What we can learn from the Italian crisis and why participatory democracy is more important now than ever

By Marco Cappato, President of EUMANS

The Italian crisis cannot be blamed solely on the limitations of individual politicians in the Italian government and opposition.  

In the present institutional situation in Italy - which depends, among other things, on the failure to apply the results of referendums, such as the one on electoral law -   any politician who focuses on long-term issues such as climate change, scientific research, fiscal and administrative reforms and European integration would simply not be reelected.  

The convergent forces of cronyism and the distribution of political influence in TV channels encourage the politics of sound-bites and the defence of corporate interests.  It’s not surprising that the most credible politicians on the Italian scene today – such as President Mattarella, and the economist Mario Draghi – have built up their consensus in roles which go beyond the search for immediate approval, and the resulting arguments on talk shows, declarations on social media and permanent electoral campaigning. 

If we hope to develop a system of institutions which will encourage long-term vision and strategies, there is no point in evoking nostalgia for figures from the past and their ‘noble’ politics. We need to get to the roots of the problem and renew the instruments of participation, starting from the fact that "democracy" and "elections" are not synonyms and there are other ways to allow people to carry out their constitutional sovereignty.

Although Parliament is paralysed, Italian citizens, like those of other EU member states, can express themselves on crucial ideas for their future though the European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECI), which enable citizens to ask the European Commission to propose legislation once one million signatures have been collected. A few examples of campaigns underway at present include

European Citizens Initiatives are still a weak instrument but they are often used for crucial questions that are rarely considered a priority by national parties and media, who tend to consider electoral issues as the only real "politics". Yet in Ireland it was thanks to randomly selected citizens’ assemblies that the stalemate over the legalisation of abortion and equal marriage rights was overcome, and the same instrument was used by Macron to deal with the climate crisis and defuse the protests of the gilets jaunes

In Italy we have had many referendums but these have been regularly ignored by politicians, despite the fact that Italy has been condemned by the UN Committee on Human Rights for discrimination in giving access to referendums and popular initiatives, thanks to the complaint brought by Mario Staderini and Michele De Lucia. In order to get the ball rolling we intend to collect signatures for a law to introduce a citizens’ assembly on climate change with our “Accidental Politicians” campaign.

By focusing on citizens’ initiatives with precise objectives we can stop the political agenda from being taken over exclusively by developments in the corridors of power.

In order to extend the perimetre of civic politics, we have founded "Eumans", with Virginia Fiume, Lorenzo Mineo, Roberto Mancuso and the other first 60 members.  Eumans is a pan-European movement dedicated to popular, nonviolent initiatives, with among its aims the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the establishment of the rule of law and democracy, protection of the ecosystem and sustainable development. We aim for a type of politics in which we can bring about change by involving citizens directly, not only through the election of their representatives.

At the moment Italy is facing a difficult moment of political crisis, and at a time like this it is essential to take the first steps in the direction of a long haul movement to relaunch the democratic model, at least on a European scale, as an alternative both to the swamp of project-free national party politics and the temptation of the Chinese model of authoritarian technocracy.

If you are interested, please let us know - and join us Thursday at our Weekly Meetings or on EUMANS Agorá - and of course, join EUMANS as a member.