Italy’s parliamentary system features competitive multiparty elections. Civil liberties are generally respected, but concerns about the rights of migrants persist, and regional inequalities are substantial and persistent. Endemic problems of corruption and organized crime pose an enduring challenge to the rule of law and economic growth.
- Italy was the first country in Europe to experience a major COVID-19 outbreak, and remained one of the countries most severely afflicted by the pandemic. The government introduced rigid restrictions in March, including a nationwide lockdown and restrictions on commercial and industrial activities. Restrictions were eased during the summer, but reintroduced as a new pandemic wave began in autumn. According to researchers at the University of Oxford, the country registered over 2.1 million cases and 74,000 deaths by the end of 2020.
- In a September referendum, Italians voted overwhelmingly in favor of cutting the size of parliament by more than one third. The vote was held concurrently with several key regional elections that resulted in a boost to the fragile ruling coalition.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Parliament and regional representatives elect the president, whose role is largely ceremonial but sometimes politically influential, for a seven-year term. The legitimacy of the presidential vote rests largely on the fairness of legislative elections. Sergio Mattarella, a former constitutional judge backed by the center-left Democratic Party, was elected president in 2015.
The president appoints the prime minister, who serves as head of government and is often, but not always, the leader of the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies, Italy’s lower house. The prime minister proposes a Council of Ministers that requires confirmation by parliament.
In August 2019 Giuseppe Conte, an independent law professor who was not a member of parliament, was reinstated as prime minister of a new center-left government formed by the Five Star Movement, the Democratic Party (PD), the Free and Equals (LeU), and Italia Viva.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The bicameral parliament consists of the 630-member Chamber of Deputies and the 315-member Senate. Members of both houses are popularly elected for five-year terms, though the president can appoint five additional senators, and former presidents are also entitled to Senate seats.
The March 2018 elections were considered free and fair by international observers. A center-right coalition government led by the League party and the Five Star Movement was formed in June 2018, but it collapsed in August 2019 amid a coalitional crisis provoked by League leader Matteo Salvini. That September, a new government was forged by a coalition including the Five Star Movement, the PD, and LeU, later joined by Italia Viva. In 2020, a rise in public trust helped stabilize the government during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis, but the coalition entered another period of fragility in December amid a second pandemic wave and sharp debate within the coalition regarding the prime minister’s plan for economic recovery.
In a referendum held in September, 70 percent of Italians voted in favor of cutting the Chamber of Deputies to 400 seats, and the Senate to 200. Proponents of the change, particularly members of the Five Star Movement, argued that the move would reduce costs, while critics contended the shift would weaken parliamentary authority of and deliver minimal cost savings. Concurrent elections in nine regions led to gains for the League, but the governing PD maintained control of several key regions, and the balloting was perceived as a setback for right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini. The changes will take effect in 2023.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
While Italy’s electoral framework and campaign-finance regulations are complex, the elections they enable have consistently been deemed fair and credible.
The current electoral law, adopted by parliament in 2017, introduced a mixed system in both houses, with 36 percent of seats allocated using the first-past-the-post method, and 64 percent using a proportional, party-list method. The law encouraged coalition governments, as demonstrated by the 2018 election results.
In June 2020, the coalition-leading PD and Five Star parties presented a new electoral reform centered on a fully proportional, closed-list system, including a 5 percent threshold for electoral representation. However, disagreements among coalition members stymied progress on the bill during the rest of the year.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties are generally able to form and operate freely, and the political landscape features a high level of pluralism and competition. Since the beginning of the 1990s, politics have been characterized by unstable coalitions and the frequent emergence of new parties.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Italy has a long record of frequent changes in the governing coalition, with multiple transfers of power since the early 1990s.
The September 2020 regional elections shifted the regional balance of power further to the right, with 14 of 20 Italian regions now ruled by right-wing or center-right coalitions. Opposition leader Salvini faced a challenge from a far-right ally, the Brothers of Italy, which won the regional presidency of Marche in 2020.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
The public is generally free to make political choices without undue interference. However, organized crime groups retain some ability to intimidate and influence politicians, especially at the local level, and to establish corruption networks abetted by public administrators. In 2020, the government used its authority to dissolve 11 town councils over ties to local mafia-like groups, leaving a total of 39 local governments under special administration as of year’s end.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Electoral laws contain provisions designed to encourage political participation by linguistic minorities and promote gender parity, though progress toward full political representation for women and LGBT+ people remains slow.
The extremely limited political participation rights accorded to migrants limits their voice in national politics, a dynamic exacerbated by the emergence of a xenophobic and nationalist discourse in recent years. In October 2020, the government amended the tightened restrictions on citizenship and naturalization enacted in 2018, but maintained several provisions that imposed barriers to citizenship, including a lengthy processing period and an Italian-language proficiency requirement.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials are able to craft and implement policy without improper interference from unelected entities. Prime Minister Conte has led two coalition governments since the 2018 elections without having won a seat in parliament. The coalition formed in September 2019 commanded a legislative majority and generally was able to determine policies throughout 2020.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious problem despite long-term efforts to combat it, and its impact is exacerbated when officials and members of organized crime networks jointly carry out graft schemes. Since 2018 Italy has strengthened its anticorruption framework. An anticorruption law adopted in 2019 tightened sanctions for corruption, reformed statutes of limitation to limit stalling tactics, and extended existing antimafia investigative tools to include corruption offenses. Despite this increased capacity, many sectors require additional reforms to limit graft, including public procurement.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The legal framework mandates administrative transparency and access to public information through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) adopted in 2016. Although the legislation designates access to information as a fundamental right, efforts to ensure compliance with FOIA requests by public administrators remain incomplete.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. Despite the rapid growth of the online news industry, traditional media still play a large role in news consumption. There are more than 100 daily newspapers, most of them locally or regionally based, as well as political party papers, free papers, and weekly publications. Concentration of ownership remains a major concern, but many media viewpoints are available. Internet access is generally unrestricted.
