Opinions - 30.11.2016 - 00:00 

Hectic times for Matteo Renzi. Italy prepares for the referendum

On 4 December, Italy will vote on a constitutional reform. For some people, this referendum is of the same significance as Brexit in the UK. An impression by Renato Martinoni.

1 December 2016. On 4 December, Italy will vote on a constitutional reform that will constrain the competences of the Senate. Additionally, the senators will no longer be elected directly but from among the regional council and mayors. This would result in two advantages: the costs of the work done by the institutions would be lower (the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate are made up of almost one thousand representatives), and unnecessary duplications (two equally potent chambers with precisely the same powers) would disappear at last. Other reforms which will be voted on at the same time include a redefinition of competencies between the state and the regions, as well as the National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL), a consultative body which generates considerable cost while being of little use.

Different camps

The present government under Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (who is also Secretary of the Democratic Party), a majority of the Democratic Party and parts of the political right wing are in favour of "yes". The reform, they say, would serve to reduce expenditure and achieve more efficiency. The Five Star Movement, the populist party Lega Nord and the Berlusconisti are fighting against the constitutional reform with all their might. Parts of the Democratic Party and the radical left are also against it; in their view, nothing would change for the better. No costs would be cut, the Senators would no longer be democratically elected by the people, and the role of the regions would be unclear.

Actually, all this is not only about the ballot on reform proposals but also about the stricken Premier Matteo Renzi and his government, which is losing increasingly more votes. Last spring, a distinctive majority would still have voted "yes"; now the "noes" appear to be in the ascendant. If the "yes" votes win, says the Prime Minister, the upward trend in Italy will continue. If, however, the "noes" should have it, Italy will go into reverse.

Ballot with Brexit character?

For some people, this referendum has the same significance as Brexit in the United Kingdom, and since the number of undecided voters is high and since there is reason to fear a low turnout, the voice of the Italians who live abroad will be crucial. But then, the result of the poll will have consequences in any case.

Renzi, who has now been in office for 1,000 days and whose rhetoric full of slogans is increasingly reminiscent of Berlusconi rather than of his predecessors Monti and Letta, announced some time ago that if he loses the referendum, he will resign. However, he is unlikely to do so. To garner the Italians’ support and to channel their attention in a different direction, he is for the time being attacking Europe, which is criticising Italy’s lack of efforts to keep its budget expenditure low. Renzi claims that in this respect, two factors are not being taken into consideration: the earthquake that struck Italy, and immigration across the Mediterranean – more than 160,000 people in 2016. Indeed, the "scrap merchant" claims that the East European countries are building walls with Italian money while Italy is having to cope with the problem of refugees landing on its shores.

The question arises as to who will take Renzi’s place – now, if the "noes" should win the day, or at the next parliamentary elections in spring 2018. Renzi himself? Berlusconi’s clan, who are having difficulty finding new leaders? The right wing, which is divided up and weak? Salvini, the racist party secretary of Lega Nord? A young pup of the Five Star Movement (one of them recently mixed up Pinochet’s Chile with Venezuela)? For a country like Italy, this will remain a serious problem – which unfortunately has still not been solved today.

Renato Martinoni is Professor of Italian Language and Literature at the University of St.Gallen.

Bild: Photocase / 50 Centimos

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