Italy’s 2016 Referendum – what does it mean and what you need to know

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.


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).


- 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).


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.


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:

Understanding Italian Strikes

Another general strike in Italy has been announced for this Friday, November 14th, that will affect almost all forms of travel and public transport throughout the country.  Such a strike seems like a crippling affair when reported by English news sources, one with the potential to ruin plans and strand travelers.  However, as with everything else in the Bel Paese, strikes are not the same as they are “back home” and the amount of fear and panic they induce is mostly unnecessary.

So how do strikes really work here?  Well, strikes work pretty much the way other stuff works here – that is to say, not very well.  In the US, a strike means the negotiations have failed and the result is a total shutdown until an accord can be reached.  The threat of a strike is powerful because if a strike comes there’s guaranteed to be serious losses.  It’s the end of the line.  And if the strike was ultimately carried out half-assed, then it would undermine the threat of future strikes.

Here that’s not the case.  Here, they are optional.  They’re flexible.  It means, maybe the bus will run, and maybe it won’t.

To understand strikes you have to understand Italian unions.  They operate with or without the support of the people they are calling to strike.  They are essentially independent entities who lobby government for laws that govern workers rights and will affect different categories of employment, but they don’t require employees to join the union in certain sectors to lobby for them.

When you see news about strikes, what you’re seeing is not a notice from organized workers themselves, whose collective voice is being expressed by a union official.  Instead, it’s the union which is calling the workers of that sector to strike – and whether they do or not is up to them.

I get up and I go on strike

A few important things to note, to get a better grasp of how severe a strike can be:

- the trains to the airport from Termini station, such as the Leonardo Express, cannot be affected by strikes.  This is guaranteed by law.

- often, the Freccie, or high speed trains, cannot be affected by strikes – only the regional ones.

- for public transportation, the buses and metro are obligated to run for a few hours that are crucial to get people to and from work – around 8-9am and from 5-6pm.

- workers don’t have to notify employers that they intend to strike, and can’t be reprimanded legally for participating, so companies have to operate in the grey area of not knowing how much a strike will affect them either.

To sum up: a transport strike doesn’t mean that there won’t be buses or that you won’t be able to get where you’re going. It means there will be delays and you can expect to waste some time and have to be a bit flexible and easy going about it.

But, wait, that’s what it’s always like here, isn’t it?

Updated news about the actual hours and the companies/unions involved can be found at this Italian website which is fairly easy to decipher and updated regularly:

Sciopero Generale – General Strike

Tomorrow a general strike has been called by a major worker’s union in Italy called CGIL. From 9am to 5pm, September 6th will be a day without reliable transport (if any at all) and many other disruptions, country-wide.

Obviously motivated to protest the government’s recent austerity package, which is necessary to balance the budget, this strike will certainly have the same effects as all the others – more hassle on the public, more losses to business, and no change in government. The reason for this ineffectiveness is blindingly clear – those that are pulling the strings up top are not relying on the metro to get to work.

The purpose of this article though isn’t to get too political, but really just to inform the visitor what they can expect and what sort of things will or won’t be operational. Unfortunately, that touches a nerve deep at the root of this problem:

no one knows.

Seriously – dig around and see what you can come up with, other than the vague description copied from blog to blog about the hours involved a minimum train service guarantee (with no specifics). I think to fully understand this, we need to explain what makes a worker’s strike in Italy and how that differs from a worker’s strike elsewhere (I’ll compare the U.S. just for argument’s sake).

Let’s say you belong to a union in the U.S. and that union is having trouble negotiating with the employer of those workers. The union will decide to strike or not and as a member you will have to follow your union’s decision. There will be collateral damage, but the employer essentially will lose its workforce until it can negotiate with the union and satisfy their demands, at which point the strike will be called off. Now, that seems pretty basic. I didn’t even have to look that up on wikipedia – you can just sort of put those pieces together from what you’ve seen in the movies.

In Italy it’s different. In Italy, a union will call a strike, and whether you’re a member of that union or not, you have the RIGHT to participate and you don’t have to give any sort of notice to your employer that you won’t be showing up to work that day. It’s completely elective. If you work in a bank, or for the bus system, or in a cafe, or for a school or hospital, it’s up to you whether you want to exercise your right to strike. What this means is that there is nothing but collateral damage because most likely the employer has absolutely no control over whatever demands aren’t being satisfied. And since no one really knows who will participate or not in the strike (even the member numbers of CGIL itself won’t give you any indication of the expected levels of participation) the country really has no idea what will or will not be effected.

So there you go – you’ve come here looking for solid information, and sadly, you won’t find it. But at least now you know why.

It’s because as with many questions in Italy – there is no answer.

Will you still be able to take a train to the airport – yes. That much is official. Will you be able to take the train to Venice – who knows? Maybe, but it might be 10 hours late and jam packed because the other trains were cancelled. In the meantime, go follow one of the marches. Usually there’s a number of Italian, hippie/punk-rock types with dreadlocks swigging beer and someone from the communist party blasting the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” on loudspeakers from a car in the procession.

That surely beats a day at the office, right?

