Italian Parliament

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Palazzo Montecitorio , Rome, seat of the Chamber of Deputies
Palazzo Madama , Rome, seat of the Italian Senate

The Italian Parliament ( Italian Parlamento della Repubblica Italiana , German  Parliament of the Republic of Italy ) is the national representative body of the citizens of the Republic of Italy , the holder of state legislative power and a constitutional body. It consists of two chambers: the Senate ( Senato della Repubblica ) and the Chamber of Deputies ( Camera dei deputati ) and plays an important role in the Italian system of interlocking powers ( parliamentary democracy ). In addition to legislation, the continued trust of every chamber is necessary for the existence of government.

Both chambers have equal rights in every respect; The only differences are in questions of protocol. This so-called “perfect” bicameralism is a characteristic element of the Italian legal system .

Choice and composition

The chambers differ in terms of the number of their members, composition, electoral mode of their members and the age limits for active and passive voting rights. Electoral jurisdiction is exercised by the chambers themselves; they decide on the correctness of the voting as well as any non-eligibility or incompatibility. The prosecution of criminal acts (e.g. election fraud) is, however, a matter for ordinary jurisdiction.

Organs of the chambers are their president and the presidium, the individual parliamentary groups and the committees. Joint committees, commissions and organs can be set up if necessary.

Chamber of Deputies

The Chamber of Deputies is the larger parliamentary chamber and, according to the constitution, consists of a fixed number of 630 members , twelve of whom are intended to represent Italians living abroad . The election takes place in constituencies. You must be at least 25 years old to be elected MP; All Italian citizens who have reached the age of 18 and have full political rights are entitled to vote.


The Senate of the Republic has 315 senators. He is elected on a regional basis; this is the only remnant of the will of the constitutional fathers to create the Senate as a representative of the regional authorities. Only Italians at least 25 years old are eligible to vote. To be elected Senator, one must be at least 40 years old. Analogous to the Senate of the United States, an upper house should be created, which should have a moderating effect on politics in general and the "lower house" (the Chamber of Representatives) in particular due to the higher average age.

Each of the twenty regions has a fixed number of senators, which varies according to the population in the region. However, each region has at least seven senators; Exceptions only apply to the particularly small regions of Molise (two senators) and Aosta Valley (one senator) as well as to the constituency abroad (6 senators). These elected representatives are in total under constitution 315. In addition, there are a maximum of five senators appointed by the state president for life . In addition, after the end of their term of office, the state presidents are also legally senators for life. Thus the effective number of members of the Senate is not prescribed in the constitution. At the moment (June 2017) there are 320 senators.

Parliament in joint session

Joint meeting at Palazzo Montecitorio (election of the President of the Republic, 2015)

As an exception, MPs and senators meet in a joint session in the Palazzo Montecitorio (parlamento in seduta comune) . The President of the Chamber of Deputies chairs the Parliament in joint session. The Italian Constitution stipulates exactly when the Parliament will convene the joint assembly:

  • Election of the President of the Republic ; In this case, the committee is expanded to include representatives of the regions (required quorum : two-thirds majority in the first three ballots, then absolute majority)
  • Election of five of the fifteen constitutional judges (required quorum: two-thirds majority in the first three ballots, then three-fifths majority)
  • Election of one third of the members of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (required quorum: two-thirds majority in the first three ballots, then three-fifths majority)
  • Election of lay judges for the indictment proceedings against the President of the Republic (a list of 45 lay judges is compiled every nine years; in the event of an indictment, 16 names are drawn by lot)
  • Taking the oath of the President of the Republic
  • Charges are brought against the President of the Republic.


State legislation in Italy is first and foremost a matter for parliament. Every single MP or Senator, the government as a whole, the people (50,000 signatures), the regional parliaments ( regional councils ) and, in social and economic areas, the CNEL (Council for Economy and Labor) have a right of initiative .

Each law requires the approval of both chambers; a formal mediation process is not provided. The President must also sign every law before it can come into force. Since both chambers have to pass the same legal text, a normal legislative process often takes a long time. After each change that one of the chambers adopts to a draft, the amended draft must be submitted to the other chamber for a vote. If this in turn only passes the law with changes, these changes must also be confirmed by a new discussion and vote in the previous chamber. In this way, it is possible for individual drafts to be pushed back and forth between the two chambers of parliament for years before they can come into force. Laws can not only be passed by the plenary, but in exceptional cases also by the standing committees.

