General Background – Matteo Renzi was appointed prime minister in February 2014 with pledges to implement governmental reforms to speed up legislative bureaucracy and institutions. This referendum was to be his following-through on such pledges. However, issues such as stagnant economic growth and the refugee crisis since Renzi’s appointment has reduced his popularity amongst Italian citizens, allowing populist and anti-immigrant parties (the Five Star Movement and the Northern League, respectively) to gain momentum. These two parties led the No campaign in hopes of gaining enough popularity to win a political majority in future elections.

Who – Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the Five Star Movement, Northern League

What – Constitutional reforms proposed by Renzi and his Democratic Party. 

Important parts of the plan would have:

  • Eliminated much of the Italian Senate’s power by  reducing the number of members from 315 to 100
  • Stripped the Senate of the ability to hold votes of no confidence in the government
  • Eliminated direct elections for senators, instead filling the 100 spots with 21 regional mayors, 74 regional council heads, and 5 members selected by the president
  • Dissolved Italy’s 110 provinces, leaving only municipalities, metropolitan cities and regions
  • Abolished the National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL). CNEL is comprised of economists, sociologists, lawyers, as well as representatives for the public sector, private sector, social services, and volunteer organizations. It is seen as political representation for Italian citizens
  • Required 150,000 signatures for voters to propose new legislation which must be discussed by Parliament, an increase from 50,000 signatures which did not compel Parliament to address the proposal

Renzi argued that his constitutional reforms would improve the law-making process in Italy and his supporters claimed the reforms would reduce the cost of governance by 500 million euros per year. Renzi’s opponents argued that such reforms would provide the prime minister with too much power. You can find the remaining pieces of the proposal at the Wikipedia link below.

Ultimately, Italian voters rejected the proposals.

When – The vote occurred on December 4, 2016

How – The proposals were put to a referendum because they failed to be approved by two-thirds of both houses of parliament (the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies), as required by Article 138 of the Italian Constitution.

What’s Next? – Renzi has announced he will be stepping down as Prime Minister, leaving Italian President Sergio Mattarella to decide whether to appoint a new PM or call for elections. An appointed “caretaker” administration would operate until elections are held in the spring of 2018. Given Italy’s precarious economic situation, many worry that this vote will lead to greater volitility, affecting the Euro and European Union in a time when populism is gaining momentum in many EU countries and pro-EU leaders, such as Renzi, are losing popularity.