Update:  Valeria Latteri, who does Consulenza del Lavoro, and is an all around expert on such issues, has pointed me to the exception to this rule – the essential pubic services – which by law must be upheld.  The full letter of the law, for anyone who speaks not only Italian, but legalese, can be found here for your reading enjoyment.

by Steven Brenner

Tourist Tax in Venice – Contributo di Soggiorno a Venezia

From August 24th, 2011, the Comune of Venice will also impose a tourist tax on all non-residents staying in the city. As the third city in Italy to add this “tourist tax” (following after Rome and Venice earlier this year), Venice has a slightly different spin on it: they are promoting it as a way to become an individual “sponsor” of such a great city. As with Rome and Venice, the tax is to be collected wherever you are being accommodated. A look at all the variations of the price to be paid shows that Venice surely wins the Most Confusing Award.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Limit to 5 nights – in other words, if you’re staying for more than 5 nights consecutively, you only pay the tax on the first 5 nights.
• Amount varies based on 3 factors: season (high or low), location (Murano, Venice, mainland, etc.), and category (whether it’s a campground, hostel, hotel, guesthouse, etc.)
• Under 10 years old – not applicable
• From 10 – 16 years old – 1/2 price
• Tour guides of groups of 25 or more or bus drivers are excluded
• hostels exempt

High Season
- January, 1 and from the following Sunday to January, 6.
- Carnevale
- From Wednesday before Easter to the following Tuesday
- From April, 1 to October 31
- The week of December 8
- From December 23 to 31

Prices by Category – High Season
5 star hotel €5 (Venice) €4,50 (Venice Lido and Islands) €3 (mainland)
4 star hotel €4 (Venice) €2,80 (Venice Lido and Islands) €2,40 (mainland)
3 star hotel €3 (Venice) €2,10 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,80 (mainland)
2 star hotel €2 (Venice) €1,40 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,20 (mainland)
1 star hotel €1 (Venice) €,70 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,60 (mainland)
Historic Residence €4 (Venice) €2,80 (Venice Lido and Islands) €2,40 (mainland)
Guesthouse 1° €2,50 (Venice) €1,75 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,50 (mainland)
Guesthouse 2° €2 (Venice) €1,40 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,20 (mainland)
Guesthouse 3° €1,50 (Venice) €1,05 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,90 (mainland)
Bed & Breakfast €3 (Venice) €2,10 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,80 (mainland)
Vacation Rental Apartment €2 (Venice) €1,40 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,20 (mainland)
4 star Campground €,40 (Venice) €,28 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,24 (mainland)
3 star Campground €,30 (Venice) €,21 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,18 (mainland)
2 star Campground €,20 (Venice) €,14 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,12 (mainland)
1 star Campground €,10 (Venice) €,07 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,06 (mainland)

Prices by Category – Low Season
5 star hotel €2,5 (Venice) €2,25 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,50 (mainland)
4 star hotel €2 (Venice) €1,40 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,20 (mainland)
3 star hotel €1,5 (Venice) €1,05 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,90 (mainland)
2 star hotel €1 (Venice) €,70 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,60 (mainland)
1 star hotel €,50 (Venice) €,35 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,30 (mainland)
Historic Residence €2 (Venice) €1,40 (Venice Lido and Islands) €1,20 (mainland)
Guesthouse 1° €1,25 (Venice) €,87 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,75 (mainland)
Guesthouse 2° €1 (Venice) €,70 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,60 (mainland)
Guesthouse 3° €,75 (Venice) €,52 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,45 (mainland)
Bed & Breakfast €1,50 (Venice) €1,05 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,90 (mainland)
Vacation Rental Apartment €1 (Venice) €,70 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,60 (mainland)
4 star Campground €,20 (Venice) €,14 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,12 (mainland)
3 star Campground €,15 (Venice) €,10 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,09 (mainland)
2 star Campground €,10 (Venice) €,07 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,06 (mainland)
1 star Campground €,05 (Venice) €,03 (Venice Lido and Islands) €,03 (mainland)



For more information, or for the rates on motels and tourist villages (which I’ve purposely excluded because, frankly, it’s already complicated enough), check the official pdf available through the Comune di Venezia.

by Steven Brenner

Tourist Tax in Florence – Contributo di Soggiorno a Firenze

Florence as of July 1st will also impose a tourist tax on all non-residents staying in the city for up to 10 days (in other words, the tax is only imposed on the first 10 days of a consecutive stay).

Exemption include:

• children under 10 years old

• patients coming to Florence for medical reasons (in local Florence hospitals)

• parents or guardians of those under 18 coming from medical reasons

Prices per person, per night, apply as follows:

1 star hotels – €1
2 star hotels – €2
3 star hotels – €3
4 star hotels – €4
5 star hotels – €5
campgrounds (1,2 and 3 star) – €1
campgrounds (4 star) – €2
hostels – €1
vacation rental apartments – €1
guesthouses (run by small agencies) – €2
guesthouses (family run / bed & breakfast) – €1
historical residences – €4
agriturismo (1 “spike”) – €1
agriturismo (2 “spikes”) – €2
agriturismo (3 “spikes”) – €3

For more information, visit the website of the Comune di Firenze.

by Steven Brenner