For years, people have been debating how distant people are from politics how far the agenda of governments and parliaments is from the actual priorities of society. As evidence of this hiatus, at each election the commentators worriedly analyze the number of abstentions, which is constantly increasing.
In recent weeks, however, something has happened that goes against the trend. It concerns the collection of signatures for referendums. Traditionally, this is about not a simple fulfillment: in a few weeks, the promoters of the referendum questions must collect at least 500 thousand valid signatures if they want all Italians to express themselves on the norm that is the subject of the referendum (which according to Article 75 of our Constitution can only be abrogative).
Earlier, the promoters of the referendum on legal euthanasia said they had almost reached one million signatures. Then, and it is a matter of the last few hours, i promoters of the referendum on legal cannabis they declared that they had exceeded 220,000 subscriptions in just two days. In both cases, technology has to do with it. A few weeks before the summer break, Parliament approved an amendment (also advocated by the promoters of the referendums) which finally introduced the possibility of using electronic signatures and Spid for direct democracy institutions provided for by the Constitution (collection of signatures for referendums and collection of signatures for bills of popular initiative). It was a right, if anything belated, act that broadened the sphere of citizenship rights through a real upgrade. Being digital citizens does not only mean having new rights (such as that of using public administration sites and online services), but also using digital tools to benefit from the rights we already have. Technologies can make it possible to exercise certain citizenship rights in a simpler and more appropriate way to the times we live in.
Probably, however, even the referendum promoters did not expect such a quick response and enthusiastic on the part of the citizens. The rest was done by Spid, the digital identity born in 2013 amid the skepticism of many. During the pandemic, with the acceleration of the digitization of the Public Administration and the measures to contain the contagion, the number of Spid digital identities went from just under 6 to over 24 million. Millions of Italians and Italians who in recent months, despite the absence of a real government digital literacy campaign, have started to use this tool and understand what to do with it. From Holiday Bonus to Cashback, from accessing the IO app to download the Green Pass, precisely at the signing of the referendums.
The latter possibility, however, represents one significant novelty. So far, the technologies have been introduced in a limited perimeter, the one in which people are users. Users who have been granted the right to a simple and digital relationship with public administrations and with public service providers. Citizenship rights traditionally understood, such as participation rights, have been excluded. In fact, Article 9 of the Digital Administration Code (Legislative Decree No. 82/2005) already contains a rule (called Electronic Democratic Participation) on the basis of which administrations should favor civic participation and openness of the decision-making processes of citizens, for example, by submitting the drafts of their measures to electronic consultation. This is a mere invitation that, up to now, the administrations have not wanted to accept. Indeed, despite the bombastic launch of a National Participation Platform, the consultations started were very few and of little importance. Contrary to other countries, then, in Italy experiments with petition portals have never been started, tools through which citizens could ask the government and Parliament to express themselves on specific issues. It was decided to opt only for the consultations tool. An instrument which, certainly with the best reasons, is never used in the end.
The main road was to start again, as has been done, from the tools of direct democracy provided for by our constitution. Institutes that were, until a few weeks ago, a little dusty and tied to (paper) tools by now anachronistic and unable to ensure an easy operation (as it should be). It is therefore no wonder that, as soon as they had the opportunity to use now widespread and simple tools (such as Spid), the response of citizens was overwhelming. In short, the innovation of digital citizenship did not go through social networks, which now represent only a megaphone for parties and politicians without the possibility of interaction. It was necessary to give people tools suitable for the times, tools through which they could recover the centrality of the public debate and of the democratic proposal.
Of course, it is too early to say whether this turnaround is definitive (we will see, for example, the impact of the use of Spid for the collection of referendum signatures on the abolition of hunting). Just as it is not said that the greater ease of collecting signatures corresponds to the achievement of quorum, essential for the success of the referendum. Surely, in the coming weeks we will see a debate related to the fact that, in the near future, more referendums could be held thanks to the new digital tools. In any case, in the hope of not witnessing sensational backwards, it will be necessary to question the inclusion of Spid Democracy. If the citizen decides to sign electronically with some services, the cost can be 3 euros at his expense. If, on the other hand, he decides to sign with Spid, the operation is free for him, but each subscription costs the referendum promoters about 1 euro. This is because private service providers (i.e. subjects other than public administrations who want use Spid to have their users subscribe for free) pay a cost for each signature (according to a tariff). This means that by defining the operating modes of Spid it is possible to make participation more or less easy. The costs, in fact, are high and not all political parties and movements may be able to support them (regardless of the goodness of their proposal). In short, new and delicate issues will have to be addressed for the future of our democracy.
Even because, as Pietro Calamandrei wrote, “If true democracy can only exist where every citizen is able to express his personality without obstacles in order to be able to actively contribute to the life of the community in this way, it is not enough to theoretically ensure political freedoms for him, but it is necessary to put it in a position to be able to use it practically”.