and in objective and impartial terms. We must measure ourselves against these problems, so that they become a programme of action for the government that must be formed and the subject of deliberation by the Parliament that is preparing to embark on its tasks.

And so that they become the fulcrum of new forms of collective behaviour by forces - firstly in the world of work and business - that "appear to be blocked, afraid, locked into defensive positions and ill at ease with the innovation which is, in fact, the driver of development". We need a new openness, a new impetus in society. We need an intense effort, in southern Italy itself, if we are to lift the south out of a spiral of backwardness and impoverishment.

Parliament recently voted - unanimously, I may add - on its contribution to urgent provisions which the Monti government, still being in power, was responsible for adopting, and which it did indeed adopt. It did so as part of an economic-financial and European policy effort that will certainly merit calmer reflection as we leave behind us the heated and antagonistic election climate and draw up a balance sheet of the role we acquired in the European Union in the course of 2012.

I appreciate the commitment, with respect to its role in the Chamber and Senate, that has been shown by the movement that was amply rewarded by the electorate as a new political-parliamentary actor, earning the weight and influence that are its due. That is the path to a fruitful, yet difficult and rigorous, democratic dialectic. Not the path, adventurous and misleading, of confrontation between Parliament and the streets. Nor can a confrontation between the Web and forms of political organization, such as the parties have historically been, everywhere, for well over a century, hold up and bear fruit.

The Web provides valuable access to the political world, unprecedented opportunities for individual expression and political intervention, and encouragement to bring together and express consensus and dissent. But there can be no truly democratic, representative and effective participation in public decision-making unless it is channelled through organised political movements or parties that are capable of renewing themselves, all of them bound, however, by the constitutional imperative of the "democratic method".

In this crucial period for Italy and Europe, the forces represented in Parliament, without exception, must now provide an input to the decisions that need to be taken for the renewal of our country. Without being afraid to agree on solutions, since the two Chambers have indeed shown recently that they are not afraid to vote unanimously.
And you must all feel - honourable deputies and senators - that you are part of the Parliamentary institution not as members of a faction but as the embodiment of the people's will. Concrete work needs to be done, in a patient and constructive spirit, and expertise needs to be expended and acquired, first and foremost in the Chamber and Senate committees. I hope you will accept these words from someone who entered this Chamber as a deputy at the age of 28 and, day after day, added his own stone to the construction of the edifice of our democratic political life.

The only way to work in Parliament on the burning issues affecting the country is through dialogue with a government that is an essential interlocutor of both the majority and the opposition. 56 days on from the elections of 24-25 February - after which Parliament had to turn its attention to electing the Head of State - the Executive must be formed without delay.

Let us not chase after the formulae or definitions that are giving rise to so much chatter. It is not the President's role to issue mandates, for the formation of the government, that are subject to any constraints other than the one set forth in art. 94 of the Constitution: the government must have the confidence of both Chambers. And it is the government's task to provide itself with a programme, according to the priorities and timescale that it deems fitting.

There is, therefore, only one condition: to take stock of the true forces at play in the recently elected Parliament, in a full awareness of the challenges awaiting the government and the needs and general interest of the country. On the basis of the election results - which must need to be taken into account, like them or not - no one party or coalition (homogeneous or presumed to be so) that asked for votes to govern then received said votes in sufficient numbers to do so under its own steam.

Whatever outlook was presented to the voters, or whatever pact - if that is the preferred expression - each party entered into with its voters - the overall results of the elections must necessarily be taken into account. And those results point in one direction only: to the need for different forces to reach agreement so that a government might come into being and begin its life in Italy today. Without neglecting, at another level, the need for broader understandings, i.e. between majority and opposition, to provide agreed solutions to problems of common institutional responsibility.

After all, not even the United Kingdom - a country with an established democratic tradition - is governed by a single party; governments in Europe normally are formed or are at least supported by two or more parties, parties that may be similar in some way, or traditionally far removed from each other, or even bitter competitors.

In Italy a sort of horror of any suggestion of understandings, alliances, mediation, or convergence between different political forces has taken hold. That is a sign of regression, the spread of an idea that politics can be conducted without knowing or recognising the complex problems involved in governing the res publica and the implications of that in terms, precisely, of political mediation, understandings, and alliances. Or maybe all this is, in more concrete terms, a reflection of a couple of decades of confrontation - to the point where the very idea of civil co-existence has been lost - that have been more partisan and aggressive than ever before. Two decades that have seen a complete breakdown in communication between opposing political ranks.

I said this seven years ago in this chamber, on the same occasion as today, in the hope that "the time is at last almost ripe for a democracy of alternation". Which also means the time for seeking agreed solutions for government when the need arises. Otherwise, we would have to acknowledge a state of ungovernability, at least in the legislature that has just begun.

But it was not to make this point that I accepted your invitation to be sworn in again as President of the Republic. I accepted it so that in the coming days Italy will give itself the government it needs. And to that end I will act according to my remit: going no further than the limits of my constitutional role, and acting at most, to use a technical expression, as a "coagulating factor". But all of the political forces must assume their responsibilities in a spirit of realism: that was the wager implicit in the appeal addressed to me two days ago.

I am about to begin my second mandate, without any illusions, far less any claims for a "redemptive" expansion of my functions. I will, rather, exercise the functions attributed to me by the Constitution with an increased sense of the limits that apply to them and with unchanged impartiality. And I will do so for as long as the situation of the country and of the institutions seems to require of me, and my forces allow. For me today this further, unexpected political commitment begins in what is already a very advanced stage of my life. For you, today sees the beginning of a long road that must be travelled with passion, with rigour and with humility. My encouragement and good wishes for you in this endeavour will not be lacking.

Long live the Parliament! Long live the Republic! Long live Italy!