Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Administrative elections, 28th - 29th May

I waited for the paper editions of Repubblica and the Corriere della Sera to check out the results of the administrative elections held over the weekend. Headline results are this: in the five major contests, the centre-right won two (presidency of the Sicilian region retained by Toto Cuffaro; Letizia Moratti becomes mayor of Milan), the centre-left three (Veltroni remains Mayor of Rome, Sergio Chiamparino mayor of Torino, and Rosa Iervolino mayor of Napoli). The two centre-right wins were expected, but the margin for Toto Cuffaro was slightly narrower than he might have hoped. Iervolino's win in Napoli - on the first ballot - was not expected.

Overall, of the twenty-three large comunes, fourteen went to the centre-left, four to the centre-right, with the remainder in the balance. This represents a net gain of two provinces for the centre-left since 2001.

What does this tell us about the strength of the various parties?

First, it remains a handy rule of thumb that Forza Italia performs better when Silvio Berlusconi is running for office. Forza Italia's performance in certain parts of the country was dire - polling less than 10% in Rome, for example. Whether this also involves a differential turnout effect is unclear.

Second, given this, it was foolish of Berlusconi to stake so much on these elections as the first test of the new Prodi government. (This is the argument of Paolo Franchi's editorial on te front page of Corriere della Sera). Over the next few months, it will be interesting to see whether Berlusconi's hard-nosed oppositionism succeeds, or whether Berlusconi will lose the co-operation of the UDC and (less likely) certain parts of Alleanza Nazionale.

Third, the centre-right seems to have a considerable problem in grooming leaders for the local or regional level. That is to say, centre-left mayoral candidates outpolled their parties; centre-right mayoral candidates were a drag on the ticket. See the graphic below.

Fourth, it's difficult to tell whether this election provides further ammunition for those who wish to see a single party of the left. Repubblica made much of the success of the united left in Torino, with Sergio Chiamparino, a supporter of the united party idea, as capolista.

Fifth, it doesn't seem that this contest will either buoy or weaken the government. Prodi can maintain his 'serenita`'.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The democratic deficit

Just been reading Simon Hix and Andreas Follesdal on the 'democratic deficit' in the Journal of Common Market Studies (subscription only). Here's the argument, in a nutshell:

The new 'standard version' of the democratic deficit argument:

  1. European integration has strengthened national executives at the expense of national parliaments; national executives' actions in Europe are now decreasingly subject to control and/or oversight by national parliaments. “Governments can effectively ignore their parliaments when making decisions in Brussels” (p. 3). This is taken to be undemocratic.

  2. The power of the elected European Parliament relative to the unelected Commission and indirectly elected Council is limited. Despite increases in the EP's powers, it still has limited budget power and influences executive formation only in exceptional circumstances.

  3. There are no 'European elections': EP elections are second-order contests. “If anything, the main second-order effects of European elections – whereby governing parties and large parties lose while opposition and small parties win irrespective of these parties’ EU policies – have increased rather than decreased” (p. 4). Consequently, the requirement of the responsible party government model, that citizens vote on the basis of policy proposals, is lacking.

  4. The EU is simply 'too distant' from voters, in both institutional and psychological senses. Institutionally, the chain of delegation from national voters to EU institutions is too long and convoluted. Psychologically, the complexity of the EU polity, and its differences with national systems, make it tremendously difficult to understand the EU.

  5. European integration produces 'policy drift' from voters' preferences: governments agree to policies they cannot undertake at the national level; absent pressure groups, competitive party politics, neo-liberal policy outcomes, including monetarism and competitive de-regulation, are enacted, despite the fact that they are to the right of the median (national or European) voter. Often a criticism of German Social Democrats.

Majone's defence:

  1. The EU is, in essence, a regulatory state.

  2. Regulation is about addressing market failure and thereby creating Pareto-efficient outcomes.

  3. Due to temporal inconsistency, myopia, or emotive irrationality, democratically-elected national governments tend to be poor regulators, adopting policy positions which are not Pareto-efficient, but do have significant redistributive outcomes.

