Book Review: Provare a governare, cercando di sopravvivere

Francesco Marangoni, Provare a governare, cercando di sopravvivere (Pisa, Italy: Pisa University Press, 2013). 208 pp., €16,00 (paperback), €12,99 (e-book), ISBN: 9788867412402.

Within the literature on governments, Italy represents a particularly interesting case. Over the past 20 years, Italy has experienced significant changes as it has transitioned to a more majoritarian Second Republic. To this end, many systemic reforms have been introduced in order to promote the bipolarization of the Italian system, which had been locked into centrist politics and a blocked government for the past fifty years. As a result, there has been a trend toward greater personalization of politics and leadership, government alternation, and adversarialism. This would not have been possible during the First Republic, when Italy represented a paradigmatic example of input democracy in which the main effort of parties in such a fragmented system was to provide citizens with an “entrance” into the circuit of representation through the parliament. In contrast, systems where alternation is plausible—as in the Second Republic—are output democracies; the key actor is the government and attention is paid to its capacity to provide citizens with outputs through policies. Whereas governments in the First Republic were characterized by amorphous policy making, mostly based on micro-policy of a clientelistic nature and by the allocation of public office, in the Second Republic, parties and their leaders present themselves to voters as transformative forces with the capacity to deliver concrete policy change. Thus, since the advent of the Second Republic in the mid-1990s, a new generation of politicians has announced a shift in the system toward greater governmental leadership, policy innovation, and government accountability and responsiveness. In his book, Francesco Marangoni assesses whether these announced changes have indeed taken place in Italy, particularly regarding the government’s capacity to lead legislation as per its announced priorities and pledges.

The book is organized in six chapters along with an introduction and a conclusion. The first chapter presents the concepts of government performance and legislative output to which the empirical analyses in the volume are dedicated. The second chapter analyzes these two concepts from a descriptive point of view with reference to the Italian First Republic. The results of this part of the analysis constitute a benchmark against which to measure the achievements and scope of change introduced by the supposedly more majoritarian Second Republic. The third chapter presents the framework for the analysis and isolates the main causal factors for the explanation of government performance and legislative output. In particular, the proposed framework integrates different strands of literature, such as those concerning coalition governments and law making, and promotes an assessment of government performance from the perspective of the mutual relationship between executive and legislative politics, assessing their capacity to collectively produce relevant policy. Chapters four, five, and six examine whether the Italian executive was able to promote meaningful legislation and to defend its contents throughout the legislative process, and finally see it approved by the Parliament. For this purpose, the intensive empirical analyses conducted by the author cover aspects of agenda setting and policy making, inter-party conflicts and their management, as well as the relationship between parliament and government.

The author shows that, over the past 20 years, all attempts to drive democracy toward a more majoritarian model have produced mixed and largely unsatisfactory results. Alternation in power has failed to produce a more efficient and responsive government. The capacity of the executive to lead the legislative process has been uneven across the different cabinets and overall limited. Bargaining complexity has not been reduced; on the contrary, intra-governmental conflicts have been recurrent and have paralyzed the legislative process, while coalition agreements have not helped to reduce the transaction costs in coalition governance. The government’s attempts to increasingly anchor its proposed legislation to its programmatic priorities and pledges have faced the problem of undisciplined majorities with a large number of veto players. In general, those bills implementing the pledges of the coalition agreement have not been particularly successful in the Parliament; on the contrary, they have often proved divisive even among the majority supporting the government. The main solution adopted by the various cabinets has been the ordinary use of extraordinary measures, such as decree laws and confidence votes for common legislation, in order to ensure that policy is enacted. This is a growing practice, one that certainly goes against the paradigm of efficient government-led policy making. In the end, the analyses in the volume show that the main attempts to change the nature of the Italian government over the past two decades have largely failed. Overall, Italy has not become an output democracy; while some limited achievements pertaining to the capacity of the government to initiate content-rich and pledge-oriented legislation could be acknowledged, this has often proved unsuccessful in Parliament unless mandated by extraordinary legislative measures.

Marangoni’s book explores established and under-explored issues of governmental change in Italy and provides a comprehensive, dynamic, and empirically rich enquiry. The book is particularly far reaching in its analysis of the mutual relationship between executive and legislative politics and makes a considerable contribution to the field of government studies and Italian politics.

Nicolò Conti, Unitelma Sapienza University

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