Therefore, this regular legislative procedure is increasingly taking a back seat in Italian politics. As a breach of the principle of the separation of powers, the government in Italy has, under certain conditions, the power to issue so-called acts with legal force , the so-called legislative decree ( decreto legge ) and the so-called "legislative" decree ( decreto legislativo ).

In Italy, legislative power rests not only on the state but also on the regions . In the regions, legislative power is exercised by the regional councils (the regional parliaments). The two autonomous provinces, South Tyrol and Trentino , have a special position in the Italian constitutional system and are on an equal footing with the regions. They, too, have legislative powers exercised by the respective state parliaments.

Legislative powers of the state

Art. 117 was amended by the Constitutional Law 3/2001. Sentence 1 now reads: The state and regions exercise the legislative power in compliance with the constitution and the restrictions arising from the community legal system and international obligations . The competencies of the regions are no longer mentioned. According to the federalist view of the enumerated powers , those areas are then listed in which the state authority has exclusive legislative power:

  • Foreign policy and international relations of the state; Relations of the state with the European Union; Right of asylum and legal status of citizens of states that do not belong to the European Union;
  • Immigration;
  • Relations between the republic and religious denominations;
  • Defense and armed forces; State security; Weapons, ammunition and explosives;
  • Currency, saving protection and capital markets; Protection of competition; Monetary system; Tax system and accounting of the state; Financial equalization;
  • Organs of the state and corresponding electoral laws; state referendums; Election to the European Parliament;
  • Establishing and organizing the administration of the state and state public bodies;
  • public order and security, with the exception of the local administrative police;
  • Citizenship, Civil Status and Residential Register;
  • Jurisdiction and rules of procedure; Civil and criminal legislation; Administrative jurisdiction;
  • Determination of the essential services within the framework of basic civil and social rights that must be guaranteed throughout the national territory;
  • general provisions on teaching;
  • Social security;
  • Electoral legislation, government organs and basic tasks of municipalities, provinces and major cities with special status;
  • Customs, protection of state borders and international preventive measures;
  • Weights, measures, and time setting; Coordination of statistical information and IT coordination of data of state, regional and local administration; Intellectual works;
  • Environment, ecosystem and cultural property protection.

In the areas of competing legislation ( legislazione concorrente ), which does not correspond to the competing legislation of the Federal Republic of Germany, but rather to the framework legislation that has now been abolished in the German legal system, the state lays down the essential principles of a subject area by law. Each individual region or autonomous province is authorized to further develop and specify these principles through their own laws and thus to adapt them to their own needs. Since "essential principles" is an unmistakable term only at first glance, it is ultimately up to the Constitutional Court to decide to what extent these can go. The areas of framework legislation in Italy include (Art. 117 para. 3):

  • The international relations of the regions and their relations with the European Union;
  • Foreign trade;
  • Occupational health and safety;
  • Teaching, without prejudice to the autonomy of school institutions and to the exclusion of theoretical and practical vocational training;
  • Jobs;
  • scientific and technological research and support for industry innovation;
  • Health protection;
  • Nutrition;
  • Sports legislation;
  • Civil defense;
  • Spatial planning;
  • Ports and civil airports;
  • large transport and shipping networks;
  • Regulation of communications;
  • Production, transportation and national distribution of energy; Supplementary and supplementary pension;
  • Harmonization of public budgets and coordination of public finances and the tax system;
  • Appreciation of cultural and environmental goods and promotion and organization of cultural activities;
  • Savings banks;
  • Agricultural banks, credit institutions of a regional character;
  • Land and agricultural credit bodies of a regional nature.

According to Art. 117 (3), the Italian regions or the autonomous provinces have the power to legislate in all areas that are not expressly reserved for national legislation. Other areas that are assigned to the exclusive legislative power ( competenza esclusiva ) of the regions or autonomous provinces are provided for in the so-called special statutes of the autonomous regions .

