The president of Italy, officially denoted as President of the Italian Republic (Italian: Presidente della Repubblica Italiana) is the head of state of Italy. In that role, the officeholder represents national unity, guarantees that Italian politics comply with the Constitution of Italy and is the head of the Italian Armed Forces. The president's term of office lasts for seven years. The current holder is former Constitutional Judge Sergio Mattarella, who was elected on 31 January 2015.
Qualifications for office
The framers of the Constitution of Italy intended for the president to be an elder statesman of some stature. Article 84 states that any Italian citizen who is fifty or older on election day and enjoys civil and political rights can be elected president. The article also states that the presidency is incompatible with any other office; therefore, the president-elect must resign any other position before being sworn in.
The 1948 Constitution does not put any term limit on the presidency, although until 2013 no president ever ran for a second term. On 20 April 2013, President Giorgio Napolitano agreed to run for a second term in an attempt to break the parliamentary deadlock in the 2013 presidential elections and was duly reelected the same day. However, he made it clear that he would not serve his full term and resigned in January 2015.
The President of the Italian Republic is elected by an electoral college of about 1,000 members. It comprises both chambers of the Italian Parliament—the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic—meeting in joint session, combined with 58 special electors appointed by the regional councils of each of the 20 regions of Italy. Three representatives come from each region (save for the Aosta Valley, which due to its small size only appoints one), so as to guarantee representation for all localities and minorities. The electoral college thus consists of:
According to the Constitution, the election must be held by a secret ballot, with the senators, deputies and regional representatives all being required to vote. A two-thirds vote is required to elect on any of the first three rounds of balloting and after that a simple majority suffices. The number of rounds has often been large thanks to the secret ballot and fragmented nature of the Italian Parliament. The election is presided over by the President of the Chamber of Deputies, who calls for the public counting of the votes. The vote is held in the Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Chamber of Deputies, which is expanded and re-configured for the event. There is no formal candidacy, any citizen may be elected, regardless whether he or she expressed an intention to be a candidate.
President Mattarella delivering his inaugural speech in front of the Italian Parliament on 3 February 2015.
The President of the Italian Republic assumes office after taking an oath before the Italian Parliament and delivering a presidential address.
The term of the President of the Italian Republic lasts seven years. This prevents any officeholder from being reelected by the same houses, which have a five-year mandate, also granting some freedom from excessive political ties to the appointing body. The Italian president's term may end by voluntary resignation, death while in office, permanent disability due to serious illness, or dismissal as for crimes of high treason or an attack on the Constitution.
A former president of the Republic is called President emeritus of the Republic and appointed Senator for life. In the absence of the President of the Republic, including travel abroad, presidential functions are performed by the President of the Senate.
The Constitution lays out the duties and powers of the President of the Republic, to include the following:
- In foreign affairs:
- Accrediting and receiving diplomatic functionaries.
- Ratifying international treaties upon authorization of Parliament (if required according to Article 80 of the Constitution).
- Making official visits abroad, accompanied by a member of the government.
- Declaring a state of war as decided by Parliament.
- In parliamentary affairs:
- Nominating Senators for life (that may be up to five altogether).
- Calling the Chambers of Parliament into extraordinary session and dissolving them.
- Calling elections and fixing the date for the first meeting of the new Chambers.
- In legislative matters:
- Authorizing the presentation of proposed governmental bills to Parliament.
- Promulgating the laws approved in Parliament.
- Remanding to the Chambers (with an explanation) and asking for reconsideration of a bill (permitted once per bill).
- Appertaining to popular sovereignty.
- In executive matters and as to official protocol.
- Naming the Prime Minister of Italy and appointing Cabinet ministers on the advice of the prime minister.
- Accepting the oath of the government.
- Receiving the resignation of a government.
- Promulgating laws by decree, which are proposed by the government alone. Unless acted on by Parliament, these measures expire after 60 days.
- Naming certain high state functionaries.
- Presiding over the Consiglio Supremo di Difesa (Supreme Defense Council) and commanding all the armed forces.
- Decreeing the dissolution of regional councils and the removals of presidents of regions.
- In judicial matters:
- Presiding over the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura (Superior Judicial Council).
- Naming 5 members (one-third) of the Constitutional Court of Italy.
- Granting pardons and commutations.
- Cannot be punished for acts appartaining to his office unless guilty of high treason or violation of the Constitution. (article 90 of the italian constitution)
- It is a crime to undermine his honor or prestige. (article 278 of the italian penal code)
In practice, the president's office is mostly—though not entirely—ceremonial. The Constitution provides that nearly all presidential acts must be countersigned by a member of the government (either the prime minister or an individual minister) as most presidential acts are only formal and real political responsibility is upon the government. Many of the others are duties that he is required to perform. However, pardons and commutations have been recognized as autonomous powers of the president.
Despite the seemingly ceremonial nature of the position the president's role still has important implications. His ability to send a piece of legislation back to Parliament is not taken lightly by legislators, who are unlikely to ignore it unless the legislation is critical. Moreover, in times of political instability the president has significant leeway in appointing prime ministers, such as when President Scalfaro appointed Lamberto Dini as prime minister against the wishes of outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or when President Napolitano appointed Mario Monti in 2011 and Enrico Letta in 2013.
This leeway extends even further to cabinet appointments, as in 2018 when President Mattarella blocked the appointment of Paolo Savona to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Mattarella felt that Savona's Euroscepticism would endanger Italy's relationship with the EU; he took the line that as the guardian of the Constitution, he could allow this to not happen.
Standard of the Substitute President of the Republic
According to Article 86 of the Constitution, in all the cases in which the president is unable to perform the functions of the office, these shall be performed by the president of the Senate, who would temporarily serve as Acting President of Italy.
In the event of permanent incapacity, death in office or resignation of the president, the president of the Chamber of Deputies shall call an election of a new president within fifteen days, notwithstanding the longer term envisaged during the dissolution of the Parliament or in the three months preceding dissolution.
The officeholder resides in Rome at the Quirinal Palace and also has at his disposal the presidential holdings of Castelporziano, near Rome and Villa Rosebery in Naples. The residence at the Quirinal is guarded by the Corazzieri, an elite cuirassier honor guard that is part of the Carabinieri and has its historical roots in the guards of the House of Savoy.
Living former president
As of 25 July 2021, there is one living former president.
The most recent president of the Italian Republic to die was Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (served 1999–2006), who died on 16 September 2016, aged 95.
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