The 1948constitution established a bicameral parliament (Parlamento), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and a Senate (Senato della Repubblica), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister).
The president of the republic is elected for 7 years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates.
The president nominates the prime minister, who proposes the other ministers (formally named by the president).
The Council of Ministers (mostly, but not necessarily composed of members of parliament) must retain the confidence (Fiducia) of both houses.
The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed majoritarian and proportional representation system.
Under 1993legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis.
The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members.
In addition to 315 elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons appointed for life according to special constitutional provisions.
Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes.
A constitutional court, the Corte Costituzionale, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II innovation.
The Apennine mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north.
Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain, drained by the Po River and its many tributaries flowing down from the Alps, Appennines and Dolomites.
Other well-known rivers include the Tiber, Adige and Arno.
Its highest point is the Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) at 4,810 m, but Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily.
Italy has a diversified industrial economy with roughly the same total and per capita output as France and the United Kingdom.
This capitalistic economy remains divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less developed agricultural south, with 20% unemployment. In comparison to it's Western european neighbours it has a high number of Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEeses).
Most raw materials needed by industry and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported.
Over the past decade, Italy has pursued a tight fiscal policy in order to meet the requirements of the Economic and Monetary Union and has benefited from lower interest and inflation rates and joined the Euro from its conception in 1999.
Italy's economic performance has lagged behind that of its EU partners, and the current government has enacted numerous short-term reforms aimed at improving competitiveness and long-term growth.
It has moved slowly, however, on implementing certain structural reforms favored by economists, such as lightening the high tax burden and overhauling Italy's rigid labour market and expensive pension system, because of the current economic slowdown and opposition from labour unions.
Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically.
Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 196 persons per square kilometre.
Minority groups are small, the largest being the German speaking in South Tyrol (1991: 287,503 german and 116,914 italian speaking) and the Slovenians around Trieste.