When Berlusconi announced reforms of the judiciary, and especially of the constitutional court, no one was surprised. This is just another instalment in the long battle between the courts in general and the Prime Minister (e.g. see immunity laws of 2004, 2009). One month ago the constitutional court had declared Berlusconi’s immunity law as partially unconstitutional, making it possible for Berlusconi to stand trial. “Rubygate” is the result.
We have seen this in various instances before. Again and again the courts, and especially the constitutional court, have challenged Berlusconi. To be exact, the introduction of the first and second version of the immunity bill has been a reaction to the challenge by the courts to his authority. He has threatened the constitutional court repeatedly with reform. What is different this time is the concrete and workable ideas he has proposed. Introducing the necessity of a two thirds majority to declare a law unconstitutional does not sound too threatening. However, does this mean that the vote would not be secret? What else would be the problem. We know from other courts that hardly any decisions are taken on a simple majority. The Italian immunity law, which started this meeting in the OK corral, was struck down 12-3 – even if we do not know who voted for or against.
Still more concerning is the question of reform of the appointment procedures. The Italian Constitutional Court is possibly the most independent from the political branches through its widely varying appointment procedures. No single branch can have too much influence over the court. I assume a reform of this would not lead to the Prime Minister relinquishing the little power he has over appointments.