Can a minister of the Italian government be removed?

Italy’s economic development minister Federica Guidi resigned Thursday after being accused of pressuring for the approval of an amendment. She is the 14th minister to resign since 2008. But does the prime minister have the power to remove his cabinet members? Has it ever happened?

For the past week all that newspapers have been talking about is the resignation of Federica Guidi as minister of economic development. She communicated her desition through a letter to premier Matteo Renzi. The issue sparked a heated debate, and is the chance to analyze a very recurrent matter discussed in Italy: the powers and responsibilities of prime minister.

Art. 92 – Italian constitution – The Government of the Republic is made up of the President of the Council of Ministers and the Ministers who together form the Council of Ministers. The President of the Republic nominates the President of the Council of Ministers and, on his proposal, the Ministers.

The question at hand is very simple: can the premier remove one of his ministers? Constitutionally the answer is no, since formally he is only recognized the power to propose cabinet members to the president of the Republic. Differently from other countries, such as Germany and Spain, the head of the Italian government can only propose candidates, but not propose their removal.

Are there other ways to make sure ministers end their term ahead of time? Once again the constitution is quite vague on the matter:

Art. 94 – Italian constitution – The Government must have the confidence of both Houses. Each House grants or withdraws its confidence through a motion setting out its reasons and that is voted on by roll-call. Within ten days of its formation the Government shall come before the Houses to seek their confidence. An opposing vote by one or both the Houses against a Government proposal does not entail the obligation to resign. A motion of no-confidence must be signed by at least one tenth of the members of the House and cannot be debated until at least three days after its introduction.

In 1985 the rules of procedures of the parliament were modified, in order to formally allow members of parliament to propose a vote of no confidence for a single minister. Though many votes took place, only once (in 1995) parliament actually managed to remove a minister following this procedure.

Since the prime minister cannot remove his ministers, and since it is almost impossibile for parliament to pass a vote of no confidence, the only true way to make sure a minister ends his term ahead of time is through resignation. Federica Guidi is the last of many members of government who decided to quit their job. Since 2008, fourteen ministers resigned, most of them (43%) for judicial matters and public scandals.