Could Italy's referendum deliver a Brexit and Trump-style shock?

L'esito del referendum potrebbe aumentare l'instabilità del sistema politico

1 Dicembre 2016

The National

Argomenti / Teoria e scienze sociali

An Italian referendum on constitutional reform is poised to deliver a Brexit and Trump-style political shock that could plunge the country into instability.

The referendum seeks to reduce the powers and the size of the senate, the upper house of Italy’s parliament. At the moment, the senate has the same powers as the chamber of deputies, the lower house, often leading to gridlock in legislation. The referendum also aims to erase the many overlaps in power between federal and regional governments, making the latter weaker.

Prime minister Matteo Renzi argues that the changes will streamline Italian politics, making the country easier to govern and leading to a brighter future – and he has promised to step down if his government loses Sunday’s popular vote.

But opinion polls indicate defeat is likely to be the outcome, with the “No” vote leading by six percentage points. Mr Renzi’s ensuing resignation will throw markets into turmoil and could jeopardise an ongoing recapitalisation of major Italian banks that have been troubled by bad loans.

The tenure of Italy’s governments has always been notoriously uncertain. In the 70 years of the modern Italian republic, the country has had 63 governments, making it difficult for policies to be debated, implemented and nurtured.

Italy’s public debt is currently at €2.3 trillion (Dh8.95tr) – more than 130 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Economic growth has stagnated and, according to the Italian court of auditors, Italy loses €60 billion – roughly 4 per cent of its GDP – every year to corruption.

“If you want this country to change – not for me, not for you, but for the sake of our children – if you want it to have a simpler system, stand by me, because I can’t make it alone,” Mr Renzi said in a speech in October. “If the referendum doesn’t pass, over the next 30 years whoever is prime minister will … be a slave to vetoes, blackmail and bureaucracy.”

Critics of Mr Renzi’s proposals have noted that, in conjunction with a new electoral law passed last year, a “Yes” vote on Sunday would give the prime minister unprecedented powers.

But Alberto Mingardi, the director general of the Istituto Bruno Leoni, a Milan-based think tank, denied that a win for Mr Renzi would alter the balance of power between government and parliament “in any truly significant way”.

“If the ‘No’ wins, the status quo goes on,” Mr Mingardi told The National. “If the ‘Yes’ wins, we will have some minor adjustments to the way our political institutions work.”

Perhaps the most significant consequence of the referendum is who stands to benefit from a “No” vote.

Mr Renzi’s resignation would likely trigger an early parliamentary election. Mr Mingardi said the political establishment is worried that the beneficiaries of an election would be the populist Five Star Movement.

Founded in 2009 by a comedian named Beppe Grillo, the Five Star Movement has echoed Mr Trump’s right-wing campaign rhetoric, and also promised to take Italy out of the European Union.

The group has begun to enjoy electoral success already – in June its candidates won mayoral races in Rome and Turin.

Lea Nocera, an academic at the University of Naples who plans to vote on Sunday, admitted that Italy needs political reform badly, but argued that Mr Renzi’s justifications for the referendum’s proposals had been poorly argued.

“Even a lot of ‘No’ supporters are convinced that many points of the referendum are correct but the text is not sufficiently clear,” Ms Nocera told The National, adding that Mr Renzi’s biggest mistake was turning the vote into a referendum on himself by promising to step down if the proposed reforms are rejected.

After the results of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election, Ms Nocera said she wasn’t inclined to trust opinion polls. But if Mr Renzi does lose, she said it would be “a defeat for his Democratic Party rather than for the rationale for reforms”.

The party does not “really offer a practical vision for change, and its official discourses are too simplistic,” she added. “The spectre of Mr Grillo is frightening, OK – but what we need is a serious change in the electoral system and in the political attitude of the Democratic Party.”

Da The National, 30 novembre 2016

oggi, 20 Maggio 2024, il debito pubblico italiano ammonta a il debito pubblico oggi
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