Speech by President Grasso at the Rome Conference 29 November 2016

Excellencies, dear guests, dear friends,
I gladly accepted the proposal of the Secretary General of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law Marco Pannella, Matteo Angioli, to host a conference in the Senate on the “Rule of law and the right to know”, sponsored by the International Institute of Criminal Sciences, the Italian Society for International Organizations and the Nonviolent Radical Party in continuity with the International Conference on the same theme which was held here in the Senate in July last year. That event had been strongly backed by Marco Pannella and I would like to take this opportunity to recall, just over six months after his death, this great political, social and civil leader who has devoted his efforts, as he loved to say, to the “life of the rule of law for the right to live”. Yesterday I saw the complete information document of the conference, and I’ll leave it to the distinguished speakers to further analyze the political, technical and legal issues underlying the initiative for the affirmation of the right to know. I will only offer three kinds of considerations, which I hope will contribute to the debate.
The first concerns the term Rule of Law (in the meaning of Rechtsstaat, or Etat de droit), which must be well understood as a premise to any other argument. In a formal sense, this phrase identifies those legal orders in which public powers are conferred by law and exercised in the manner and with the procedures provided for by the law: societies sub legem rather than sub hominem, subject to the supremacy of the law and not to the whim of rulers as in pre-modern systems. But this is not enough, because even in the most illiberal and liberticide systems, authorities are subject to legal form and sources: it is possible to create the paradox of a formally democratic society based on the Rule of Law, but without effective freedom. History may remind us, for example, how the first Hitler Government that suppressed the Weimar Republic was formally established through a democratic process, while the Fourth French Republic, founded by General De Gaulle with a coup, was actually democratic. In order for a political system to be described as a democratic constitutional State, it is to be based on the representation of the people in elected assemblies through universal elections; the separation between the legislative, executive and judicial powers; the possibility of revoking the executive power; a collegiate government.
In a substantive way, the Rule of Law then identifies the jurisdictions in which public authorities are subject to the law with respect to the form but also the substance of its agency: the three powers are bound by substantive principles grounded in rigid constitutions and founded on the separation of powers and the guarantee of fundamental rights by the public authorities. The constitutional Rule of Law is the result of a cultural progress that is expressed in a tripartite social pact: the law limits the power of the executive; the law sets what is prohibited, thus ruling out arbitrary judicial rulings; the law itself is bound by substantive principles of justice. To achieve a substantive democracy firm commitment is needed to the defence of basic social rights (education, work, health, justice), fundamental rights, freedoms and universal values: equality, mutual respect, tolerance, solidarity, peace, non-violence.
The second observation concerns the right to information, which is a prerequisite in order to learn and to develop awareness of one’s opinions. It is therefore an essential condition for democracy, the exercise of rights and participation in decision-making. In the current age of information hangover, owing to technological developments, democracy requires informational tools based on a clear hierarchy of values and with the main task of enabling citizens to determine, orient and change the political direction. As Joseph Pulitzer wrote: “a well-informed public opinion is our supreme court … there you can always appeal against public injustice, corruption, popular indifference or the government’s mistakes”.
My last consideration regards the Right to Know, which is the object of your campaign. I am convinced that it should be designed and inserted in the ordinary democratic institutional circuits, not as an alternative to representative democracy but as a reinforcement of the powers of information and participation of citizens in political processes and the functioning of democratic institutions, and to the extent of those limits legitimately imposed by the law in order to protect the confidential personal data and the public interests involved in any given case. If it is true that the Rule of Law consists of a social pact in which fundamental rights are at its core, then we need to turn our attention to the functioning of the system, in particular by ensuring the independence of the judiciary (ordinary, administrative, financial and constitutional) that oversees compliance with the law by the executive and compliance of the law with fundamental rights, freedoms and constitutional principles. The Senate, for its part, was among the first in the world to make all documents and data regarding its activities available in open and accessible formats. We are convinced that citizens should be ensured the most extensive and clear knowledge of the regulatory and legal heritage of the State and its political dynamics. This commitment has a double meaning: on the one hand, it ensures the full knowledge of the rules by all and, on the other hand, it promotes the transparency of parliamentary activity, thus ensuring the fulfillment of the democratic process and enhancing citizen’s participation in the country’s sustainable social, economic, and civic development.
Thank you for your attention. I wish you a fruitful debate.
Thank you.

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