It wasn’t even remotely close. In yesterday’s nationwide Italian referendum, voters there rejected prime minister Renzi’s sweeping reforms to the constitution, 59-41. Or I should say, ex-Italian prime minister: Renzi, as expected, has resigned this morning.
Also as expected, every public Eurosceptic in Britain is in full victory mode. Roger Helmer’s tweet summarises the message from this end pretty neatly:
“Let’s be clear: Italy has voted against the EU. Soon, there may no longer be an EU from which to Brexit.”
Let’s be clear: no, Italy did not vote against the EU yesterday. They voted against a set of constitutional reforms which were actually pretty terrible, and it is good for everyone involved that they will not now happen. I spoke in Rome a couple of years ago about these changes when they were in their infancy as an idea and I will repeat what I said back then: while the Italian system needs reform, rushing through a bunch of changes that will remove powers from the regions in a mass centralising project focused on giving Italy’s Lower House much more power is not the answer. The Italian people were right to reject Renzi’s ideas, and I’m a long way from being the only liberal saying so.
What’s ironic is that the No vote, so supported by insurgent populist parties in Italy, will make it harder for them to use power to their stated ends, should it come their way. Renzi’s reforms would have drastically reduced the powers of the senate as a check. Had there been a Yes vote yesterday, then if M5S comes to power at some point in the near future they would have faced a far easier task in removing Italy from the single currency, just to take a very large, EU-related example.
The referendum was also a rejection of Renzi, a quasi-technocrat who many had accepted as a necessary temporary measure, but had overstayed his welcome – and given the voters a perfect opportunity to oust him via his drastic overreach in the form of the referendum.
There should now be an election in Italy. However, given the nature of Italian politics, this is far from certain to be anytime very soon. The next scheduled election is May 2018, and the current establishment could try to keep going on life support with another technocrat running the show (Padoan has already been mooted). This would be a retched mistake, but that still doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The Italian establishment could hang on and hope for a miracle to save them from the populists. But they can’t run forever.
So don’t listen to the Brexit brigade on this one. The No vote doesn’t mean the EU is folding around us (Le Pen becoming French president will do that for us). I’m not, on the other hand, hopeful for the state of Italian politics. The No vote was the correct one – but what comes next could be pretty bad, at least partly as a result.