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Can a YES Change Italy?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

2016 has definitely been a year of political decisions. From the British referendum in June that made Brexit happen to the US elections in which a red ferret was elected as President, one would think that the time to make the worst political decisions ever would be over. Well, no.


The last big vote on the political agenda for this year will be held in Italy. Yes, the country of pizza and pasta is going to vote on December 4th in a referendum whether to keep the current constitution or adopt a reformed text drafted by the government. When you first hear about this constitutional reform, it does not seem such a big deal: referenda take place all the time and the constitution is so old that needs a bit of fresh air surely. So why is the result deemed to be so crucial for the future of Italy and of the European Union?

Italy has never been politically stable. Since the adoption of the current Constitution in 1948, there have been 27 different prime ministers governing Italy in a span of 68 years. Without taking into account the 20 years in which Silvio Berlusconi led the country (the Italian equivalent of the Dark Ages), Italy changed its Prime-Minister 26 times in 48 years. This means that the average term length has been two years, instead of the statutory five years. Furthermore, the adoption of bills in Parliament has always been a struggle. As legislative proposals are voted article by article by both chambers of Parliament, the process can easily take a couple of years, and even decades, to be over, creating an institutional paralysis.


According to Matteo Renzi, the current Italian Prime Minister, this institutional paralysis is strongly linked to the economic and financial crisis that hit Italy in the past decade. As a matter of fact, Renzi strongly believes that the only way to bring Italy in a more stable position is to start from the basis on which the country was built, the Constitution.


This constitutional reform proposed by the Prime Minister and his Minister for Constitutional Reforms and Relations with the Parliament Maria Elena Boschi, on which Italians are called to vote this Sunday in a referendum, aims to improve the political stability of the country and, according to Renzi, constitutes what Italy desperately needs to get back on track. The reform affects more than 40 articles of the current Italian Constitution, but the most important changes are: the end of the system of perfect bicameralism with the creation of a new Senate heavily reduced in its members and in its legislative competences, the abolition of provinces and the adoption of a new legislative procedure meant to speed up the creation of new bills.

In itself, the constitutional reform sounds sensible. In detail, though, some cracks can be spotted. First things first, the number of seats in the Senate would be reduced from 315 to 95 plus five senators for life nominated by the President of the Republic but the new Senate would not be directly elected anymore. Instead, most of its members would be picked from regional lawmakers and mayors by regional assemblies, to whom it would be granted immunity from prosecution lasting for their entire term as senators. Secondly, the reduction of the legislative competences of the Senate to matters regarding regions would most likely lead to conflicts between the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies regarding legislative competence, which would probably slow down the legislative procedure even more. Lastly, the number of signatures needed to discuss a bill proposed by popular initiative in Parliament would increase from 50.000 to 150.000, making it much more difficult for the Italian population to participate in the decision-making process.


However, the choice between a “yes” and a “no” has become much more than a simple choice between the adoption or the rejection of the constitutional reform since Renzi announced in spring that he will step down in case his constitutional reform fails and “no” wins. This political move that was probably meant to strengthen the confidence of the Italian population for Renzi’s government appears not to go as Renzi himself planned it: the opposition has been repeatedly asking their supporters to vote “no” only to call early elections and remove Renzi from government, and even some members of Renzi’s own political party, the center-left Democratic Party, urge voters to express their dissent for the current Prime Minister. As the most recent polls shows that Renzi’s constitutional reform is not likely to be approved, in the weeks prior to the date of the referendum Renzi has appeared in various videos on Facebook and Twitter on live urging in a slightly propagandistic tone the Italians that are still uncertain, to vote “yes” because “a single yes suffices to change Italy”. Additionally, it has become impossible to go on Facebook, check your friends’ latest pics of the Christmas market on the Vrijthof on Instagram and even play lame video games on your phone without finding an advert or a video urging people to vote “yes”. That is mostly because of the fact that Renzi’s government is currently standing on the age of the precipice waiting to plummet to the ground and it is trying to do everything in its power (and with its money) to keep from falling.


Even if the chances of Renzi stepping down from his position as Prime Minister are not very high, the future of Italy seems uncertain and this uncertainty seems to worry mostly the banks, the investors and the European Union, which fears a catastrophe for the euro and a possible Italexit following the example of the United Kingdom. However, if the Italian Prime Minister really resigns from his position after the results of the referendum, it is most likely that he will be replaced by a technocratic caretaker government, as it has many times in the past, and that Italy will have to face a new non-elected government for the fourth time in five years.


But before making any predictions for the future, first let’s see how this one goes.

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