Crime and Court news / Politics

Political responsibility in Italy

Minister of Transportation Maurizio Lupi is currently resisting calls to resign after the arrest of his Director General Ercole Incalza.


Political responsibility is the mechanism that will prompt the holder of a public office or a whole Government to resign even when that would not be imposed by the law or the Constitution. At a first glance, political responsibility can look at odds with democracy and the rule of law. Why should a Minister involved into a scandal resign? It’s up to voters to decide, and they will do so in the next election. Why should a public servant resign rather than waiting to be fired? If he was so bad, why don’t they fire him? Despite all of this, political responsibility exists and works in all the major democracies.

In Italy, it’s more complicated. During the First Republic, political responsibility simply didn’t exist. Nobody would ever resign, even after the most embarrassing scandal; and rightly so, since voters would still reelect him.

After the Clean Hands judicial scandal, which opened the Second Republic, everything changed. The pressure of public opinion over politicians and officers put under investigation became so intense that many of them committed suicide. Then, as it is often the case, the intense indignation subsided.

Italy, however, did not go back to the First Republic, and remained stuck in a limbo. A politician involved in a scandal will sometimes resign, sometimes not. There are not clear criteria to draw a line. The judiciary does not help either, because trials are too slow. There was an attempt to settle the issue by legislative means with the Severino Law, but law is in too bad a shape in Italy to substitute public ethics. Indeed the Severino Law, after been used to expel Silvio Berlusconi from the Senate, proved useless in successive cases in which its application was suspended by the Administrative Courts pending an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The First Republic never finished for public servants, instead. They will go to jail, be released pending trial and go back to their office.


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