  4. Consequently, national government, realising this weakness, and acting in the best interests of their citizens, have delegated these regulatory tasks to the European Union.

  5. Pareto-improving regulatory measures may justifiably be bracketed from the normal rough-and-tumble of democratic majoritarian politics

  6. The EU does not need to be democratic; rather, it needs to be efficient.

  7. Institutional reforms which promote efficiency – including greater transparency in decision-making, more use of ex post review, and better scrutiny by the Parliament – should be implemented.

  8. Conversely, institutional reforms which promote democratic competition – direct election of the Commission or its selection by the Parliament – should be resisted.

Moravcsik's defence:

  1. National executives are the most important actors in Europe; this is only fitting, because they are the most accountable actors in Europe, far more so than either the Commission or the EP.

  2. Those areas in which national executives dominate less – for example, in classic 'supra-national' policy areas – are those areas in which the role of the EP has been strengthened to match. So, “if a party in government is on the losing side of a qualified majority vote in the Council, it has a chance of ‘winning it back’ in the Parliament – as Germany has done on several occasions (such as the takeover directive in July 2001)” (p. 8).

  3. The EU is not opaque or distant: paranoia about the democratic deficit has meant that it is now much easier for interest groups and citizens to gather information on EU policy-making than it is for them to gather information on their own national polities.

  4. The argument about policy drift is incorrect: the high majority thresholds mean that EU policies are centrist, not neo-liberal; governments vote their policy preferences and that's it.

  5. Because the primary act of delegation is between national voters and national executives, the fact that there are no 'European' elections is of little consequence.

Arguments against Majone:

  1. Policies can rarely be separated into pure regulatory versus pure (re)distributive policies. The allocation of property rights and issues of consumer protection are classic regulatory issues designed to ensure Pareto efficient outcomes. Interest-rate decisions are not by definition about correcting market failures, but are commonly delegated because of temporally inconsistent preferences. The bulk of market-building regulation has significant redistributive consequences – mostly between producers and employees. EU expenditure programmes are purely distributive.

  2. Given this continuum, then either the scope of action of the EU should be drastically reduced to pure market correction, or democratic contestation should be introduced for those EU areas which have significant (re)distributive elements.

Arguments against Moravcsik:

  1. At the current time, it does not seem likely that EU policy outputs significantly diverge from the preferences of some hypothetical EU-wide median voter.

  2. However, in order for a system to be considered democratic, the link between voter preferences and policy outputs should not be contingent but should be based on process.

  3. In the EU, there is no reliable process to ensure that delegation of authority to national executives is not abused.

  4. Consequently, either the primary dimension of national political dimension becomes Europe, or selection of the principal actors should rely on a more immediate voter-representative link.

  5. Voters' preferences are in part shaped by democratic discussion. Were the EU executive to be democratically selected, voters' preferences may consequently change. Therefore, it is not the case that “more democracy is unnecessary, because there is a good voter-preference-policy match”.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Home Page - Openpolis

Home Page - Openpolis: "Questo sito serve per organizzare i contributi comunitari alla progettazione e realizzazione dei sistemi." An absolutely excellent site which aims to do for Italian politics what Public Whip or TheyWorkForYou did for UK politics. Unfortunately, they're limited by the availability of data on the Camera and Senate websites, which hold information on the first to fourth legislatures, and the last three, but not the intervening legislatures, and which don't hold information on the conflict of interest forms filled out by legislators. Still, they hope to press newly elected President of the Chamber Bertinotti to do something about that.

I've created two SPSS files from the raw data provided by openpolis - one file for Deputies (not including the deputies of the fifteenth legislature) and one file for Senators (bang up to date).

