Italian Referendum Defeated: Voters Send A Clear Message To The European Union


Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has announced he would resign after suffering a humiliating loss in the referendum on constitutional reform. On Sunday the 4th of December 2016, voters were asked whether they approve of a constitutional law that amends the Italian Constitution to reform the composition and powers of the Parliament of Italy, as well as the division of powers between the State, the Regions, and administrative entities. The bill was first put forward by Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party in the senate on the 8th of April 2014. After several amendments were made, a referendum was called because the constitutional law had not been approved by a majority of two-thirds in each house of parliament in the second vote.

Attempts to reform the senate in Italy aren’t at all new. The first attempts occurred in the 1980’s followed by further attempts in the 1990’s. In 2006 a referendum was held as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi aimed to strengthen the powers of the Prime Ministership whilst at the same time weakening the role of the President. The people rejected this proposal and talks of senate reform continued for many years after that. When Matteo Renzi came into power in February 2014, he pledged to implement a number of reforms, focusing on a substantial decrease in the membership and power of the senate. This would not only abolish the current senate but introduce a new electoral law aimed at giving the party that won the most votes in elections for the Chamber of Deputies a greater portion of the seats, allowing the formation of a stronger government.

When Mr Renzi took office in 2014, he presented himself as an anti-establishment “demolition man” that had come to bring dramatic change to a country that had seen years of corruption taking place at the very top tiers of government. Ironically enough on the 15th of January 2016 “La Repubblica” newspaper announced that Renzi had hired American political advisor Jim Messina, who had previously managed Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, to oversee the campaign for “Yes”. This, as well as his pro EU stance, had indicated that he was not only a disappointment to the country, but was working against the interests of the people. The referendum wasn’t so much a left wing vs right wing divide, but more of a globalist vs nationalist one. The “Basta un Si” (Just a Yes) campaign was supported by Renzi’s left wing Democratic Party, the centrists Civic Choice and Liberal Popular Alliance parties, and the New Centre-Right party. The “Io Voto No” (I Vote No) campaign had a broad range of support. From the Italian Left party, to Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the Conservative and Reformists, the populist Five Star Movement, and the right wing Lega Nord and Brother’s of Italy parties.


The referendum brought out a huge turnout with 65.47% (33,243,845) voters casting their ballots. In the end the “No” campaign won 59.11% (19,419,507) to the “yes” campaign 40.89% (13,432,208). Throughout the 20 regions of Italy, only 3 regions narrowly voted yes, with 17 of the others voting no. When you look at the vote geographically, it seems that in the south the “No” vote was very strong whereas in the north it was more of a closer contest. This was a resounding defeat for Renzi, who had staked his future on the “Yes” vote. Renzi held a televised address to the nation after early results and exit polls pointed to a defeat. He said “the experience of my government ends here”, and that he took full responsibility for the “extraordinarily clear” defeat. Opposition parties were quick to call Renzi out on his promise to resign. The parliamentary leader of the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party, Renato Brunetta, said “Renzi is going to go and with him the powerful lobbies who were also defeated”. Head of the right-wing Northern League party called for early elections, and Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo sees this as a big chance of possibly winning government, if an early election was held. The Five Star Movement considers themselves to be syncretic but their policies could be comparable to the centre-left Nick Xenophon party in Australia. Anti-establishment, euroscepticism, protectionist, populist, socially progressive, and environmentalist are terms that describe the party. The Five Star Movement is seen as the greatest chance at the next election, which will see a dramatic change to the two-party system Italians have encountered in recent years.

The constitutional reform, if successful, would have reduced the size of the senate from 315 to 100, which was designed to speed up the process of making laws. The “Yes” campaign saw this as important because Italy had seen more than 60 governments in 70 years. Renzi’s argument was that it would kick start Italy, provide economic growth, and end the gridlock in the political system. His critics, rightfully so, pointed out that this would in fact give too much power to the ruling party. Italy isn’t the only country to propose such changes to how the senate operates. On the 18th of March 2016, the Australian government passed a senate reform that aimed to achieve similar results. The Australian government did this to give the ruling party more seats, by changing how the preference system works. Instead of being able to vote 1 for the party of your choice, now people have to number 1-6 parties. The purpose of this is so minor parties aren’t able to swap preferences, leading to an increase vote share for the major parties. There was a big uproar in the community over this change but unfortunately the Liberal/National government along with the Greens had the numbers to pass it.

With this, we find that the people are growing sick and tired of authoritarian governments that change the system for their own benefit. There is a revolution taking place in Europe, the United States, and Australia. We are seeing many right-wing figures emerge in the Netherlands, Germany, and France where each of these countries could see a far-right government elected in upcoming years as the uprising against the elite grows. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn further proves why the left don’t get it when he called on socialists across Europe to unite against the “siren voices” of the far-right. With establishment figures like this in the mainstream, it will not deter but only encourage more people to unite against the globalist agenda. Now with the European Union facing a certain collapse, as the markets fell to 20 month lows against the dollar, in the immediate aftermath of Matteo Renzi’s announcement, a financial collapse is imminent and it seems like the elite have shown they aren’t ready to listen to the people.

The Italian President Sergio Mattarella will now have to decide on the future of the country. He has the choice to either install a caretaker administration under the Democratic Party until elections are held in 2018, or call early elections likely to be held in early 2017. With Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, and many populist parties growing in Europe, it seems that Italy could be the next country to fall. The move for change is here, the people have voiced their concerns over the European Union, globalisation, mass immigration, and the powers of the establishment. It will be too late for the elite to acknowledge its failures and even then they would be too far in denial to admit their wrongdoings. People want a fair and just system rather than a power-hungry monopoly.

As seen in Australia after implementing the senate reforms, the government nearly lost the election. While not the sole reason, their senate reforms were a great factor to their near defeat they faced. Will Italy go down the same path as we see the Five Star Movement, and possibly the nationalist right-wing Brothers of Italy party emerge? With all of the corruption, the scandals, the mass immigration, the high unemployment levels and the like, expect further discontent in Italy, Europe, and throughout the world, as we continue to see the uprising against the globalist establishment.


Damien Ferri
National Deputy Leader Of The UCP Young Conservatives

Author Details