In the aftermath of Italy’s referendum and of Matteo Renzi’s resignation, a new government has taken office in Italy, led by former FM Paolo Gentiloni. What does the future hold for Italy and for the EU? Reflecting on media coverage of the referendum, Daniele Albertazzi takes issue with the hyperbole that has characterised much of the commentary, arguing that in spite of the country’s many problems, Italy is still capable of holding a referendum without bringing the whole European edifice down.
Check out EUROPP’s full coverage of Italy’s constitutional referendum.
Within a few days of Matteo Renzi resigning his job as Italy’s PM, the country has a new government. This will be led by one of Renzi’s (and Romano Prodi’s) ex-ministers, Paolo Gentiloni, and it is noticeable for how similar it is to the previous one, with most Ministers who had served under Renzi having kept their jobs. Much more importantly, the governing majority has not changed and will be made up by the Democratic Party (that Renzi himself will continue to lead) plus some minor allies (with only one tiny group of Parliamentarians having moved to the opposition). While the latter development will mean that Gentiloni will enjoy a slightly reduced majority, which will cause problems in the Senate, by bringing his own Democtratic party with him and by listening to its various factions he should be able to govern for the limited period that his executive is expected to last (in the best case scenario until the spring of next year, but possibly less). As for Renzi, by remaining in charge of the Democratic Party, he will be able to exercise considerable influence on the government’s policies and strategy.
Gentiloni’s job is now to keep the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement at bay and be seen to do something about the deep seated problems afflicting the country, such as sluggish economic growth, low productivity, dramatic youth unemployment and the perilous state of some of Italy’s banks. This is, incidentally, what his predecessor in the job should have done, rather than investing so much time and political capital in devising a Constitutional reform that would not have improved Italian governance and ultimately failed to convince a clear majority of Italians who rejected it in the referendum of 4th of December.
Given the speed at which events have developed in recent days, it is easy to forget that, in the period leading to the referendum, there have been plenty of warnings by journalists and commentators explaining that, had Italians decided to vote “no” to the proposed Constitutional reform, this would have set in motion a chain of events possibly leading to the collapse of the Euro – when not even the end of the EU.
Of course crying wolf and predicting impending doom has become a bit of a Western pastime whenever there is an election or a referendum in Europe, following the UK’s decision to exit the EU in June, and the upset caused by Donald Trump’s victory in the recent American election. But the consequences of such continuous dramatisation (which helps sell advertising space, but makes for poor analysis) are rather obvious: voters’ exasperation with that same political class and media constantly talking of impending doom.
While, of course, it is perfectly reasonable to support this or that mainstream candidate, or this or that position in a referendum, the reason that is put forward should not be that there is no choice but to do so, or else. Besides being untrue, such message is also uninspiring. Compare it, for instance, to the Eurosceptics’ calls for people to claim back the sovereignty and power that rightfully belongs to them and their insistence that this is in fact achievable — whether it is the Northern League calling for people to become, once again, “masters in their own homes” or the British Eurosceptic Boris Johnson, now the UK’s Foreign Minister, praising voters for having “taken back control”.
As for Italy, since the power of the PM is rather limited in the country and the influence of party leaders supporting a government quite considerable, changes at the top (which, of course, have been frequent throughout the country’s recent history) have rarely translated into considerable shifts in the executive’s strategies or objectives. This has been even more so when the governing majority did not change, like in the present case. Consider the topic that is most relevant to this discussion: Italy’s relationship with the EU. Here successive PMs have generally stuck to a line set as far back as the 1950s by the then governing Christian Democrats: that of placing Italy at the very heart of the European project. Even Berlusconi did not deviate much from this position, despite his rhetorical skermishes with European institutions. Do not expect dramatic changes under Gentiloni either, although a few minor clashes between Italy and the European Commission on asylum seeking and immigration may well be forthcoming.
Of course these developments come as no surprise to people working in the financial sectors in Italy and abroad, who knew that the President of the Republic would seek to avoid immediate elections. Indeed, unless Parliament rewrites the electoral law, such elections would have to be held by using different electoral rules for the elections of the two Chambers, which would probably lead to having two different majorities in Parliament, and hence to chaos.
In the end, the Euro did not collapse and the Italian stock market has done well in the aftermath of the vote. While it is undoubtedly true that Italy has many problems, it can certainly afford to hold a referendum on Constitutional reform without bringing the whole European edifice down – and it has done just that.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
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Daniele Albertazzi – University of Birmingham
Daniele Albertazzi is Senior Lecturer in European Politics at the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLSIS) of the University of Birmigham, UK.