The files are not ideal, because the one entry per deputy/senator format means that changes in parliamentary group, or multiple dates of election, are not permitted - but it's a good start, improving, at least in terms of coverage, over the publicly available Verzichelli-Cotta database.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

First news on Prodi's lineup

Ecco il governo Prodi: 9 Ds, 7 Dl Amato all'Interno, Difesa a Parisi - Politica -

Very useful article outlines the shape of Prodi's coalition. Here are some first thoughts:

First, it augurs well for the cabinet stability that all parties - including Rif. Communista, Udeur, and the Comunisti Italiani - are represented in the coalition. By participating, those parties signal commitment to the coalition, and a willingness to accept a minimal degree of cabinet cohesion.

Second, the ministries have been split almost exactly in proportion to the share of the vote of each party. Assume that the DS / Margherita share of the combined Unione vote is approximately 55:45. In this case, each party contributed the following percentage to the Unione's overall vote:

PartyVote share
Rif. Comm12%
Rosa nel Pugno5%
Comm. Ital.5%
It.d. Valori5%

The percentage of the total 25 ministries obtained by each party:

PartyMinistries% share
Comm. Ital14%
Rosa nel Pugno14%
Rif. Comm.14%

The shares match pretty well, with the exception of Rifondazione Comunista. I wonder whether this signals unwillingness on the part of Prodi to give too many ministries to the most awkward member of the coalition, or whether Rif. Comm. is quite happy taking only one portfolio.

Third, compensation for disproportionality in the share of ministries, and for certain parties - Udeur, Rosa nel Pugno - not getting their preferred ministies, will arrive when the under-secretary posts are doled out.

Fourth, if the second and third points are valid, this cabinet distribution suggests that ministries - with the exception of Finance - are distributed in a policy-blind fashion; or, if the distribution is policy-sensitive, it is subject to a fairly demanding proportional distribution criteria.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Napolitano's inaugural speech

Interesting to check out the reactions to Giorgio Napolitano's speech to Parliament today (speech available at the Quirinale site). For the left, Alleanza Nazionale, and the UDC, the speech was good. For Forza Italia and the Lega, it was product of a "dated culture" (Sandro Bondi), or, worse, a deliberate slight to the centre-right in its omission of thanks to the outgoing government (Renato Schifani, Forza capogruppo in the Senate).

Personally, I thought it was open enough to the right to assuage the fears of the forzisti, particularly on the right's proposed constitutional amendments. There was a nice quote from the debates of the Constituent Assembly; the framers sought to
tutelare le esigenze di stabilità dell'azione di governo e di evitare le degenerazioni del parlamentarismo

which sounds like a nice retcon of what the right sought to do.

Oh, and Italian newspapers - or at least Repubblica - also use the ridiculous American habit of measuring the success of a speech by the number of applause interruptions.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Antitrust finds Berlusconi did not violate conflict of interest rules

The Garante della Concorrenza has just ruled that Berlusconi didn't violate conflict of interest rules when his government approved aid for digital TV decoders. Ruling is available here, English summary here.

I can't say that I'm very impressed with the quality of the ruling. The MSN report linked to above gives a very partial account of the ruling, and suggests that the scope of Berlusconi's acquittal was greater than it actually was.

As far as I can make out, the initial requests were made by Sen. Luigi Zanda (Margherita, and, surprise surprise, ex Rai Council member), complaining not just about the subsidies included in the 2006 budget, but for the years preceding. The Garante started by rebuffing his case, using some extremely questionable reasoning. According to Berlusconi's account, the final major amendment to the budget was entirely the responsibility of Giulio Tremonti, who proceeded without any act on the part of the Council of Ministers ( a surprising, perhaps worrying, claim). According to the Garante, this meant that the Garante could not act on the case, since "the lack of a formal act... excluded any possibility of intervention on the part of the [Garante]". This claim despite the language of the conflict of interest law, which not only includes "the adoption of an act" but also "the formulation of a proposal or the omission of a required act".

