Last year, in the light of the scandals involving Italy’s Governing Council of the Judiciary (CSM), the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella denounced “the inadmissible confusion between politicians and magistrates” as well as the “degeneration of the system of currents”. He was then referring to the political currents existing within the CSM, which are linked to the way judges and prosecutors are appointed by the different currents that are present in the National Magistrates’ Association (ANM).
Mattarella then called for an in-depth reform of the CSM, which is responsible for guaranteeing and supervising the independence and impartiality of the Italian judicial system. As of today, that reform is still awaited despite the very serious scandals that have exposed the political activities of networks of magistrates (judges and prosecutors) passing through the CSM to put right-wing leaders such as Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini out of action through legal proceedings.
But while waiting for this reform to come about, a new scandal has just erupted following evidence of a secret Masonic lodge involving Italian elites coming to light. Members of the CSM, magistrates, politicians, and officials from the Guardia di Finanza (a militarized police force under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy and Finance), and members of the police allegedly belong to a lodge called “Hungary” — not a reference to Viktor Orbán’s homeland — but to a square in Rome where its members are said to have held their meetings, at the home of an important magistrate. It is within this lodge that the appointments and dismissals of magistrates in Italy are decided, it is said.
Secret societies are supposed to be banned in Italy
If these facts are true, the existence of this lodge would be contrary to Italian law, which prohibits secret societies. Worse still, it would raise new questions about the democratic nature of Italy’s political system, which has already been cast into doubt by the revelations obtained through the bugging of powerful prosecutor Luca Palamara, a former member of the CSM and former president of the National Magistrates’ Association (ANM), which groups Italian judges and prosecutors, as part of a corruption investigation.
An investigation has already been opened by prosecutors in four different regions, but will it not be blocked by members of the Hungary Lodge? After all, the depositions that reported the existence of this lodge, by a lawyer involved in a case related to the Italian oil company Eni, Pietro Amara, date from 2018.
A Milan prosecutor, Paolo Storari, thought it was necessary to know whether Pietro Amara was lying, which is an offense and merits prosecution, or whether he was telling the truth, in which case the existence of this secret society merited investigation.
Faced with the inaction of Milan’s chief prosecutor Francesco Greco, Stolari chose to violate the law by passing the confidential file containing Amara’s allegations on to Piercamillo Davigo, who was a member of the Judicial Council at the time, but Davigo too chose not to act. In the end, it was a CSM employee who took it upon herself to anonymously and illegally pass on Amara’s statements to two newspapers and to Antonino di Matteo, another CSM member, and this is how the scandal broke at the end of April.
The EU points its fingers at Hungary and Poland
Despite the gravity of the new scandal regarding the potential existence of a secret Masonic lodge linked to the CSM, the European Commission has taken little interest in the case.
Of course, if the EU operated according to the principles of the rule of law, it would only be natural for the Commission to avoid sticking its nose into the organization and operation of a member state’s judicial system, as this is an exclusive national competence under the European treaties. It is therefore up to the Italians themselves to solve their problems in this area.
But it so happens that for some countries — namely Poland and Hungary — the European Commission, and after it the European Court of Justice (ECJ), considers itself invested with the power to supervise the functioning of the judicial system in these countries. And so does the European Parliament.
Thus, the Commission is now seeking to have Poland condemned by the ECJ for the Disciplinary Chamber it created within its Supreme Court in the framework of reforms of the judiciary enacted in 2017. The very purpose of those reforms was to put an end to the almost total impunity enjoyed by judges due to the spirit of corporatism prevailing in the profession, i.e. to prevent such situations as have been occurring in Italy without anyone being able to do anything about it apart from complaining. The ECJ’s Advocate General has just agreed with the European Commission that a disciplinary chamber whose members were appointed by a judicial council whose members were themselves appointed by an elected parliament violates so-called European principles.
In Italy, the impunity of magistrates seems to be guaranteed, but the separation of powers works in one direction only: while politicians can do nothing against magistrates, the latter can do a lot against them, and it is curiously right-wing politicians who are usually targeted. Furthermore, this often happens with the support of crooked left-wing politicians such as former President Giorgio Napolitano, who as a communist probably did not care for democracy that much, and who is said to have contributed to the 2011 departure of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi through clearly undemocratic means, including with the help of left-leaning judges and prosecutors (and also with the help of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, but it is another story). We are currently seeing history repeat itself again with the criminal cases against Matteo Salvini for his decisions as interior minister to block the arrival of illegal immigrants on board the Gregoretti and Open Arms ships. We saw this same tactic in the past with a proliferation of bogus trials against Silvio Berlusconi.
“For many years I have suffered and denounced the ideological infiltration and opacity of the power system that characterizes part of the judiciary, some prosecutors’ offices and the top of the organized currents,” Berlusconi said last March 27 in an interview with Il Giornale, commenting on the book “Il Sistema” (The System), written by Il Giornale’s publishing director Alessandro Sallusti based on his talks with former prosecutor, head of the ANM and CSM member Luca Palamara.
Italy needs the separation of powers on which liberal societies are founded, Berlusconi stressed
After the emergence of this new scandal concerning the existence of a secret Masonic lodge within the Italian judiciary, former prime minister and former leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi, said, “For two years they have made us believe that the problem was with a single magistrate, Luca Palamara. Every day that passes we discover something new. Finding a convenient scapegoat is not the solution, never. And, in fact, the problems hidden under the carpet continue to come out.”
He added with sarcasm: “I am sure that Judge Davigo – who has been giving us moral lessons for years in all the TV shows he participates in and from the columns of Il Fatto Quotidiano – will be able to explain this strange affair. (…). But it is now obvious that the CSM is in difficulty. And when an institution suffers, it is a problem for everyone. A big problem for everyone.”
Not for people in Brussels, though, as the separation of powers as they conceive it works only one way, ie. in favor of independent and irrevocable judges. Of course, this has nothing to do with democracy. Polish or Hungarian-style parliamentary democracy is too “populist”” in their eyes anyway.