There’s something I overlooked when I wrote about the rise of the populist right in Europe in the last post I wrote, “Chaos shall make America, and the West, great“. It has just come to my attention that Italy will be holding a constitutional referendum on December 4th, and the media seems to be talking about it as though it will ultimately lead to an Italian exit from the European Union.
The referendum is a vote on whether or not the Italian government should roll back the powers of its Senate, supposedly in order to make the process of passing legislation simpler. The Senate would become less involved in passing legislation, the number of Senators would be significantly reduced (apparently from 315 to 100) and those Senators will be chosen by the government from local councils rather than be directly elected. As I understand it, the current Prime Minister – Matteo Renzi – didn’t want to hold a public referendum on the matter but he had no choice but to leave the decision in the hands of the people.
There’s a chance that this may be very bad for Renzi, and media outlets are comparing this to how David Cameron held the Brexit referendum anticipating that the vote will be to Remain in the EU but instead found that the vote was for Leave and he resigned because of it. It seems that the Italian public doesn’t have a nice opinion of Renzi, particularly the working class. He was elected on the promise that he would reform the Italian political system.
Now, here’s where the comparisons to the US presidential elections, as well as Brexit, come in. Renzi has been criticized by his opposition for coming out in support of Hillary Clinton, who lost the election – spectacularly, I might add -, as well as his trips to see Barack Obama, both establishment Democrat neoliberals. He is also apparently fond of the leaders of Germany and France and a big time Europhile, which doesn’t exactly help things considering that popular opinion of the EU is declining in Italy and so is the Euro currency. It also doesn’t help that the economy in Italy is apparently stagnating and Renzi is also viewed by some as a typical silver-spooned card carrying member of the elite. In addition to this, there has been talk of Renzi resigning if he does not get his desired outcome (A vote”Yes” to his referendum proposal), just like David Cameron did after the Brexit vote. This is why there are fears that the referendum could be used as an opportunity by sections of the Italian public to express their anger with Renzi, and for the populist right (or populists in general) to take advantage of the situation.
It’s worth taking a look at the Five Star Movement, a populist movement started by Beppe Grillo, who happens to be a comedian. That’s right: an entertainer, with no obvious experience in government, starts a political movement to challenge the power of the establishment. No wonder, then, that this guy identifies with Donald Trump – himself not only a real estate tycoon but also an entertainer of sorts, a reality TV star as a matter of fact with his own cameos in other media, and without any political experience at all, and he still defeated Hillary Clinton. Grillo has said that Trump’s victory represents an “an explosion of an era” and “an apocalypse of the media, TV, the big newspapers, the intellectuals, the journalists”, and he identifies this victory as basically a massive V-Day – V referring to “vaffanculo” (which means “fuck off”) – a public event designed to express disapproval with perceived bad policies. They apparently reject traditional politics in favor of direct democracy and collective political mobilization powered by the Internet, which is interesting given how successful Donald Trump has been on the Internet to the point where he was seemingly backed by meme magick. There is also Lega Nord, a right-wing populist, anti-immigration and anti-EU party, who have also expressed support for Donald Trump and view his victory as a defeat for the establishment and political correctness.
Even more interesting, CNBC claims that market analysts are more scared of this upcoming Italian constitutional referendum than Donald Trump’s victory, possibly because of the speculation that this referendum might lead to an Italian exit. I am uncertain as to whether this is actually true, but if it is, then it is very significant. Unlike the UK which joined the EU in 1973 (back when it was still the EEC), Italy is one of the original core members of the EU – alongside France, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany – which means that if Italy leaves then it might significantly damage the EU. Regardless, there is an opportunity for the populist movements in Italy to score a significant political victory. If the Italian public votes “No” to the upcoming referendum, then they will have signaled their rejection of the will of Matteo Renzi, and it may become part of a wider trend of populist and right wing victories across Europe and thus Italy may prove to be the next major step in this broader trend of what is ultimately anti-establishment sentiment.
Thus I will follow the developments of this referendum and the outcome as best I can, because with all the speculation and caution from the media it does look interesting.
In bocca al lupo to all my Italian viewers who my share interest in this shake up the Western establishment.