Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Italy's Never-ending Political Instability

Prodi will face the Senate this evening. In his speech yesterday he underlined the priority of the electoral law, which was modified by Berlusconi just before the elections last year.

If that is the priority, then Prodi clearly believes that his government (if the senate approves) will not last very long.

I believe that neither Prodi nor Berlusconi should run in case we had elections soon. They are both old and compromised. They are clearly unable to bring together a sensible coalition. Prodi's case is clear now, but Berlusconi's coalition is in pieces as well. Notably, the centre right party (UDC- Christian Democrats), does not want to accept B's leadership anymore.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is Anti-Americanism serious in Italy?

Anti-Americanism in Italy is still present, unfortunately. Its roots are the communist movements that were very strong in the 70's and in the 80's. In 1976, the communist party
got the 33% of the votes.

Today, Italy is still partly stuck with its past and display irrational anti-american feelings.
Here's an interesting article on the issue.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Democrats: Struggle for Power

Here's a briliant article on the NYRB describing the struggle for the democratic leadership in the US.

This is an introduction:

Who will be the Democrats' nominee for president, and how will that choice affect the center of gravity? The three leading contenders—Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama—are making starkly different pitches to voters, based on quite different assumptions about what the party needs to do to break its stalemate. The next year and a half—in which we'll see if the Democrats make a success of their congressional majority and who captures the presidential nomination—will be the most consequential eighteen months the party has faced in some time.

Play it Again, Romano

This Wednesday, Prodi is going to go back to Parliament to have his government (the same) re-approved.

He will obviously start with the Senate, as it is in the Senate that he lost the majority. It seems that some of the right wing senators are willing to support Prodi this time round, so his majority will increase, but it is unclear whether this move will make the government more stable.

Tribute to Ennio Morricone

Morricone is one of the greatest italian musician alive. The Oscar he won for his career at 78 testifies of a monumental achievement. But of even greater impact are his words: 'the prize is not an ending point, it is a starting point to improve further.'

Humility and continuous self-development are the most important characters of a great Man.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

French Presidential Elections: Segolene Royal

Segolene is a mistery. Both to french and non-french. She is very keen to appear modern, a XXI century socialist.
Yet, the programme she has unveiled recently is only about welfare redistribution in a very old fashion socialist style.

Economically she is nothing really new. Socially, she claims she will be tough on crime and disorder, and this reminds us of Tony Blair. But Tony is nothing new. Plus, Tony without his economic achievement is close to nothing especially if you judge by his international politics.

So, who is Segolene, and what is XXI century socialism? Unfortunately, to look for an answer to this questions may be like 'waiting for Godot.'

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Scotland v Italy, 17-37: you'd better believe it!

This is a fine European Week-end. One needs to get away from politics and law from time to time...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Prodi's Lack of Leadership

Below are Prodi's non-negotiable conditions in case he will be offered
a second term in office.

Points 11 and 12 in particular show how weak is the former prime minister vis-a-vis the subcomponents of his coalition. Point 12, for example, says that the Prime Minister should be able to express the view of the government in case of contrasting viewpoints within the cabinet.

But, isn't that an implicit pre-condition of any government??? Do we really have to stress the importance of a self-evident truth?

The fact that Prodi feels the need of stressing it, is a sign of his weakness.

1. “Respect for international and peace commitments. Ongoing support for foreign policy and defence initiatives established in a UN framework and for Italy’s international commitments deriving from membership of the European Union and Atlantic Alliance, with reference among other things to the country’s current commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. Incisive action for the support and promotion of the asset represented by Italian communities abroad”.
2. “Strong commitment for culture, school, university, research and innovation”.
3. “Rapid implementation of the infrastructure plan, and in particular the European corridors, including Turin-Lyon. Commitment on sustainable mobility”.
4. “Programme for the efficiency and diversification of energy sources: renewable sources, and localisation and completion of regasification plants”.
5. “Continuation of liberalisation action and consumer protection in the context of services and professions”.
6. “Permanent attention and concrete commitment in favour of the South, starting with security”.
7. “Concrete, immediate action to significantly reduce public spending and spending related to political and institutional activities (politics-related costs)".
8. “Reorganisation of the welfare system with close attention to financial compatibility, focusing on low pensions and young people. With a commitment to source a proportion of the necessary resources by rationalising expenditure, partly by means of the unification of welfare institutions”.
9. “Reviving policies in support of the family by the extension of more substantial family allowances to all and a concrete plan for a significant increase in nursery schools”.
10. “Rapid solution of incompatibilities involving government and parliamentary appointments, in compliance with already agreed procedures”.
11. “In order to impress greater coherence on communication, the prime minister’s spokesperson will assume the role of spokesperson for the executive”.
12. “In line with this principle, to ensure full effectiveness of the government’s action, the prime minister shall have the authority to express the government’s position in a unitary fashion in case of contrast”.