Anyway, the Garante eventually investigated the case, but excluded from its investigation the (much larger) subsidies in 2004 and 2005, since those budgets were passed before the conflict of interest legislation.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Napolitano for President of the Republic? gives the latest 'diretta' on the search for a President. The left claims that the right has agreed on Giorgio Napolitano, former President of the Chamber of Deputies.

The coverage shows the consociational model for extra-governmental appointments in Italy:

First, both coalitions either announce their favoured candidate or are interpreted to favour a particular candidate; these candidates are close to the coalition's ideal points.

Second, these candidates are then filtered by the press, giving the coalitions a reasonable idea of their chances

Third, closer to the deadline for nomination or appointment, the governing coalition shows a list of around three names to the opposition coalition (the 'compromise list'); these names may have surfaced in earlier press coverage or may have been held in reserve

Fourth, the opposition may either propose a counter-list or accept one of the listed candidates.

If the opposition proposes a counter-list, it's a sign of greater complexity in bargaining; names circulate in a garbage-can process until one candidates pops out of the black box.

The 'ideal point' candidates of the first stage seemed to be Massimo D'Alema (DS) and Gianni Letta (FI) - although the candidacy of the latter was never a serious possibility.

We don't know what the centre-left proposed to the centre-right when they met earlier this afternoon - but we do know that the centre-right's compromise list included Franco Marini (Speaker of the Senate), Giuliano Amato, Lamberto Dini (former PM), and Mario Monti (former EU Commissioner).

Whether he was on the centre-left's compromise list or not, Giorgio Napolitano won out.

Why should the left use this method, rather than using its majority in the presidential Electoral College? There is the weight of precedent - Ciampi was elected by the same consociational wheeler-dealing. More important is the need to eliminate uncertainty over the voting process, where delegates vote in secret.

Absent an agreed candidate of centre-left and centre-right, the centre-left needs to shepherd its majority to vote through its preferred candidate. But we've already seen from the battle for the Presidency of the Senate that some parts of the centre-left like playing games in these nomination fights. As the voting drags on, there is the risk that the centre-right could pitch a deus ex machina who could peel votes from, say, Clemente Mastella's Udeur. This tactic almost worked with Andreotti last week. So the centre-left's decision may be one of enlightened self-interest - even if it shows them to be quite risk-averse.

Of course, it's more complicated than that - Prodi is playing a parallel game in which he has to allocate goodies to his coalition members to keep them happy. The choice of Napolitano is useful. Because Napolitano belongs to the DS, Prodi is able to comfort the DS over the fact that D'Alema didn't make it to the presidency.

Of course, the centre-left had to give up something in exchange for appointing a former Communist to the Presidency - they've cut their already-slender majority in the Senate by one....

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Portfolio allocation

La has an interesting article about a fight between the Rosa nel Pugno and the Udeur in the battle for places in the future Prodi government. According to the traditional 'voci non confermate', Emma Bonino of the Rosa had been a shoe-in for the post of EU Affairs, and Clemente Mastella of the Udeur for the post of Defence Minister. As a former commissioner that would have suited Bonino. But now Bonino wants Defense. Why?

Most academic theories of coalition formation concentrate on the totality of coalition places, not individual ministries. They're not policy-sensitive, in other words. The one exception is Laver and Shepsle, who note that a government could refuse a particular ministry or set of ministries, even if it brought it more seats

“a social democratic party may prefer a minority Centre party administration to a coalition between the social democrats and a party of the far right, if the very disparate coalition were forecast to generate a lot of grief for the Social Democrats in policy terms”

But this doesn't make sense here. Radicals like EU affairs - it allows them to circumvent illiberal Italian politics. So perhaps, like most academic theories of coalition formation, Italian parties aren't policy sensitive, but rather weight more 'prestigious' ministries more. That tends to make portfolio allocation a more difficult job, since people's evaluations of prestige are more widely shared than their interests in particular policy areas.