Home > Archives > 06/07 - 2006 > The sixtieth anniversary
from issue no. 06/07 - 2006

The sixtieth anniversary

The sixtieth anniversary of the Constituent Assembly took place in the particular climate caused by the referendum on the modifications made to the Charter by Parliament on the initiative of the right of center majority without proper consideration...

Giulio Andreotti

A street march in Milan

A street march in Milan

The sixtieth anniversary of the Constituent Assembly took place in the particular climate caused by the referendum on the modifications made to the Charter by Parliament on the initiative of the right of center majority without proper consideration. At the first reading an effort was made to soothe the doubtful and those against by assuring them that debate would take place in the crossover between the two Chambers. That did not happen. When the bill was returned to the Senate, the Northern League imposed on its fellow inhabitants in the “Casa della Liberta” [the House of Freedom] that not even a comma be touched.
While taking care not to be considered – as a survivor from 1946 – simply harking back, I remember that the Assembly had been preceded by an in-depth consultation of the universities - promoted by the Ministry for the Constituent Assembly – while the political parties had devoted days of study and thought, even if, to tell the truth, the main debate was between the Monarchists and the Republicans, especially during the last days (the king had abdicated on 9 May).
I well remember that election campaign (not least because it was my first), with all the tightrope-walking we had to do to keep the choice of regime and that of the statutory norms separate.
In the language always current at least in Rome, republic meant confusion, indeed great confusion. I don’t know whether it was subtle revenge by the papal adherents of Pius IX: but that’s how it was. Let it be added that Pietro Nenni was shouting in very loud tones: «The Republic or chaos» and certainly wasn’t helping to give moderate content to the model for which he was fighting; indeed causing more fear than Togliatti, who as part of the Salerno government had gained a name as a conciliator.
In Catholic circles distrust of a Republic was marked; and it was no accident that, knowing his republican convictions, the Vatican had prevented the return from exile of Don Luigi Sturzo. He was able to embark only after the referendum. The Pope, for that matter, sent the apostolic nuncio to offer a word of comfort to the defeated king; he received him in person before the departure for Portugal and also got him helped with a loan (later regularly “honored”).
I have recently reconstructed, on the basis of my first-hand experience, the events of June 1946, to which La Civiltà Cattolica has also devoted a very documented article.
When on the afternoon of 10 June the president of the Court of Cassation [the Supreme Court] added to the figures for the referendum the bizarre postponement to a later session, so as «to take accounts of the appeals arrived in the meantime», days of uncertainty and confusion began – according to the chronicles – noted also in the diary of Marquis Falcone Lucifero, minister of the Royal Household. I have spoken of it with him several times over the following years and I am convinced that the king was more open with De Gasperi than with his close collaborators.
In fact immediately after the Supreme Court session mentioned, I accompanied the president to the Quirinal, the royal palace, naturally as far as the door of his office. Back in the car, after the audience, De Gasperi told me in very relaxed fashion that the king would be leaving in three days time; and so it was, even if illustrious jurists had gone to advise him to wait.
Public attention soon shifted to the Assembly that began working on 25 June. Its assignment was the working out of the Charter, leaving ordinary legislation to the Council of Ministers. The only hiatus of consequence was the debate on the peace treaty, during which Vittorio Emanuele Orlando used the unhappy expression: «appetite for servility».
In drafting the Constitution the deputies of the various and opposing currents worked together in an unforeseeable and novel way. When (at the end of May 1947) the government coalition split clamorously, there was fear that in Montecitorio, the seat of parliament, the atmosphere of co-operation would break down. It was not so. Togliatti, Calamandrei, La Pira, Dossetti continued in their daily effort of working together as if at the Viminal and in the country nothing had happened. That is the secret of the validity of the Charter. The Communists were to take twenty-nine years before abandoning their vote against governments led by the Christian Democrats but at the basis of national life the Constitution, voted almost unanimously in December 1947, became the guarantee and regulator of behavior for everybody. Indeed: when the idea of a European Community matured, it’s full agreement with article 11 of the Constitution was recognized: «Italy... consents, on condition of parity with other States, to the limitations of sovereignty necessary to an arrangement that assures peace and justice among the Nations, encourages and promotes the international organizations directed to such purpose».
The proponents of the Berlusconi modifications assure us – and it is in theory exact – that no one wants to alter the principles and guarantees set out in the first part: but the concern of those of us against is that if the balances of the structures get changed, the safeguard could turn out to be deceptive.
The inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly in the
chamber of Montecitorio, 25 June 1946

The inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly in the chamber of Montecitorio, 25 June 1946

One only has to think to the delicate positioning, in the system, of the President of the Republic, whose “powers” have shaped themselves to the various holders of the seven-year term with exemplary flexibility. To remove from the President of the Republic the power to dissolve the Chambers and transfer it to the Prime Minister (no longer “President of the Council”) is no small innovation in the system. The cancellation of presidential decrees to be replaced by the presentation of legislative proposals in Parliament is also alarming. And what is one to say of the practical suppression of the Senate, reduced to consultative body, with the awarding of a high-sounding epithet (“federal”)?
A specious attempt was made to boost the advantage of the reform in so far as it would reduce the number of parliamentarians (deputies from 630 to 518 and senators from 315 to 252). The peak of disinformation was the claim that our Parliament is the most crowded in Europe; when the House of Commons in London has 646 members compared to our 630 and in the Upper Chamber the Lords number 733.

The turnout of voters in the referendum was higher than any forecast: very good. And the Nos won by no small margin.
At this point both sides are saying that changes can still be discussed as search is made for agreement. It seems to me that we must move with caution. There must be a pause for reflection, indications and the perspectives should first be solicited from universities and townships.
If, as is to be hoped, the European Union will once again take off, progressive integration will perhaps involve constitutional changes.
Maybe harking back is strong in me (on the inaugural day in 1946 I was sat, as most junior, next to Vittorio Emanuele Orlando who, as doyen, chaired the session). But, nevertheless, the defense of the Constitution has a value that is to be understood and protected with great care and with steadfast intransigence.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português