Italian Referendum. It’s not #Brexit or #Trump

Embed from Getty ImagesOne thing that gets noticed quickly if you are a media junkie like me is that often a narrative arises in reporting an event.  In Australia we had the ‘Howard Battlers’ for some time which really didn’t exist. Now with Brexit and Donald Trump winning the presidency of the United States we have the narrative of ‘the people rebelling against the elite’ and variations of this theme.  This is amplified in social media where people who believe in something feed in this narrative.

After Brexit and Trump, the media went to look for another ‘domino’ to fall. Next was the Austrian election for president who did not fit the narrative as the Green candidate defeated the right wing one.

Next was the Italian Referendum.  I thought that the narrative of attaching anything ‘against the elites’ or the EU was odd to start with.  This election was about changing the constitution to change how the Senate was elected and its function.  There are other changes which are quite detail and not that exciting.  Wikipedia has a good page about it if interested. 

But I already read articles about ‘The next big thing’ to happen after Brexit and Trump and I tweeted this before the results.

And straight after the results the comments in the media were that the result ‘Throws the EU into chaos’.  Basically that’s because the Prime Minister Renzi stated that if the referendum failed he would resign.  Renzi which was not actually elected, but appointed by the President of Italy (considering that Renzi’s party the Partito Democratico has the majority in the lower house).  Renzi was very popular initially but then became very unpopular..very.  And this referendum for many wasn’t much an issue about the reform but a way of voters to get their baseball bats ready for him.

This referendum with its quite dry proposals wouldn’t have had much attention if it was not for the Brexit/Trump narrative.

But beside the media the reaction from the brexiters/pro-Trump in the UK and USA was something to behold.

All I can say is that these people are going to be so disappointed in a few months’ time. Italy is very angry towards Europe. The Euro has really disadvantaged its economy, and some are angry because they believe the EU is not doing enough to help with a refugee crisis they feel Italy has to sort out by itself.

An Opinion poll done just after Brexit,  show that while only 30% has faith in the European Union, 81% is not happy with its immigration policies and 70% view the EU’s political policies negatively, 80% want to stay in the European Union.

Populist parties like the 5 Star Movement may want to do a referendum to get out of the Euro currency, but there’s no talk of completely exiting from the EU like the UK has done.

Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini writes in the New York Times:

Here and abroad, columnists are dashing off dark warnings about the impending collapse of the euro, and maybe the European Union. After Brexit, Rexit! crow his opponents.

Not true. David Cameron didn’t have to call a referendum. But Mr. Renzi had no choice; in Italy, constitutional reforms must gain final approval from the people. This wasn’t an extraordinary event. In any other moment, it would have passed almost unremarked, as the demise of one more Italian government in a long string of them……

Is Mr. Renzi’s tearful demise another bump after Mr. Trump, then? Not really. Mr. Trump’s victory was unexpected; Mr. Renzi’s defeat was entirely predictable. And Italy is not showing signs of post-traumatic stress, like America. The next prime minister will not be Beppe Grillo, the maverick populist (and admirer of Mr. Trump), nor as colorful, nor as lively. After the tumultuous 1,000 days of Mr. Renzi — who proposed a lot, accomplished a little and left few stones unturned — Italy wants to be quiet for a while.

While European analyst Luca Scazzieri wrote in the Guardian:

Italy’s referendum does not mark a political earthquake. Its causes are different, and its effects on domestic and international politics are likely to be contained.

Italy’s no vote does not fit quite so neatly into the narrative of a populist revolt against globalisation and elites. Themes such as globalisation and immigration did not feature as strongly in the debate. Instead, after Renzi stated that he would resign if the constitutional reforms were rejected, the debate was focused on his own record as prime minister. And while of course populists voted no, many of the other no voters did so against the substance of the reforms, arguing that they were anti-democratic and would have altered constitutional checks and balances. Unlike Britain and the US, where elites were homogeneously in favour of remaining in the EU and opposed to Trump, in the Italian case, the political establishment and the experts were split in two……

Opposition to the proposed constitutional changes did not just come from the populist Five Star Movement and the nationalist Northern League, but also from mainstream political figures. These included factions of Renzi’s own Democratic party, former prime ministers such as Massimo D’Alema and Mario Monti, prominent academics and former constitutional court judges. This was not a vote that neatly pitted globalists against nativists or “the populists” against “the establishment”.

As for many things about Italy, and especially about its politics, applying a template which may work in the UK and the USA does not work. It is a more fractured society where there are currents and undercurrents, where things are not clear cut.

That is why those that see this referendum as another blow towards the demise of the EU, or like Trump an expression against the ‘elites’ are going to be disappointed.

Italy will somehow muddle along. Like it has always done.

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