How the Italian Constitution was born and what its content is

There Constitution of the Italian Republiccomposed by 139 articles and 18 transitional and final provisions, is the fundamental law of the State and ranks first in the hierarchy of sources of law. The Constitution was written between 1946 and 1947 by the Constituent Assembly, made up of 556 deputies elected by the citizens on 2 June 1946, on the same occasion on which the referendum for the choice between monarchy and republic was held. The Constitution came into force on January 1, 1948. The text provides that Italy is a democratic republic, that citizens freely choose their representatives and are protected from abuses by the authorities.

What is the Italian Constitution

The Italian Constitution is the fundamental law of the State. He establishes, that is, as he must “function” our Republic. The Constitution first of all defines the principles on which the Republic is founded; it then regulates the rights and duties of citizens and defines the roles of the institutions (government, parliament, president of the Republic, etc.) that administer public affairs.

The Constitution is superior to other laws, which cannot conflict with the principles established by it. On many subjects, the Constitution states principles of a general nature, which were then defined in detail by ordinary laws.

The Official Journal with the constitutional text (credits
The Official Journal with the constitutional text (credits:

How and why the Constitution was written

The Constitution was written between 1946 and 1947 by the Constituent Assembly, specially elected by the citizens. During World War II, the major political parties engaged in Resistance against Nazi-fascism they established that, at the end of the conflict, the Italians would democratically choose the institutional form of the State (i.e. whether to preserve the monarchy or establish the Republic) and that they would elect their own representatives. The June 2, 1946therefore, citizens were called to the polls for the referendum on the choice between monarchy/republic and to elect the 556 deputies of the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting the new Constitution and carrying out part of the functions that today belong to Parliament.

The Constituent Assembly

The elections for the Constituent Assembly gave the following result:

  • Christian democracy: 35.21% of the votes and 207 seats
  • Italian socialist party of proletarian unity: 20.68% and 115 seats
  • Italian Communist Party: 18.93% and 104 seats

Various other lists obtained lower percentages. The three main parties were ideologically very different and were also divided by their international affiliation in the context of the Cold War: the DC was linked to the United States and the Church, the PCI and the PSIUP supported the Soviet Union. The three parties, however, were allies in the fight against fascism and they intended give Italy a democratic order. It is no coincidence that since 1944 they had found an agreement to form “national unity” governmentsin which all the anti-fascist parties were represented.

The first session of the Constituent Assembly

At the Constituent Assembly no party tried to impose its ideology and the deputies succeeded collaborate harmoniously. The collaboration did not cease after, in May 1947, the experience of national unity governments ended and a new Christian Democrat-led executive was formed, without the PCI and PSIUP.

Who wrote the Constitution

For the drafting of the constitutional text the deputies of the Constituent Assembly appointed a commission of 75 people, divided into three subcommissions responsible for specific matters. The “material” drafting of the constitutional text was carried out by a even smaller committee, made up of 18 deputies representing all the parties, who gave written form to the deliberations of the three subcommissions. The committee finished its work on 12 January 1947 and began in March debate in the classroom on individual articles. The final text was approved December 22, 1947 and came into force on 1 January 1948. Not all the articles of the Constitution, however, were immediately applied. For example, the regional administrations, although foreseen by the text, were established only in 1970.

The provisional Head of State, Enrico De Nicola, signs the Constitution (27 December 1947)
The provisional Head of State, Enrico De Nicola, signs the Constitution (27 December 1947)

The content of the Constitution in summary

The main intention of the Founding Fathers was to transform Italy into one democracyin which citizens could freely choose their political representatives and were protected from abuses by the authorities. The Constitution was written immediately after the fall of the fascist dictatorship and intended to found the Republic on principles and values ​​opposed to those of fascism. It is no coincidence that the constitutional text guarantees the equality of citizens before the law, freedom of the press, expression, assembly, religion, etc. The text is also concerned with protect the weakest (minorities, sick people, etc.) and to encourage active participation of citizens to social life.

Furthermore, the Constitution defines the system of the State, establishing that the Italian Republic is one parliamentary democracy. Legislative power is in fact entrusted to the Parliament, composed of two democratically elected chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic. Executive power belongs to Governmentappointed by the President of the Republic, but responsible to the Parliamentwho must vote with confidence (i.e. approve the President's choice) and can cast a vote of no confidence in the government at any time.

Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Constituent Assembly and today seat of the Chamber of Deputies

Can the Constitution be changed?

The Italian Constitution is “rigid”: it cannot be modified with the “ordinary” procedure with which other laws are changed. However, there are mechanisms, provided for by the Constitution itself, to make changes to the text. It is no coincidence that over the years the constitutional text it has been amended several times.