On December 4th, a crucial referendum will take place in Italy regarding the nation's constitution. The referendum, backed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his Center-Left Democratic Party calls for the removal of many of the Italian Senate's legislative powers and the “modernization” of Italy's institutions to speed up deadlock in its Parliament. It would reduce the size of the Italian Parliament from 315 Senators to just 100. Currently the Democratic Party has 114 seats.
Essentially, this would remove checks and balances placed in Italy's constitution and give more power to the executive branch of government. It would also make the Democratic Party the only party in the Senate, making it easy for Renzi to pass any legislation he wishes. Current polls have shown that most voters are opposed to the referendum, citing that the wording is unclear and fearing that it will give the government too much power. Renzi has said that he will step down if the referendum does not pass, possibly leading to a political crisis and a power vacuum in the Italian Government.
This has led many to speculate that populist parties will fill the void, such as the Five Star Movement, founded by former comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009, a party that is more left leaning on issues such as environmentalism, but is anti-establishment and anti-EU. In the last few years the Five Star Movement has grown widely in popularity, electing two of its members as mayors of both Rome and Turin this June. Others such as the right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-EU party known as Lega Nord have also gained support as of late. Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, a conservative party, has also jumped onto the anti-EU bandwagon. These parties and others like it will be the beneficiaries of the referendum results if it fails.
The polls as of the last couple months are not looking favorable for Renzi and his Democratic Party. The most recent polls show a five point lead by the campaign to reject Renzi's reforms. However, we know with the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump that polls can often be very wrong.
In either case the Five Star Movement will be empowered, and even with a victory by Renzi, it could lead the new political party to rise to power in the country. This is because of the nature of the reforms initiated by Renzi. The electoral process will be changed as a result of the referendum if it is to pass. The changes include a two round runoff which would guarantee the winner an absolute majority in parliament. The Five Star Movement is polling just behind Renzi's Democratic Party and also holds the second largest number of seats in the Italian Parliament's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. The result of the referendum if it passes could ultimately lead to the Five Star Movement seizing absolute power in the next parliamentary election.
This would in turn lead to a vote on Italy leaving the EU, as Grillo has proposed. However Grillo's Five Star Movement faces a challenge from the other more conservative populist parties, the aforementioned Forza Italia and the Lega Nord. The Five Star Movement is a difficult party to predict, as their stances are unorthodox, but their staunch anti-establishment and anti-EU positions show that the winds of change that brought the Brexit and Trump's victory are also sweeping through Italy.
Although the vote itself is not directly related to the European Union, it will play a major factor in the EU maintaining its status as the main institution of power among its member nations. Prime Minister Renzi is very much supportive of the EU establishment as well as his own party's grip on power in the Italian political system. If the referendum is successful, his party may be able to continue its rule over the Italian Government.
However, this may be a short lived Pyrrhic victory for the Democratic Party. As conservative populist groups across Europe are gaining more support, the face of the political establishment will be seriously challenged. This referendum will play a major role in the continuing question as to whether the people of the nations of Europe want to be ruled by the unelected oligarchy of the European Union known as the European Commission, or to rule themselves as citizens of sovereign nation states.
Regardless of the results of this referendum, the biggest beneficiaries of it will be the Five Star Movement and perhaps Forza Italia and Lega Nord to a lesser degree. The Democratic Party will temporarily maintain its grip on power if it wins the referendum.
However, their popularity is rapidly fading in Italy, as the anti-EU sentiments that have spread across Europe have reached Italy. It is difficult to predict the future of Italy if the Five Star Movement becomes the next ruling party of Italy following the 2018 parliamentary elections. Their party platform is unorthodox and sometimes contradictory, as it has attracted those from both the left and right. However, we know that the party is vehemently opposed to the Euro currency and EU membership as a whole. They, along with the other Eurosceptic parties, are a growing threat to the old guard establishment of Italy. This referendum, whatever the outcome, may spell the beginning of the end of the European Union.