Yesterday I voted for the first time in an Italian election as an Italian citizen. I’d been researching the issue, and asking everyone I know for their opinions, for months, and the truth is, I can’t think of a worse issue to have as my first time. Were this first time sex, it would be the equivalent of doing it in the backseat of a car with someone you don’t even really like – memorable, but disappointing.
However, I was quoted by a journalist friend about how I voted, and why, for The Guardian newspaper (which definitely didn’t happen after my first sexual encounter).
For those who haven’t yet recovered from the US elections and didn’t even begin to sort through what this was all about, I’ll give a very brief, Cliff-Notes version – basically just what you need to know so that you can have an opinion about it at a dinner party, and know what it might mean for the future of Italy, the future of the EU, and how that might effect anyone who wants to come here on vacation.
WHAT WAS THE REFERENDUM ABOUT?
The question asked to Italian citizens on the ballot was essentially (and forgive my terrible, literal translation):
Do you approve the constitutional law concerning the provision for exceeding the equal bicameralism, a reduction of the number of members of parliament, containment of costs of institutions, the suppression of the CNEL and the revision of Title V of the Second part of the Constitution? Yes / No
In my own words, it was about reducing the size of the senate and changing their power so that laws would be quicker to pass and governments couldn’t be ousted as easily. In addition, the Provinces would be abolished as well as an organization called CNEL, all of which would have saved taxpayers X amount of money.
Sounds good, right? Smaller, cheaper, and more stable government is hard to turn down!
The first bit of messiness was that Renzi, the Prime Minister, originally said that if he couldn’t get these reforms to pass, he would step down as PM. For many, that made a “No” vote the equivalent of “Out with Renzi”. He then took back that statement, and in the back and forth, the issue became for many people, the equivalent of a “Yes” vote meaning “Renzi stays”.
After Trump’s victory, the foreign press called this a potential ‘Third Act’ in the Brexit/Trump/Italexit saga. Many also feared that Italy, looming on the brink of a serious banking crisis, would be in such a state of uncertainty were Renzi to step down, that the EU would be in turmoil if we delivered a “No” vote. The foreign press also speculated further about how the only party that would come to power post-Renzi was the 5-Star movement, which has been on the record as being anti-EU (even though they’re also on the record for being pro-EU).
HERE’S SOME OTHER THINGS THAT THE ISSUE BECAME ABOUT:
- If Renzi steps down, that will leave a space that could only be filled by the 5-Star (antiestablishment) movement which could then lead to referendum on leaving the EU alla Brexit – which could be bad. Or good!
- If Renzi steps down, that could force the President of the Republic to create a technocratic government to tide us over until the next elections in 2018 – which could be bad. Or good.
- The far right sees a “No” vote as the same kind of “No” that the UK delivered and the same kind of “No” that the US voted (against Clinton and the establishment), which would then pave the way for more Salvini/Putin/Le Pen/Trump right wing extremists. Which would certainly be bad. Unless you’re into that, in which case it would be good.
So a vote on constitutional reform, involving the size and cost of the Senate, turned into a vote either for or against the PM, a vote for or against the EU, a vote for or against Populism and the Establishment (which, in this case, we don’t really know if it’s Renzi and his proposal or saying no to Renzi and his proposal).
WHAT WAS IT REALLY ABOUT?
Those who broke down the actual text of what was proposed (myself included) found the following issues of concern:
- The remaining senators would not be elected directly by the people. They would be appointed by other politicians.
- The remaining senators would also hold a second public office, so would have to divide their time between the two jobs, and incur higher costs in getting to/from Rome to complete their duties as senators therefore reducing the potential savings.
- The senators would have legal immunity, which could lead to all kinds of corruption (and just, why?).
- No salaries would be cut, therefore making the issue of saving money no longer at the center of the argument.
- The process by which a law becomes a law, instead of following the current, slow, yet single procedure, would follow 10-13 different procedures (the actual number not 100% agreed on) that, if disputed, would end up in the constitutional courts to be disputed to death, which means that there’s no guarantee that laws will be any easier to pass then they are now.
- That governments would be more stable, but also more powerful, and that could be good (if the government is good) or it could be REALLY bad (if the government is bad).
- For some reason they also threw in there that the number of signatures needed to bring a public vote forward would be much higher than it currently is, which just had no place getting squeezed into this.
Well, we know what happened. Italy voted “No” about 60 to 40, and Renzi immediately stated he would turn in his resignation the following day.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Good question. It’s doubtful we’ll hold early elections, so the President will have to form a government that will last from now until 2018. In the meantime, that means nothing’s changed at all. The laws, and the process by which they become laws, has stayed the same. Today, and tomorrow, Italy will have the same problems that it had yesterday and the day before.
For the tourist, this might mean that the Euro will fall against the dollar a bit, which could make your trip cheaper. Otherwise, you can plan that Italy is going to be the same dichotomous, beautifully messy, chaotic and confusing place that it was and might always be.
But if you really want to understand Italy, just watch this oldie but goodie: