Division of Powers

Latest update: 2012

Italy is a parliamentary Republic. The Parliament is bicameral and composed of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei deputati) and the Senate (Senato della Repubblica), each having equal powers. None of the chambers officially represent local and regional authorities. The Government is led by the Prime Minister (Presidente del consiglio dei ministri) and the Head of State is the President of the Republic (Presidente della Repubblica).

In accordance with the 1947 Constitution, the Italian Republic is ‘unitary’, while recognising the principles of local autonomy and decentralisation[1]. Nevertheless, as of today, Italy is considered as a ‘regionalised’ country. In this respect, regionalism has been progressively established after World War II, in reaction to the fascist period of centralisation. The original Constitution granted a special status to five Regions. The remainder of the fifteen Regions, recognised by the Constitution as having an ordinary status, were established at a later stage, in 1970. Administrative functions were transferred to them between 1972 and 1977. Regionalisation was strengthened in the 1990s. The so-called ‘Bassanini’ laws of 1997 (in particular, Law 59/1997) gave Regions residual administrative powers. A constitutional reform intervened in 2001 to modify the division of legislative competences between the State and the Regions, by distinguishing between exclusive competencies of the State, concurrent competencies, and exclusive competencies of the Regions. The regional statutory autonomy was also enlarged by a constitutional reform intervened in 1999. In 2005, a major constitutional reform broadening the powers of the Regions was rejected by referendum. As regards Provinces and Municipalities, their statutory autonomy was recognised in 1990 and enshrined in the Constitution in 2001. 

Italy is made up of Regions (regioni), Provinces (provincie), Municipalities (comuni) and metropolitan cities (citta metropolitane)[2]. The Regions[3], the Provinces[4] and the Municipalities[5] may adopt their own statutes.

There are fifteen Regions with ordinary status[6] (regioni a statuto ordinario): Piemonte, Lombardia, Veneto, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria.

Five Regions – Friuli-Venezia Giulia[7], Sardegna[8], Sicilia[9], Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol[10], and the Valle d'Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste[11] – have a special autonomous status (regioni autonome a statuto speciale), taking into account relevant geographic and/or cultural specific features. The Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is made up of the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Bozen. Regions have legislative and administrative competences, defined by their statutes.

Every region has a statute that serves as a regional constitution, determining the form of government and the fundamental principles of the organisation and the functioning of the region, as prescribed by the Constitution of Italy (Article 123). The main difference between the special status and the  ordinary status is that while the ordinary statute is adopted and modified by regional law, the special statute is adopted by constitutional law, as well as any change thereof. The reform of Title V of the Constitution of 2001 has increased the powers of ordinary statute regions, especially in subjects with concurrent jurisdiction between state and region. This caused the diminishing, to some extent, of the distinction between the ordinary and special status Regions.

Provinces and Municipalities enjoy more limited autonomy than Regions. They are able to benefit from a special status, which is the case, today, of the two Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Bozen only. The 110 Provinces[12] constitute both a level of local self-government and of devolution of the central Government. Following the regional referenda held in Sardinia on 06 May 2012, the eight Provinces currently established in the Region will be replaced as of 1st March 2013 by Unions of Municipalities. The 8.092 Municipalities[13] have a general competence for local affairs and may be delegated competences by the State or the Regions. 

The Constitution guarantees both local self-government and the subsidiarity principle. It gives indications on the exclusive competencies of the State, concurrent competencies, and exclusive competencies of the Regions[14]. Residual competence is vested in the Regions.[15]

The State is vested with regulatory powers relating to its exclusive legislative powers, although it may delegate them to the Regions. Regions have regulatory power in all other matters. The Provinces and Municipalities have regulatory powers for the organisation and implementation of their functions.[16]

Municipalities are delegated administrative responsibilities, unless they are delegated to the provinces, metropolitan cities, Regions and the State under the principle of subsidiarity, adequacy and differentiation, and to ensure harmonisation[17].

Since the 2001 constitutional reform, the central Government is no longer able to suspend regional legislation. Disputes either between the central Government and the Regions, or between Regions are referred before the Constitutional Court (Corte costituzionale)[18].

The Regions and autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Bozen participate in the EU decision-making process in the areas falling within their competences[19]. Upon their request, and under certain circumstances, the Government may appeal to the Court of Justice of the EU against EU acts. It is obliged to do so if the State-Regions Conference demands so with an absolute majority1[20].

Besides the Constitution, reference should be made to the different statutes of the Provinces and Regions, in order to know their attributes. Moreover, the Law 62/1953 defines the administration of ordinary Regions. As for the Provinces and Municipalities, their structures are defined in Laws 142/1990 and 265/1999. The Legislative Decrees 267/2000 and 112/1998 define the attributions of the different levels of governance.

Sub-national governments are granted financial autonomy regarding revenues and expenditure[21] (the so called “fiscal federalism” foreseen in the constitutional reform of 2001 has been implemented by Law 42/2009 and its subsequent law-decrees). Revenues are derived from taxation (own-source and shared), grants, and other sources. The Municipalities’ revenue is composed of 34.2% of autonomous taxation, 10.1% of shared tax, 33.7% of grants and 22% of others. The Provinces’ revenue is composed of about 36.5% of autonomous taxation, 3.5% of shared tax, 49.7% of grants and 10.3% of others. The Regions’ revenue is composed of about 34.3% of autonomous taxation, 10.5% of shared tax, 53.1% of grants and 2.1% of others.[22]

The Law Decree 201/2011 foresees two major changes as regards the Provinces:

  • The Provinces are responsible for guiding and coordinating functions of the municipal activities within their remit only;
  • Provincial competences are to be transferred to the Municipalities and tothe Regions by 31 December 2012. 

