The Italian parliament has approved the first phase of major constitutional reforms that will give more power to the regions at the expense of the central government, more to the prime minister at the expense of the president, and more to parliament at the expense of the judiciary. Before the reforms become law both houses of parliament must pass them again after three months. But the second passage is considered almost a formality as no debate is allowed, only a vote.

The reforms are greeted as a triumph for the small devolutionist Lega Nord party and for the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who has always advocated that his office should have more power than the presidency. It is being greeted by the political left as the demise of the countrys post-war constitution that was extremely careful to balance the powers between all the state institutions. In the wake of the long fascist dictatorship and the devastation of world war two, the express purpose was to prevent any one arm of the constitution legislature, judiciary, executive and presidency having too much power. These checks and balances will now be seriously compromised.

The left-wing parties are certain to call for a referendum after the reforms are passed, but this will not be before the general elections scheduled for 2006.