Brief historical outline
The Ministry of Interior has been a pillar of “nationalization” of the Italian State, born in 1861 by the unification of Italy, which was achieved with haste and later than in the great majority of European countries. In an effort to guarantee the new State’s survival, the Resurgence political leaders decided to extend the highly centralized administration model adopted by the Kingdom of Sardinia all over the peninsula.
Suggestions and requests for decentralisation, even made from the ruling historical rightwing parties, were abandoned and a new strongly centralized approach permeating both the ministry’s and its local leading representative’s, the Prefect, responsibilities was adopted. Furthermore, the enhancement of the newly built State required the co-optation of local political élites, rapidly achieved through a progressive emergence of the leading groups of states annexed to the government system. The Ministry’s local apparatus – including almost all State offices -, on the one hand, helped ensure governments a strong control over local realities and, on the other, enabled prefects to protect a circuit between local and central government. The ministry’s police functions, separated into judicial (public security and prison) police and social (public healthcare) police, had already prevailed over the period between the last rightwing government (1874) and the first leftwing one (1877).
Following the late XIX century crisis and the liberal turning point reached before the World War, the Ministry became a key tool of both political and administrative action. A very close and strict supervision over local authorities was kept, activities aimed at maintaining public order were enhanced and great momentum was given to surveillance of voluntary non-profit sector. Prefects increasingly intervened in labour conflicts by alternating between a prudent approach and a decisive action. After the outbreak of war, the Ministry was assigned other responsibilities including military mobilization, assistance to orphans, widows and survivors, maintenance of internal discipline, need for ensuring food supplies, healthcare management.
Although the Ministry kept being the most important one from a political point of view (this is proved by the circumstance that it was personally headed by Benito Mussolini, except for a short period following Matteotti’s assassination), the rise of Fascism to power in the long term provoked a progressive loss of leading role by the state administrative apparatus, which was not compensated by the inclusion of both the General Directorate for Worship Fund and City of Rome’s Charity and Religion Fund and the Central Directorate of Religion Affairs. ‘Dialectics’ between the institutions and the Fascist regime repeatedly came to light and occasionally resulted in open conflicts.
Over the period from the rise of Fascism to the process of regionalisation of State administrative activities achieved in 1970, the Ministry of the Interior lost some significant responsibilities but it acquired some others: together with the Ministry of Labour, it assumed the key role of welfare policies, thus contributing both to ensure support to vulnerable social groups and to guarantee emergency rescue services after natural disasters. The Directorate for Public Assistance, later changed into Directorate for Civil Services, have been the pillars of social protection activities carried out by the Ministry, together with the Administration for International Assistance.
Following the adoption of Law No. 121 of 1981 concerning the Police reform, the Ministry of the Interior started an internal reorganisation involving the change of the General Directorate for Public Security into a Department, which brought about a sort of organisational asymmetry which was later corrected by further adjustments.
This process involving the reorganisation of both the Ministry and the Prefectures currently underway is based on the principles of both unification of homogeneous functions and apparatus streamlining and flexibility. It highlights the Ministry’s role as a general administration, a reference point between central and local offices, a protector of fundamental functions and citizens’ security, a contact point between the State and local communities as well as an entity who guarantees knowledge of local phenomena. Its general responsibilities are all the more useful and necessary when taking into account that legislation is developing towards decentralized and federal forms of government.