Observer  /  Law

Italy makes constitution greener, environmentalists call for action

Original publication by Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones for on 9 February 2022

Italian politicians and activists praised a new law building protection of the environment into the constitution, but said action needed to be taken to ensure that the country benefited.

Italy is famed for its natural beauty but environmentalists say it does too little to protect jewels such as the Venice Lagoon or thousands of kilometres of Mediterranean coastline.

The constitutional law, approved by parliament on Tuesday, says the state must safeguard the environment, biodiversity and the ecosystem “also in the interest of future generations”.

It said any private economic initiative must not damage health or the environment.

Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani called the change “an essential step” for Italy as Rome acts to raise green investments to transform the economy under the European Union’s post-coronavirus pandemic recovery fund.

“I think this is a momentous day,” Cingolani said in a statement.

However, it remains to be seen what practical effects the revision to the constitution will have.

Italy’s constitution, effective since 1948, sets out broad principles but these are not always reflected in legislation and day-to-day policy.

For example, in 2012 Italy made the need to balance the state budget part of the constitution, but since then it has never achieved a balanced budget.

Similarly, article 11 of the constitution states that Italy “rejects war…as a means of resolving international controversies”, but this has not prevented Rome participating, directly or indirectly, in a number of armed conflicts.

If a lower court believes legislation flouts the constitution it can appeal to the Constitutional Court, launching what is normally a slow, drawn-out process.

The head of state can also refuse to sign off on bills and ask parliament to revise them if he believes they do not respect the constitution. Private individuals and pressure groups cannot appeal directly to the Constitutional Court.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini called the new constitutional law “a strong and symbolic act”, but said the principles established now needed “collective and individual actions consistent with those principles”.

“We need laws and rules to safeguard these principles in practice,” he wrote in daily newspaper Avvenire, adding that it was regrettable that public opinion had shown “substantial indifference” to the constitutional change.

The Italian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said it now expected parliament to adapt existing legislation on environmental issues.

“Finally, environment protection has become a fundamental principle of the republic, which future legislation must be inspired by and past legislation adapted to,” Italian WWF president Donatella Bianchi said in a statement.

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