Was Sunday's vote the Italian Brexit?
Tuesday December 6, 2016
Can Sunday's referendum result be considered an Italian version of Brexit?
In a word, no. Sunday's 60-40 vote was probably three-quarters about prime minister Matteo Renzi's plans to rewrite the Italian constitution and one-quarter a verdict on the Renzi government's performance over the last two and a half years. This was nothing to do with Europe or the Euro common currency. While many Italians dream of returning to the good old lira currency, this is merely nostalgia (there's no doubt the quality of life was better all over western Europe twenty years ago) and Greece has shown that leaving the Euro is impossible when it comes down to it. Furthermore, Italians have always been pro-Europe and nobody is suggesting Italy should pull out of the EU.
Some history. The Italian constitution was drawn up by politicians of all colours after the second world war when there was the ghost of an elephant in the room, whose name started with M. The constitution is well liked by Italians if for no other reason than it's written in plain language (unlike Sig. Renzi's amendments) and it starts:
Article 1. Italy is a democratic republic founded on labour. Its sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it in accordance with this constitution.
So no more fascist dictators or dodgy monarchs - and equally importantly, the right to work is seen as fundamental to a dignified society. Anyone tampering with the constitution is playing with fire.
The justification for Renzi's reform was the seemingly inefficient shuttle of bills between the two houses of parliament, which have equal powers. This is superficially correct but even controversial laws like Monti's pension reform or Renzi's so-called "Jobs Act" have been passed in reasonable timescales. In fact, what holds things up is disagreement within Renzi's own party, the PD!
Those opposed to the reform saw dangers in placing legislative power in the hands of one man. As was often remarked, "We've had quite enough examples of a single leader in command." So what happens next? That'll be in the next post.