This Sunday Italy is having a referendum that has been described as the most important reform since the creation of the Republic, so what are the reforms and what is at stake?
Since the Italian Constitution was written in 1948 Italy has had ‘perfect bicameralism’, meaning that the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have equal powers. This has led to endless to-ing and fro-ing between the two Chambers of Parliament until they agree on the exact text of a piece of legislation. Such a process has become increasingly difficult as the two Chambers often have different political majorities.
In an attempt to resolve this deadlock the left wing prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has called a referendum on proposals to reduce the number of senators from 315 down to 100 and make the Senate into an advisory body with no real power. He has repeatedly stated that he will step down if he loses the referendum.
The faction opposing him and his reforms is very vocal; it includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, and the Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant party Movimento Cinque Stelle, led by the ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. They believe that Mr Renzi is just trying to consolidate his power, as the reforms would make the majority party even stronger in Parliament. The last polls put the opposing ‘no’ faction in the lead by 5%.
The worry is that the people will use the referendum as a vote of no confidence in their prime minister, who entered office with high approval rating, but has failed to reduce unemployment and improve the economy. Youth unemployment is at 40%, and the economy is not improving; this year Italy’s economy is expected to grow by less than one per cent. However, a ‘no’ vote could destroy plans to rescue the banking system which is weighed down by over €350 billion.
Many aspects of the referendum are reminiscent of Brexit – the prime minister has put his career on the line, the campaigns are polarised, and a ‘no’ vote will increase right wing, Euroscepticism in the EU. However, the referendum only affects the latter indirectly since Movimento Cinque Stelle are looking likely to win the next elections.
If they do, and Marine Le Pen wins in France, and Norbert Hofer wins in Austria, there could be difficult times ahead for the EU.