In the years since the constitutional reform of 2001, the state has developed ways and means to move areas of regional legislation into its sphere; he asserts so-called cross-sectional competencies. E.g. the regulation of trade and industry is entrusted to the regions (these areas are not assigned to the state); but since the state has sole power to regulate competition law , it can de facto exert a great deal of influence over this area. This has led to disillusionment among constitutional experts who had hoped that constitutional law 3/2001 would significantly strengthen regional autonomies.

Constitutional Legislation

Constitutional laws ( leggi costituzionali ) can either contain provisions to amend the central constitutional document (constitutional amendment laws, leggi di riforma costituzionale ) or separate provisions, e.g. B. the special statutes of the regions with special statute or the essential provisions on the work and tasks of the Constitutional Court.

They are passed by the chambers with two votes each, with at least three months between them, with each chamber having to confirm the constitutional law with at least an absolute majority of its members in the second vote. If a constitutional law is approved by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate with a two-thirds majority in the second vote, it comes into force immediately. Otherwise a referendum may be required.

The republican form of government cannot be subject to constitutional reform. The Constitutional Court has also recognized that in addition to this explicit limit (provided for in Art. 139 of the Constitution) there are also implicit limits. Those concern essential principles of the constitutional order; The rule of law, the democratic principle, the protection of inalienable rights and the like are commonly used. a. summarized below; these elements must not be changed in their essence. Otherwise one would speak of so-called unconstitutional constitutional law . Through these barriers, the validity of the constitution comes close to that of the Basic Law , which in Article 79, Paragraph 3 also explicitly provides for such barriers.

Control of the executive branch

After the experience of fascism , the fathers of the Italian constitution wanted to create the most effective system of mutual control between the constitutional organs in the new republic. This results in a relatively weak position for the government, which depends on the trust of both chambers of parliament. If a new government is appointed, according to the constitution, it must present itself to the chambers within ten days and ask the vote of confidence. Conversely, the chambers can carry out a vote of no confidence. A government that does not even have the trust of a chamber must resign.

In constitutional reality there is the peculiarity that only one government (Prodi cabinet 1998) was brought down by a withdrawal of confidence. All other government crises were of an extra-parliamentary nature; the term is not intended to indicate events outside of parliament, but rather resignations of the government that did not occur as a result of the processes provided for in the constitution, such as B. breach of coalition, rejection of important laws initiated by the government (e.g. budget) or disputes between ministers.

Because of the particular difficulties that arise in this context, especially when there are different majorities in the two parliamentary chambers, efforts have been made for a long time to overcome the so-called “perfect bicameralism” with its absolute equality between the two chambers. Most recently, in 2014 , the Renzi government submitted a draft law to reform the constitution, with the aim of transforming the Senate into a representation of the regions and municipalities that is no longer directly elected. The government should no longer depend on the trust of the Senate. The above-mentioned legislative process would be considerably simplified by the reform, since the approval of the Senate would no longer be required in all cases, i.e. similar to the German Bundesrat. However, since the mandatory referendum failed, the current situation remains.

Work of parliament

The principles of the public, discussion and exchange of views with the government apply to the work of parliament.

Rules of Procedure

The chambers' rules of procedure are given by them; According to the constitution, this requires the approval of more than half of the MPs (absolute majority). This is an expression of the self-organization of the constitutional body. The rules of procedure deal with the concrete course of the chambers' activities, i.e. they supplement the constitution and implement it. In the hierarchy of norms of the Italian Republic, they are formal laws (constitutional expression of the will of the people's representatives) on the same level as laws and acts with legal force . However, since they are not laws in the material sense (general-abstract regulation with external effect), they are beyond the scope of examination by the Constitutional Court .


A distinction can be made between different requirements for the presence and approval of parliamentarians ( quorum ).

In principle, any kind of declaration of intent, whether resolution, law, etc., is invalid if at least half of the members of a chamber were not present and not accepted by the majority of the members. This is known as a simple majority ; ordinary laws are subject to this provision. However, the quorum is always assumed to be fulfilled; it is up to twelve senators or twenty deputies to check its existence.

The constitution prescribes special qualified majorities for certain areas that are considered sensitive . The rules of procedure listed above must be confirmed by an absolute majority of the members. Constitutional laws are subject to an even more complex process. Every draft constitution has to be approved twice by each chamber. There are three months between votes; each chamber must approve the constitutional law in the second vote with at least an absolute majority. If no two-thirds majority is reached, the constitutional law of may plebiscite ( referendum ) are subjected.

