The constitution embraces the environment

Hailed as a historic turning point, but without the media coverage it deserved, the constitutional reform on environmental protection was definitively approved on 8 February in the Chambers of Parliament, with 468 votes in favour, one against and six abstentions. The reform has radically changed the constitutional coverage of what, until the day before, was simply a matter to be managed and has now risen to the status of an asset to be protected. It also represents a legally well-equipped safe harbour for those who work daily for the stewardship of the World Heritage, including the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, its institutional members and all those who share its commitment. “This is a historic step for our country and its regions”, commented Mario Tonina, president of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation. “It is a decision, taken across the board by political forces, that catapults our country into a new era, in which we can build and fortify, not just imagine, a sustainable future.”

The new Article 9:
a change to the vision of the human-environment relationship

This is the new Article 9 of the Constitution (added paragraph in italics):

“The Republic promotes the development of culture as well as scientific and technical research. It protects the landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the nation. It protects the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems, not only now but also for future generations. The law of the State governs the methods and forms of animal protection.

The new paragraph fills a constitutional void, the absence of a distinction between landscape and environment, between the prospective and anthropocentric meaning of the former and the independent and universal value of the latter. The intention of the reform was to specify that the duty of protection with which the Republic tasks itself must concern biodiversity and ecosystems and explicitly states the programmatic nature of the text by indicating a precise direction: the interest of future generations. This is implicit in all the other articles of the Fundamental Principles but has now been made manifest specifically in relation to the issue of the environment in which many of the decisive challenges, for the country and for humanity as a whole, will be played out in the coming decades.

The relationship with humans therefore remains central, but in the sense of active guardianship and no longer just of regulated use. Before the reform, in fact, the word “environment” appeared only in Article 117 and more precisely in the list of matters on which the State has exclusive legislation. Therefore, in addition to lending dignity to the issue, its placement among the fundamental principles transforms it into an asset to be protected. In this perspective, the action of the State, as well as local authorities and individual citizens, must also go in the direction of protection or at least consider this inevitable horizon.

The new Article 41:

This is the new Article 41 (changes italicised):

“Private economic initiative is free. It may not be conducted in a manner contrary to social benefit or in a manner that is detrimental to health, the environment, safety, liberty, or human dignity. The law determines the appropriate programmes and controls, so that public and private economic activity can be directed and coordinated for social and environmental purposes.”

What’s new is the establishment of two new limits to the free exercise of private economic initiatives which must always be kept below the threshold beyond which damage is caused to health and the environment, as well as to safety, freedom and human dignity. Where this threshold should be placed will, of course, be determined case-by-case by the legislature or the national constitutional court, but with explicit coverage, which should lead to a consideration of the equivalence of all the values listed.

Ph. Alessandra Masi