The Ministry of Interior registered 163 acts of intimidation against journalists in 2020, a sharp spike from the 87 such events recorded in 2019. Organized crime threats—which have resulted in permanent police protection for over a dozen journalists—accounted for 17 percent of the acts, while 42 percent were attributed to social or political motivations, including a series of attacks by protesters opposed to the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Defamation remains criminalized in Italy, and lawmakers have repeatedly failed to address the persistent use of frivolous lawsuits intended to deter factual reporting; a legislative reform effort initiated in 2019 stalled in November 2020.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice. There is no official religion; while the Roman Catholic Church receives certain benefits under a treaty with the state, other groups have access to similar benefits through their own accords.
Some local governments have raised obstacles to the construction and recognition of mosques, and right-wing political parties have stoked anti-Muslim attitudes. Antisemitic acts have also trended upward in recent years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are no major restrictions on people’s ability to discuss controversial or sensitive topics in public without fear of surveillance or retribution.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The freedom to assemble peacefully is guaranteed in the constitution and typically upheld in practice. COVID-19 containment measures included restrictions on freedom of assembly, though a series of demonstrations against lockdown measures took place throughout the year.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally free to organize and operate. During the first Conte government, Italian authorities engaged in repeated standoffs with NGO-operated ships involved in rescue operations of trafficked and smuggled migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2019 new decrees limited access to Italian ports, leading to extended wait times for disembarkation that created serious health risks for migrants, and imposed large potential fines for noncompliance. In October 2020, the second Conte government amended the decrees, lowering—though not eliminating—the fines.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions are generally free to organize and operate. The constitution recognizes the right to strike but places restrictions on strikes by employees in essential sectors like transportation, sanitation, and health, as well as by some self-employed individuals, including lawyers, doctors, and truck drivers.
COVID-19 containment measures did not include restrictions on the right to strike, and unions organized several work stoppages throughout the year to demand effective workplace sanitation and safety measures.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is generally independent and autonomous. Allegations of abuse of power and corruption involving members of the High Council of the Judiciary, which controls internal governance of the judiciary, have led to reform efforts, including an August 2020 proposal to improve the Council’s accountability and transparency; the bill remained pending in parliament as of the end of 2020.
Organized crime networks continue to threaten judges and prosecutors involved in antimafia processes, particularly in Calabria, but state protection measures function adequately, and both attacks and the incidence of mafia-related judicial corruption have declined overall in recent years.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 due to declines in both judicial corruption and efforts to intimidate judges in recent years.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process rights are largely upheld. However, judicial procedures are often characterized by lengthy delays; Italy has one of the lowest numbers of judges per capita in the European Union. The government has been criticized for denying detained migrants access to lawyers.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
While the population is generally free from major threats to physical security, there have been reports of excessive use of force by police and prison guards, particularly against undocumented migrants. Asylum seekers and undocumented migrants have been often held in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, prisoners angry about increased isolation and fearful of disease transmission in overcrowded facilities rioted in dozens of prisons, leaving at least 13 prisoners dead and several hundred injured inmates and guards.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and other categories, and these protections are generally enforced. However, members of the Romany minority have unequal access to housing, and many live in segregated settlements that lack adequate infrastructure. LGBT+ people face societal discrimination and occasional acts of violence. Police registered 1,119 hate crimes in 2019; over 70 percent involved racism and xenophobia, with approximately 10 percent linked to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Italy’s treatment of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been subject to significant criticism in recent years. In late 2018, parliament approved legal changes that tightened conditions for granting asylum and humanitarian protection, reduced access to services, and eased deportation conditions. Following the 2019 coalitional realignment, Prime Minister Conte promised to roll back the anti-immigrant policies. The decree enacted in October 2020 allows migrants and refugees to apply for residency on humanitarian protection grounds if they “risk being subjected to torture or inhumane treatment” at home and expands access to public services, but does not offer regularized status to those who lost legal residency under the 2018 decrees.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals are generally free to travel and to change their place of residence, employment, and education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
The legal and regulatory framework supports property rights and the operation of private businesses, but corruption and organized crime can hinder normal business activity, as can onerous bureaucratic obstacles. Delays in court proceedings often undermine enforcement of protections for property rights.
According to experts on organized crime, mafia groups exploited the social and economic crises provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic, distributing goods and expanding control of cash-starved local businesses via loan-sharking and money-laundering operations.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
The law protects individual freedom on personal status issues such as marriage and divorce. Same-sex civil unions with nearly all the benefits of marriage are permitted, and courts have begun to recognize second-parent adoption rights for same-sex couples. Though public awareness of the problem of domestic violence is increasing due to advocacy campaigns, it remains a persistent issue, and calls to the national domestic violence rose significantly during the COVID-19 lockdown.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
In the last few years, Italy has adopted measures to combat human trafficking and labor exploitation, but both phenomena remain concerns, especially with respect to asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from Eastern Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic increased migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation and worsened labor and living conditions, even as many were excluded from large-scale government aid programs instituted in response to the crisis. In May the government passed a law allowing undocumented workers to apply for short-term residency permits, but critics suggested the program left out workers in many sectors and would do little to combat exploitation, especially of mistreated workers in the agricultural sector. During the year, the government assented to demands by Italy’s major trade union confederations and repeatedly extended a ban on firing workers amid the coronavirus emergency.
The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation remains a concern. In a positive step, the October amendments to the 2018 immigration decrees ended asylum seekers’ exclusion from access to reception centers, which had left victims of trafficking without assistance.
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Global Freedom Score90 100 free
Internet Freedom Score75 100 free