May 18, 2020

Pragmatism in governance is in sight: from prohibitions to the public good

by Studio Valaguzza in Deepening

The Italian answer to this terrible and global pandemic has mainly been characterized by a centralization of powers and by the use of Prime Minister Decrees and Regional Ordinances as selected instruments for the management of the emergency.
Yesterday, May 16, 2020, in an interview with Corriere della Sera, Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari and President of ANCI, explained that the Italian mayors agreed to “freeze” their administrative powers to avoid chaos. However, he added that they have recently been working together with the Regions to draft a Protocol to be submitted to the Government concerning the rules on the restart of activities, in order to take their space back.
In technical terms, during the health crisis, Article 120 of the Italian Constitution was applied. According to the mentioned norm, “The Government can act for bodies of the regions, metropolitan cities, provinces and municipalities (…) in the case of grave danger for public safety and security, or whenever such action is necessary to preserve legal or economic unity and in particular to guarantee the basic level of benefits relating to civil and social entitlements, regardless of the geographic borders of local authorities”.
Pursuant tothe Constitution, this must be done in compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and loyal cooperation, which have been mentioned several times in the ongoing debates.
As we are leaving the emergency behind, we should wonder about attribution of powers, responsibilities and levels of government.
In the next phase, it is essential to understand who governs what and why.
The attribution of power is a judgment of competence, knowledge, and rationality, which comes before the exercise of the power itself.
Public power implies a specific legal status, which entails a specific responsibility that consists in the pursuit and implementation of the public interest.
It is now crucial to understand who, among the different public authorities, is in the best position to facilitate the relaunch of the economy and the spreading of the new needed sociality.
It is reasonable that the minor local authorities, in particular the municipalities, will be the ones to take the responsibility to act, with concrete actions, within the framework of national principles, as eventually implemented by the Regions.
Local administrations will have to deal with a very complicated and relevant task, which will be more difficult to govern than the prohibition phase, as it will have to be based on persuasion rather than on commands.
Moreover, although during the emergency period errors and uncertainties in rules have been forgiven because of the circumstances, this will not happen again. Impatience, concern, dissatisfaction, basic needs and a sense of overpowering are already boiling over.
The administration of pragmatism needs a new way of reasoning, capable of enhancing the cities’ government: the exercise of public power must once again be able to persuade because of its reasonableness; it must be exercised upon deep and meticulous open dialogue with people and organizations; it must be able to facilitate enterprises, partnerships, innovation, in order to give hope for a better future.
The next months will be pivotal to understand who will govern in the coming years.
Our identity, our way of being together, of working, of teaching will be the result of a constructive confrontation with local administration and not with the central government .
The pandemic is global, as well as the related confrontation: we are lucky enough to observe and judge different ways of governing, different cultural approaches and the reactivity of many different institutional systems.
In the global context, the Italian political and administrative structure is particularly interesting because it considers the difference as a value, without losing the unity of the Republic. The polycentric constitutional system, which has been challenged many times, has proven to be efficient and capable of integrating differences. In the global arena, the “Italy of Autonomies” has the opportunity to give an example, demonstrating that it is capable of creating new public value, starting from the specific intelligence of local administrations and under the guidance of a collective and unitary conscience, which is a State’s duty to represent.