Italian Crisis reveils troubled TransAtlantic Relations

It is interesting to see that the Italian Government, whose majority was very thin anyhow, fell on a TransAtlantic issue, ie the American military base in Vicenza.

We need greater clarity on these type of issues. On the Italian side, I think that it is of the outmost importance to abandon any stereotypical adversion to the US. We are on the same side, we share the same values, and we have to keep cooperating as best as we can. It is only a small group of italian 'pseudo post-neo- communist' who think that America is a danger.

There's a lot to do on the American side, however. Bush did everything to create a very unilateralist image of the US. In Europe, and in the rest of the world, this means that many people do not trust America anymore. Its action is often perceived as purely self-interested, as opposed to based on a well balanced view of international relations and politics, not to mention a degree of principle.

And the Crisis goes on...

The good thing about italian politics is that it is never dull. Something is happening all the time.
Fellini's movie " E la nave va" (and the Boat sails on) is a good metaphor for it. But at times the boat can sink and Italy is taking a lot of risks... Berlusconi's ghost is haunting us again.

You can find a report on the governmental crisis here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Italian Government falls on American military base in Vicenza

The Italian government went down in Parliament. The issue was an American military base in Vicenza and the parliament had to decide whether to give a green light.

Most of the extreme left wing was opposed to it, and d'Alema, the foreign affair minister, did not manage to convince them to vote in favour of the military base.

As a result, d'Alema has resigned and the government will have to be reshuffled. It is likely that Prodi will form a second government, but d'Alema will not be in it anymore.

Hard times ahead for Prodi who will certainly not be strengthened by this accident.

North Korea: Past and Future

North Korea is still a ticking bomb. An interesting article on the NYRB examines recent developments and future scenarios.

Here's the interesting conclusion:

Oddly though, what Kim Jong Il would decide if asked to choose between the bomb and a full, normal, nonbelligerent relationship with Washington has never been tested. Very likely, a working relationship with the United States would prove more subversive of the North Korean dictatorship than the efforts to isolate it and punish it have been. It is something that a new administration might try, assuming it is not already too late.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Distant Brides and Plural Societies

A court in Italy has recognized the validity of a marriage celebrated via telephone and in conformity to Pakistani laws. The woman will now be allowed to join her husband, who is presently in Italy, thanks to the norms that facilitate family reunion in Europe.

Yet another challenge to the Catholic conception of marriage? Is Italy moving to a value pluralist understandig of Marriage? In many ways, this is certainly the case. In this particular event, however, it simply comes down to a question of private international law.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Vatican and Same Sex Couples

Today Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister, met some of the Vatican Archibishops to talk about the new same sex partnership law proposal. It is reported that the dialogue went well.

The Church is very skeptical about such proposal, but it seems as if they want to engage in a discussion to test new ideas.

Is it a sign of conversion on the part of the Vatican? We can only hope so. But I doubt it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

French Presidential Elections: 2 Months to Go

France will change its head very soon. After 12 years of Chirac, this election will be very heated and important.

For those who want to follow the election closely, please have a look here (in french).

Friday, February 16, 2007

CIA's kidnappings in Italy

Some further judicial frictions between Italy and the US. After the accidents involved in the killing of an italian secret agent (Calipari) in Iraq, Italy is trying again to bring some US CIA agents before the courts. Here's a report

Berlusconi's government is very likely to have turned a blind eye on the practice of rendition. Prodi will not be as lineant.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Europe copies American Green Card

It will be called Blue Card, but the idea is the same as the Green Card. Highly skilled immigrants will have privileged status. This way, Europe wants to compete with Canada and the USA for the market of brains. For a good report, please see here

It would be all well and good, if Europe really had a competitive private market able to integrate quickly highly skilled people, in particular young ones. But the very problem is that jobs markets in France, Germany, Italy and Spain are quite rigid and biased in favour of more experienced people, rather than young and talented.