Legal status of parliamentarians

In order to ensure the independence of the chambers and their members, which make up the highest representative body and the constitutional body of the legislature, which must be protected in the interests of democracy, special regulations apply to parliamentarians in some cases.

First of all, every parliamentarian represents the entire nation, i.e. the entire republic, and not the constituency or the region in which he was elected (which in reality does not, of course, prevent ties to the constituency). Her mandate is therefore free according to Art. 67. This includes freedom not only vis-à-vis the electorate, but also vis-à-vis the party to which the parliamentarian belongs and on whose list he is a candidate. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility that, in the case of new elections, there are sanctions against those who show a low degree of group discipline; however, this cannot be done during the term of office.

Second, parliamentarians have a degree of immunity from civil, criminal or administrative responsibility. This serves to protect the autonomy and the work of the constitutional body as well as free political discussion; This should prevent arbitrary, politically justified acts by the executive. Immunity is therefore not a privilege of parliamentarians, which is also shown in the fact that there is no general immunity (such as diplomats abroad, for example), but only exists under certain conditions. The parliamentarian is immune from the day his election is announced.

Professional immunity

Article 68 paragraph 1 of the Constitution provides for so-called professional immunity. Accordingly, parliamentarians cannot be held responsible for statements and votes that are directly related to the exercise of their mandate. It does not matter what kind of utterance is made and whether it takes place in Parliament or outside its walls; only the functional connection with the exercise of the mandate is relevant.

Statements that do not meet this criterion are subject to the usual legal regulations. In this case, it is up to the court to notify the respective chamber of the planned prosecution. That chamber has to rule on this within 120 days of receiving the court documents. If the judicial authority is of the opinion that the Parliament has improperly protected one of its members from civil or criminal prosecution, it can bring a conflict of powers before the Constitutional Court; it is up to the Court of Justice to decide who has the power (prosecution vs. declaration of immunity).

Non-professional immunity

In order to protect parliamentarians from arbitrary arrest, surveillance or other restrictions on personal freedom, paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 68 of the Constitution provide for further protective provisions.

Accordingly, authorization must be obtained from the respective chamber in order to parliamentarians:

  • subject to a body search or house search
  • arrest or otherwise restrict their freedom of movement
  • eavesdropping in word or in writing or confiscating their correspondence.

The Chamber has to decide whether these are admissible measures which are taken in the general interest of equal treatment and legal certainty, or whether the freedom of the elected representatives should be restricted.

Exceptions are only permitted if a parliamentarian has been legally convicted and the judgment is now being enforced. In addition, the provisions do not apply if a member of the chambers is caught red-handed, i.e. in the act, and arrested. The measure to restrict freedom can be taken without authorization, but is only provisional and must be confirmed by the Chamber.

Parliament Library

The Palazzo della Minerva with the Obelisco della Minerva in the foreground

The two libraries of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, founded in 1848, are jointly managed and operated in a connected building complex under the name Polo Bibliotecario Parlamentare or “Parliamentary Library Pole ”. In 1988 the library of the Chamber of Deputies moved from Palazzo Montecitorio to a former Dominican convent on Via del Seminario . The Senate Library followed in 2003, moving from Palazzo Madama to Palazzo della Minerva in the square of the same name near the Pantheon . In 2007 the two libraries were structurally and organizationally linked. In 2013 the library of the Chamber of Deputies had around 1.4 million books, the Senate's library comprised around 0.7 million. The two libraries are not only used for parliamentary operations, but also for the general public. In the same building complex, which also Insula Sapientiae is called, also is Biblioteca Casanatense housed.

The Senate library has been named after the former President of the Senate Giovanni Spadolini since 2003 , and that of the Chamber of Deputies since 2019 after the former President of the Chamber Nilde Iotti . These two long-time presidents of the parliamentary chambers advocated the relocation of the respective libraries to the aforementioned building complex.

See also


H. Ullrich: The political system of Italy. In: Ismayr, W. (ed.): The political systems of Western Europe. 4th updated and revised edition, 2009.

Web links

Commons : Italian Parliament  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. full text (German translation)
  2. ^ Official website of the Polo bibliotecario parlamentare