Today Italian citizens went to the polls to decide the fate of a referendum that many experts have predicted could have a larger impact on the future of the European Union than the United Kingdom’s vote to leave it.
Given this momentous task today, the voters chose ‘no’ on reforms to the national constitution. Including change that would streamline the national government by reducing the role of the Senate to a mere advisory body similar to the British House of Lords, ending the effective bicameralism. This change would be on top of a recent reform law pertaining to the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. A law that has reorganized structural elements of the government in such a was that nearly guarantees the leading party in elections would always be rendered a majority of the seats, even if they only won a plurality via the raw vote.
By rejecting the referendum the Italian people have also protected the gains in decentralization of power achieved in the 1970s (that the referendum attempted to roll back). An achievement wrought through the creation of the Italian regions, and devolution of multiple powers, from infrastructure to healthcare.
Preserving constitutional checks and balances on government power by keeping effective bicameralism and fending off a rubber-stamp lower house. The continued embrace of devolved regional government. These results of the referendum on the national level are looking promising for lovers of constrained, limited government.
Yet, the national repercussions are only the beginning. The ‘no’ vote has been prophesied by pundits to be the third body blow to the structural integrity of the European Union following in the footsteps of the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency.
A ‘no’ vote as was received today will, if keeping to his promise, lead to the resignation of the center-left Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi. This move will trigger political instability in a country that already has a history of unstable government as attempts to form yet another governing coalition are made. If the situation becomes dire enough, early elections could be triggered, but this is still relatively small but all the more of a real possibility. A development in such a direction as that would be extremely beneficial to the Five Star Movement (M5S), an upstart populist party neither of the left or right, led by none other than Beppe Grillo, a former comedian. This is because the M5S has recently closed the gap in opinion polling to be in a virtual dead heat tie with the governing Democratic Party of the Prime Minister. A party that will almost certainly face a major blow in support after today’s results, giving the M5S a fresh boost ahead.
The momentum of M5S in Italy shakes Brussels to the core, as one of the party’s leading agenda items is to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership in the Eurozone (not the European Union, though). The M5S is itself largely against the Euro and blames the currency in part for the economic stagnation that has plagued Italy for nearly a decade. If such a referendum were to be pushed though by a M5S government, the result is far from predictable. Yet European Union bureaucrats fear all referendums after David Cameron’s “British backfire”. The former prime minister, who was destroyed by a referendum gone awry, looks to soon be having an Italian companion who has donned the same fate.
If a vote to leave the Euro were successful in a nation as large as Italy, the European Union would be finished, unable to support itself with further retreat from vital members.
Yet, even now if the M5S were not to come to power the Euro in Italy, and be extension the European Union, could still fall; thanks in large part to the near-insolvency that is facing almost all of Italy’s major banks. The current meltdown of the Italian banking system was the main driver behind the constitutional referendum, all along. Prime Minister Renzi wanted a streamlined and newly empowered government to shove though banking reforms he believed would save the industry. His plans were controversial as to whether they would actually improve the situation or not, but now the world will never know regardless. Leaving the status quo unchanged for Italian banks could likely be the death knell of the Euro, a currency already so very weakened by financial crises of Greece and Spain.
So while today’s Italian referendum was not as direct of a blow to the European Union as the British referendum of this past June, do not be deceived, for it is still likely to take a major toll. The referendum result may just make the nation the Brutus of Europe, sneaking up behind the Caesar of Brussels, dealing the backstabbing blow that will end a tyrant. How very Italian.