This might have changed in the last few years, if you listen to the report of the Economist on European Business. Who are the Champions--in business terms-- the Economist asks. Surprisingly, the competition between China and America is won by... Europe.

The relative health of the German economy, coupled with the efficiency of London, a struggle to improve of Paris, the disappearance of Berlusconi in Italy and the good term of Madrid all contribute to a renewed hope of European Competitiveness.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Red Brigades and Terrorism in Italy

In a time of international terrorism, homegrown 'communist' terrorists sound almost like a joke. But in Italy they aren't.

Red Brigades are still working and plotting against the state and some personalities. They hate particularly labour lawyers, one wonders why.

Few years ago, Marco Biagi, a labour law professor and counsel of the government was killed in Bologna.

Yesterday, the italian police captured a bunch of red brigades who were plotting to kill Pietro Ichino, another famouse labour law expert. You can find a report here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Same Sex Unions and Religion

The italian project of a civil union law is provoking extreme reactions in the country, as it was sadly predictable. The Vatican is trying to insist on the inviolability of the family understood as the union between a man and a woman. The Church is unable to understand that discrimination vis-a-vis homosexuals is comparable to any other type of discrimination based on race, or religion.

For a more balanced religious view, listen to Michael J Perry, a Catholic Law Professor at Emory, in his recent book Toward a Theory of Human Rights:

"I expect that within the next generation or two -within the lifetime of our children's children-- the understanding will come to be widely shared, in the world's liberal democracies, that refusing to recognize same-sex unions, if not morally akin to outlawing interracial unions, is nonetheless bereft of any non demeaning rationale.'

Friday, February 09, 2007

Toward a Theory of Human Rights by Michael J Perry

This book does exactly what it claims: it attempts to develop a theory of human rights. Perry suggests that a theory of human rights should deal with three basic issues. First, the moral foundation of human rights. Second, the normative relationship between the morality and the law of human rights. Third, the institutional arrangements that best protect human rights.

To each of these three issues Perry offers very stimulating, and conspicuously controversial, treatment. He argues that the moral foundation of human rights can be defined in terms of the principle of dignity and inviolability of each human being. The trouble is, Perry argues, that secular people cannot offer a proper justification of dignity and inviolability. The only sound rationale is religious.

Once the foundation established, the following step is to explain in what way the morality of human rights influences the law of human rights. This is inextricably linked to the two claims of inherent dignity and inviolabililty. In legal terms, it means that those who commit to that morality will have to do all they can to enact laws that do not violate human beings, and refrain from relying on laws that do violate human beings.

Perry takes three areas to illustrate his claims. Death penalty, Abortion, and Same sex unions. Not afraid of challenging conventional understanding, he argues that his morality of human rights requires that death penalty be abolished. It requires that the pre-viability abortions be banned; and that same sex unions be recognised.

All this, however, is not as straightforward as it looks in normative terms. For, the institutional perspective nuances the general picture in many ways. The main question is to know what role should the courts play. Perry argues that the US system of judicial review coupled with judicial supremacy, gives excessive powers to courts. In other words, he disapproves of judicial ‘ultimacy,’ the fact that the US supreme court has the last word on the most controversial issues. Instead, he favours something close to the Canadian system, that he deems a system of judicial ‘penultimacy.’ The Supreme Court expresses itself on controversial issues, but the parliament can, if it wants, overrule the court’s decision thanks to the Canadian ‘notwithstanding clause.’ Perry presents this solution as an elegant compromise that conciliate judicial review with democratic participation. He says the same for the UK HRA 1998.

In the US, judicial ultimacy is not likely to be removed. To mitigate its effect, Perry suggests that court should adopt a deferential attitude along the lines proposed by James Bradley Thayer. Roughly, thayerian deference requires courts to apply the rule of the clear mistake—that is, interference only when the statute is clearly wrong. Thayerian deference is not grounded on the belief that the legislative or the executive are better equipped to take hard decisions. Thayer believes instead that a non-deferential system of judicial ultimacy would render citizens less politically and morally awake. Institutions may make mistakes and the way to redress them is to fight political battles not to devolve all the power to review those decisions to courts.

