The referendum on Constitutional Reform of last Sunday ended up with a clear result. Italian people went largely to polls (almost 70% of turnout) and they rejected the Constitutional reform voted by the Parliament in a landslide: 60 to 40. 

As a consequence, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned, as he had always made clear through months. Matteo Renzi's decision is a lesson of political accountability for everyone: in a country where “nobody really loses” and above all nobody has ever left politics after a failure, he acknowledged his defeat on a constitutional reform and decided to quit. This is very unusual for Italy, but once again Renzi showed his coherence and broke away with old habits of Italian politics.  What went wrong with the vote? In my view, resistance to change clearly prevailed.

But, in contrast to Brexit vote or Donald Trump election, it cannot be seen only as an antiestablishment vote. The “No” front was in fact pushed by a heterogeneous coalition of prominent members of the establishment, many “has been” such as former Prime Ministers Silvio Berlusconi, Mario Monti and Massimo D'Alema (only Romano Prodi publicly endorsed the reform and the Yes vote), former leaders such as Pierluigi Bersani, as well as other more extremist political forces such as the Northern League and the Five- Stars Movement, which made a short-sighted political calculation by opting for conservatism turning away from its previous positions. 

Our biggest mistake was not to succeed in focusing on the content of reform itself. In this referendum more than in other cases, the majority of the voters decided to ignore the text and express dissatisfaction, anger and frustration with the economic and social context. As a result, the vote took the form of a ballot for or against  Matteo Renzi as Prime Minister. 

Looking at the results, it seems undoubtable that “Yes” performed very poorly among young people, unemployed and notably South of Italy, confirming the north and south divide and the anger of the losers of European austerity policies of the recent past. Although Renzi Government in last two and a half years radically inverted the approach of the Monti era and pursued a reformist program aiming at recovering Italy from the crisis, more time is needed to display all the positive effects of these efforts: young unemployment is still high (35%), and the South is still lagging behind. It is clear that a stronger social agenda and fight against increasing poverty must be the highest priorities in view of our general elections in 2017. 

However, last Sunday referendum remains a significant democratic test: many citizens turned out to the polls, with an important share of Yes vote. Taking into account the internal Pd opposition to the reform (we’ll draw all the necessary consequences in Party discussion and at the next primaries…) the final outcome represents a solid re-starting base: 12 millions voters who voted for and call for a change. A base which we must focus on, consolidate and expand ahead of next elections. 

On the other side, the 60% of “No” votes consist of a feared bunch of people who have nothing in common but their resistance to change and their hate for Matteo Renzi, going from the neo-fascists to Berlusconi; from the Northern League to Beppe Grillo; from a vast part of the establishment to the conservative leftist fringes. “No” won the referendum, but the are totally unable to come up with any consistent and alternative proposal. 

What will happen now? Hard to say so far. Due to the reject of the Reform, we need to harmonize the electoral laws of the Camera dei Deputati (lower House) and Senato (upper house). It will require some time, and probably the creation of a new executive. It is likely that the new system would be more proportional rather than majoritarian: not the direction we hoped for, but a likely consequence of the rejection of the reform which will be hard to avoid. 

With the resignation of Matteo Renzi, a process for change has been temporarily stopped. But I’m sure we will start again after the next general elections. Europe needs someone like Renzi, who showed the necessary courage to get out of the EU status quo and push for change. His resignation is a loss for progressive Europe, but certainly it is not the end of the story. He will come back, and we will come back.

Sandro Gozi

Testo pubblicato sul sito di Policy Network