On 4th December, Italy is to stage a constitutional referendum on the reform of the senate that would radically shake up the country’s political system. The voting will not only decide the future of the present government in the short term but will also have major significance for the functioning of the political system in the long term. Based on current opinion polls, the opponents of the constitutional reform have gained considerable uplift in recent months and have now overtaken the reform supporters. But around one third of Italians are still undecided. The reasons for the critical position of the reform opponents lie in the fact that many members of the public understand the referendum primarily as a vote against the government. As part of their political strategy, the opposition is attempting to use the referendum as an occasion to topple the government or at least greatly weaken it.
Considering the major economic challenges facing the country, the referendum has become a vote that will decide the fate of both Renzi as well as the whole of Italy. Should the reform supporters win the referendum, Renzi’s position would be strengthened politically as a result of the success. If, however, the majority of Italy’s voters were to reject the senate reform, not only would this put an end to the hopes that Italy will succeed in tackling the economic challenges but also that the instability of the political structure can be lastingly overcome. The country would then find itself at the crossroads of political uncertainty. Even in the event of defeat, Renzi can still be expected to cling on to his office as Prime Minister. But were he to surprisingly resign his post and bring about his political demise, the PD would attempt to find a successor so as to prevent new elections at all costs. While latest opinion polls show the Social Democrats are leading at the moment with 32% against the left-wing populist Five Star movement (28%), the left-wing populists would probably emerge victorious if a run-off vote were to be held and thereby, based on the new electoral legislation, secure the absolute majority of seats in the parliamentary chamber to become the sole ruling party.
Italy is rapidly becoming the next source of concern for the EMU. With elections approaching in the Netherlands, France and Germany, an unfortunate development of this kind could be the start of a long crisis in the Eurozone and even decide its future.