Moreover, several laws on the reorganisation of the territorial division and on the distribution of competences among the different levels of governance are under discussion. A Code on local government is currently under discussion[23]. Furthermore, a constitutional reform foresees converting the Senate into a federal chamber representing the local and regional authorities (LRAs)[24].  Debates also take place on the suppression of the Provinces. 

General division of powers

National level

The State shall have exclusive legislative powers in the following areas[25]:

  • State foreign policy and international relations, including State relations with the European Union, the right of asylum and the legal status of non-EU citizens;
  • Immigration;
  • Relations of the State with religious groups;
  • Defence and armed services;
  • Money, savings and financial markets;
  • Tax system and fiscal equalisation;
  • State bodies and corresponding electoral laws, State referenda and elections to the European Parliament;
  • State administration;
  • Public order and security, except local police administration;
  • Citizenship, civil status and registry;
  • Jurisdictions and proceedings norms;
  • Criminal, civil and administrative justice;
  • Determination of minimum standards of civil and social rights that shall be guaranteed throughout the national territory;
  • General education standards;
  • Social welfare;
  • Electoral legislation, main bodies and functions for municipalities, provinces and metropolitan areas;
  • Customs, protection of national borders and international prophylaxis;
  • Weights and measures, and time standards;
  • Coordination of the statistical and information system (central, regional and local);
  • Products of human ingenuity;
  • Environment and ecosystem protection,  and
  • Cultural heritage protection.

The State exercises concurrent legislative power with the Regions in a number of other areas listed in Art. 117 of the Constitution (see regional responsibilities).

The power to issue regulations shall be vested in the State regarding matters where it has exclusive legislative power, insofar as it does not devolve such power to the Regions.

Regional level

The Regions shall have (exclusive) legislative power with respect to any matters not expressly attributed to the State.

There is a number of matters of concurrent legislation for which the State shall only set fundamental principles:

  • International and EU relations of the Regions;
  • Foreign trade;
  • Protection and security at work;
  • Education, except scholastic education and vocational training;
  • Professions;
  • Scientific and technologic research as well as support to innovation in productive sectors;
  • Protection of health;
  • Food;
  • Sports;
  • Civil protection;
  • Town planning;
  • Civil ports and airports;
  • Large-scale transport and navigation networks;
  • Communications;
  • Energy production, transportation and distribution;
  • Complementary social welfare;
  • Public accounts harmonisation, coordination of the public finances and taxation system;
  • Development of cultural and environmental resources;
  • Regional savings bank, rural banks and credit agencies, and
  • Regional land and agricultural credit institutions. 

The power to issue regulations shall be vested in the Regions in all matters not subject to exclusive State competence. 

Local level

Responsibilities of the provinces

As of today, Provinces are mainly responsible for decentralised implementation of State responsibilities and play a coordinating role for supra-municipal issues.

They have competence in the following areas (Art. 19 of Legislative Decree 267/2000): 

  • Territorial planning, including spatial planning;, social and land-use planning;
  • Environment, including environmental protection, disaster prevention, pollution, fauna and flora protection, natural reserves and parks, water refuse, energy resources and waste collection;
  • Police, in particular civil protection;
  • Culture, in particular protection of cultural heritage;
  • Transport, including provincial highways and public transport;
  • Agriculture;
  • Fishing, including inland-waters, fresh-water hunting and fishing;
  • Labour market;
  • Compiling public data;
  • Technical and administrative assistance for municipalities, and
  • Economic development, including local economic development. 

Competences which may be devolved by regional or State law are: 

  • Social welfare, including sanitation and hygiene services, and
  • Education, including secondary education, artistic education and vocational training. 

Provinces also (art. 20): 

  • Coordinate municipal proposals in matters of regional economic, territorial and environmental plans, and
  • Participate in the definition of the regional development plan, as well as in other regional plans, depending on the regional law. 

Responsibilities of the municipalities

Administrative responsibilities of the municipalities are (Art. 13 of Legislative Decree 267/2000): 

  • Social welfare, in particular personal social services and community assistance;
  • Education, including school-related services such as canteens, school buses, assistance for the disabled, pre-school childcare and nursery schools;
  • Culture and recreation, including museums, exhibition halls, cultural activities and theatre;
  • Planning, including town planning, housing, and land registry;
  • Transport, in particular running of local transport and maintenance of local roads;
  • Economic development, including drafting of plans for trade, planning, programming and regulation of commercial activities, as well as establishment and management of industrial and trade zones;
  • Environment, including waste management, and
  • Local police. 

Deconcentrated responsibilities of the municipalities are (Art. 14 of Legislative Decree 267/2000): 

  • Registry, including births, marriages and deaths,
  • Elections;
  • Military service, and
  • Statistics.

Upland communities (Comunita Montane) have special competences in the following fields: 

  • Planning, in particular enhancement of upland areas;
  • Joint discharge of municipal responsibilities;
  • Tasks conferred on them by the EU or state or regional laws and policies;
  • Economic development, including multi-annual work and operation plans, and
  • Instruments for pursuing socio-economic development objectives, including those laid down by the EU, the State, or a Region.