Italian PM Letta turns to academics to reform constitution

Reuters News

6/4/2013 4:20:16 PM - Reuters News

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Enrico Letta named a committee of 35 academics on Tuesday to propose changes to Italy's constitution aimed at fixing an institutional apparatus that is blamed for years of unproductive and unstable government.

The Committee for Constitutional Reform will try to broker agreement among the left-right coalition government whose first weeks in office have been marred by simmering tensions over tax policy, immigration and the legal problems of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.

When Letta took office in April he said constitutional reform and an overhaul of a dysfunctional electoral system were major priorities alongside tackling Italy's longest post war recession and surging youth unemployment.

He said the constitutional reforms should be approved within 18 months at most.

The reform committee is expected to propose measures to reduce the number of lawmakers, downsize Italy's bloated political apparatus and change voting rules.

In theory these changes have the support of all the parties in parliament, but it has proved impossible for years to reach agreement on the details.

Among other, more contentious reforms which have been mooted are increasing the powers of the prime minister and directly electing the head of state, who is currently chosen by parliament.

These proposals have the support of many on the center-right, but not on the center-left.

The committee's members are mostly academics unknown to Italy's general public, with a few exceptions such as former center-right Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and former Chamber of Deputies Speaker Luciano Violante, from the center-left.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)