A referendum in Italy: why Matteo Renzi goes for broke

On Sunday, Italy held a referendum in which made amendments to the existing Constitution. They suggest simplifying the procedure of adoption of laws, the reduction of the ability of the Parliament to send the government in resignation and separation of spheres of authority between the center and regions. According to experts at the London school of Economics (LSE), in case of success in a referendum it will be the most sweeping changes in the structure of the country in 70 years of existence of the Italian Republic. This package is the main internal political project of the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Four in one

The proposed government reform is a package of bills concerning the structure of the Executive and legislative branches and their relationship with the local government. So standing in the ballot question actually consists of four: “do you Support the constitutional bill to overcome a system of two equal houses of Parliament, to reduce the operating cost of institutions, the abolition of the National Council for economy and labour and on the revision of Chapter 5 of part 2 of the Constitution?”.

In essence, we are talking about the elimination of the so-called “perfect bicameral parliamentary system.” Now, the Italian Senate — the upper house of Parliament fully duplicates the functions of the chamber of deputies, the lower house. The only difference is that the Senate less than half of parliamentary seats (315 vs 630). Every bill must pass both chambers with the same text. At the slightest changes in one of them the other should consider it again, and, as practice shows, this process can last indefinitely.

The government’s proposals are to reduce the role of the Senate. According to the plan, the number of senators will be reduced to 100, and they will represent regions of the full legislative body the Senate becoming an Advisory, abolished the mandatory approval of all bills. In addition, the Senate deprived of the right to censure the government.

At the same time proposed to divide the spheres of responsibility of the Central government and regional authorities, as well as to change the rules to petitions. Earlier to the filing of the bill in Parliament was required to collect 50 thousand signatures, but the deputies could not consider it. It is now proposed to increase the quota to 150 thousand signatures, and ignored a petition of the deputies.

Referred to the national Council for economy and labour (CNEL), which appeared in 1957 and is an elected expert body to the government, the Cabinet wants to abolish, as he believes it is a useless vestige of a former structure of Executive power. The savings from this step is estimated Renzi, will amount to €20 million a year.

It also assumes the abolition of the provinces — administrative units of second level, such Russian areas.

All these proposals were designed as a government bill and introduced to Parliament in the spring of 2014, just two months after Renzi became Prime Minister. Which is not surprising: the provisions on the reduction of the role of the Senate and reduce the number of its members were in the program of the Democratic party of Renzi in the 2013 elections.

From October 2015 to April 2016 package with minor amendments twice received the approval of the chamber of deputies and twice the support of the Senate. However, in each case, the bill gained a majority of votes instead of the required qualified majority of two-thirds. Why Renzi decided to hold a referendum.

Announcing it in January 2016, the Italian Prime Minister said that in case of defeat will retire. “If I lose, I don’t just go home, but will leave politics generally — quoted Renzi Rai News Agency. I’m not going to turn the referendum into a plebiscite about trust, but for me it’s a matter of principle”.

A nation in doubt

According to Italian law, the publication of public opinion polls stopped two weeks before the “day of silence”. The latest data was published on November 18 in the company Lorien Consulting: 38% of Italians were in favour of reform, 45% against and 17% undecided. The survey, published on November 17 by the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, gave a slightly different result: the Italians generally support the reforms that Renzi promised to push in case of victory in the referendum. In particular, 57% of respondents agree with the weakening of the role of the Senate in favor of the chamber of deputies, 83% support the introduction of a time limit for Parliament to debate certain issues. However, 60% of respondents hardly familiar with the details of the proposals and 61% said they are dissatisfied with the actions of the government.

Suggestions Renzi is trying to restore order in a fragile and intricate relations between the legislative and Executive authorities, which delay the decision-making process, writes The Washington Post. On the other hand, we can consider this as the abolition of the system of balances, which weakens the government in the face of growing support for populist the publication. For this, Renzi criticized by leftist politicians and academics.

The uncertainty of the outcome of the referendum reflects the complex contemporary political landscape of Italy and the economic difficulties that the country is now experiencing, explained the Director of the Rome Institute of international relations, expert of the Valdai club, Ettore Greco. On the one hand, the Prime Minister hoped that the plebiscite would allow him to restart a program of reforms that start to slow down due to problems in the economy (OECD expects GDP growth of Italy will remain below 1% for at least another two years). On the other hand, they became the reason of falling of popularity of the government. This, says Greco, the opposition successfully used the critical mood of the masses in his campaign before the referendum.

The crisis in the long term

The main critic of the referendum ideas — populist “five star Movement”, which is now the second most popular political force in Italy from 27.3% support (according to a November poll by SWG), and second only to the democratic party, Renzi (about 32%). Third place (12-13% each) divide the conservative movement, Berlusconi “Forward, Italy” and the nationalists of the “Northern League”. Both of these unions also oppose proposals Renzi. And if Renzi will lose and leave, then the main beneficiaries will be the populist party.

However, even some critical of Italians think the government Renzi “lesser evil” than a new political crisis, and therefore unable to vote for his amendment, suggests Ettore Greco. Defeat Renzi will mean a long period of market instability, experts warn LSE. Given that Italian banks already are under the weight of €360 billion of “bad loans”, the victory of the populists, who promised to hold a referendum on leaving the Euro, will have a negative impact on the prices. “We expect that Italy’s exit from the Euro zone and the collapse of the EU, told Bloomberg analyst at SEI Investments Jim Smigel. — Until recently, it seemed unimaginable, but now we see that the ice was broken”. However, the survey, published November 21 in La Stampa, shows that only 16% of Italians would like to abandon the single currency.

Reuters says that in the event of resignation, Renzi President Sergio Mattarella may appoint a temporary government of technocrats as it was five years ago, when it was formed, the Cabinet of Mario Monti.

The third referendum

For the entire postwar history of Italy is the 21st national referendum, and third, the referendum on Constitution change.

So, the constitutional referendum of 2001, 64% of Italians supported the decentralization of management (all regional authorities more powers in socio-economic sphere).

In a referendum in 2006, 61% of the population voted against the proposed Silvio Berlusconi’s reforms to reduce the influence of the Senate and increase the powers of the government.