ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ruling party patched up its internal divisions and reached agreement on a contested reform of Italy’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday, meaning it is likely to pass into law.
However, hoping to derail a bill that Renzi says is vital to the future of his government, the opposition Northern League party presented a record 82 million amendments — a manoeuvre which will complicate and possibly prolong the debate.
The reform would cut the number of senators by two-thirds and strictly limits the powers of the upper house in an effort to streamline politics and make governments more stable.
Renzi has a majority of less than 10 in the 320-seat Senate, and a sizeable faction within his Democratic Party (PD) party had threatened to vote against the reform. They say the plan to eliminate the direct election of senators undercuts democracy.
After weeks of mutual recrimination, the government and PD dissidents finally agreed on Wednesday to make three amendments to the bill. Among them is a measure that will allow for candidates to the senate to be elected during local ballots.
“Italy’s reforms are moving forward,” a happy-looking Renzi told reporters on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels.
The Italian Constitution, drawn up after World War Two following the disastrous dictatorship of Benito Mussolini,
stipulated that no law could be enacted until both the upper and lower houses had agreed to exactly the same document.
Critics say that made Italy very hard to rule, with shifting alliances leading to a stream of revolving-door governments.
“For Italians this (reform) means that they will live in a country that is more simple. It will be a country ... that will have fewer politicians, clearer definitions of responsibilities between the central state and the regions, faster legislation, and even more stable majorities,” Renzi said.
Because it involves a change to the constitution, the reform must be approved twice by both houses.
The bill has already passed once through the upper and lower chambers, but Wednesday’s deal means the text will change, so it will have to be voted on a further four times before it is approved. It will then be put to a referendum.
Opposition parties have made clear they plan to battle it every inch of the way, with the Northern League looking to bury it under a tsunami of Italy amendments.
Using a computer programme to change every word and throw up thousands of grammatical alterations, the party has presented more than 82 million amendments.
In theory, all of them will have to be voted on, which could take weeks. Alternatively, the government might decide to call a confidence motion to sweep them out of the way. However, should it lose such a do-or-die vote, it would have to resign.
“Their real aim is to block Italy, but they won’t succeed,” Renzi said.
Additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Massimiliano di Giorgio, editing by Larry King