Whatever the referendum result, Italy is not about to have its #Brexit moment

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 3, 2016

italy-no-brexitLet’s be clear Italy is NOT about to have its #Brexit moment.

Whether it votes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the constitutional changes proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Sunday, December 3, this is not how you say #Brexit in Italian.

Let me explain.

  • The referendum is not about Europe
  • It is about removing Italy’s “perfect bicameralism” or the system that gives equal power to both houses, which makes for gridlock
  • The constitutional changes proposed would shrink the senate, turn it into an appointed rather than an elected chamber
  • The changes would give the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies a greater share of seats just because it is the largest party, thereby ensuring it remains in power for a full five years

What’s #Brexit-like about that?

Here’s the answer in four bullet points:

  • The populist Five Star Movement led by former comedian Beppe Grille is campaigning for a ‘no’ vote (but so are several other traditional, mainstream politicians, including former prime minister Mario Monti and members of the Democratic Party)
  • A ‘no’ vote would go against the existing government
  • A ‘no’ vote would seemingly up-end the status quo. In actual fact, a ‘no’ vote would maintain the status quo!
  • Prime Minister Renzi has been unwise to link his tenure to the result of the vote. If it all goes to ‘no’, which it might, considering Italians said ‘no’ in 2006 to constitutional changes proposed by Silvio Berlusconi’s government

The symbolic value of a ‘no’ vote would be as follows:

  • it might suggest more support for Mr Grillo than exists (because he’s backing ‘no’)
  • if fresh elections are held and Mr Grillo’s party wins narrowly, it may push for a referendum on leaving the euro (but not the EU)

Taking all of the above together, does a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote matter?

Only marginally perhaps. As The Economist sensibly put it recently: “If, though, a lost referendum really were to trigger the collapse of the euro, then it would be a sign that the single currency was so fragile that its destruction was only a matter of time.”

And, weighing in on why Italians should vote ‘no’, The Economist said Mr Renzi’s reforms could be deeply dangerous. “And any secondary benefits are outweighed by drawbacks—above all the risk that, in seeking to halt the instability that has given Italy 65 governments since 1945, it creates an elected strongman. This in the country that produced Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi and is worryingly vulnerable to populism.”