How does this affect the treatment of the relevant issues from the US point of view? Death penalty violates the constitution, but the court should so rule only if it believes that the legislator has made a clear mistake. Pre-viability Abortion violates the constitution, but the same caveat applies. Finally, the ban on same sex unions is unconstititutional, but court should be deferential along the same lines.

Perry’s book is very welcome. He is right to insist from the beginning to the conclusion that the work on theories of human rights has just begun. His contribution will no doubt advance the debate because it focuses on central issues without seeking approval. His theses are clearly exposed and highly controversial. The debate can begin.

It should begin and take place globally. And here’s my first criticism to Perry’s book. As many Anglo-American scholars, he ignores almost entirely the debates in non-english speaking countries. Most of European countries have produced fine scholarship on these issues, and a lot of this material is also available in English. One example above all is Robert Alexy’s Theory of Constitutional Rights, translated in English and published by OUP.

This leads to a second point. One may argue that Perry draws a distinction between Human Rights and Constitutional Rights. He may then claim that theories have been produced on the latter but not on the former. Indeed, at the beginning he seems to concentrate on international human rights as opposed to domestic constitutional rights. But by the end of the book it is clear, that the morality of human rights he finds in the international arena should also apply domestically, say at the level of the US Supreme Court.

I would find such a distinction helpful as it could underline another major difference between international human rights and domestic constitutional rights. The latter are nowadays well protected precisely because of judicial review, while the former are far away from being effectively protected. This may also point to the fact that Perry’s criticism to judicial review is exaggerated. One may suggest, not so foolishly, that liberal democracies came to protect constitutional rights so robustly precisely because of judicial review. If anything, the UK example shows that during Thatcher’s government rights were not respected and judges had little weapons to fight back. Moreover, parliament was incapable to stand alone for the rights of the citizens. It is such an abuse that led the labour government to entrench rights and to protect them through judicial review.

Now Perry could say that the HRA does not introduce a system of judicial ultimacy, but only an elegant compromise between parliamentary sovereignty and judicial review. Whether that is an elegant compromise, I have many doubts. Whether it will work in the long run, it is another open issue. The HRA is in the eyes of many either too much or too little. It is too much in the very eyes of those who have entrenched it and then complained that it bound excessively the executive in its war against terrorism. Its too little in the eyes of many advocates who fought for a bill of rights, Lord Lester for example, and thought that the HRA could be a first step toward a fully entrenched and fully reviewable bill of rights.

The most controversial of all issue, however, is that of the foundation of rights. Many liberal philosophers, starting from Rawls and Habermas, have amply shown that our secular democracies have borrowed a lot from religious concepts. Dignity and inviolability of human beings may well be concepts of Christian origins, but our societies have translated those concepts to our secular frameworks. This is not to deny their Christian root, to the contrary. But liberal democracies, beyond translation, also made possible the effective protection of dignity and inviolability of human beings. This was not true of the period preceding the establishment of liberal democracies, which we could deem the age of the Res Publica Christiana. During those ages, dignity and inviolability of human beings might have been already strong Christian principles, but their violation in practice also was very common. We may say, therefore, that liberal democracies brought to a totally different stage those principles, and to a certain extent the Church is catching up with the recognition of the importance of the consequences that we may want those principles to have.

Thus, liberal democracies not only translated those principles, but they also transformed them into tools for the improvement of the society. Religion can claim part of merit, but it also has to acknowledge the intrinsic merits of liberalism, as far as the redefinition and concrete protection of those principles is concerned.

To engage with Perry’s book does not detract anything to its quality. To the contrary, the quest for a proper theory of human rights should probably start there.

Same Sex Unions in Italy

Italian Government has presented today its legislative proposal for same sex unions. If you read italian, you can have a look at the proposal here.

The proposal still has to be voted in parliament (both lower and higher chambers). Amendments are likely to be presented.

That said, the text is a very big effort of Prodi's majority to find a compromise between the religious and the secular wing of the coalition. Any amendments would risk to compromise the compromise (if I may say).

One important proviso, this proposal has the main goal of recognising de facto couples, including homosexual couples. It does not allow homosexual to get married.

It is still an important step toward the recognition of rights and duties of stable, non-married, couples.

A final point: the debate is likely to be intense. The vatican has already intervened many times to discourage this possibility.