Yesterday was the day for two political events being followed by the wider world: first the general election rerun in Austria, second the Italian constitutional referendum.
The Austrian contest was between Alexander Van der Bellen, a left-leaning independent candidate who supports European federalism and general green and socially liberal policies backed by the Austrian Greens, and Norbert Hofer, leader of the right-wing Freedom Party. If Hofer won, he would apparently be the first “far-right” leader to hold an office of leadership in an EU state. To my surprise, however, Norbert Hofer conceded the election, leading to the victory of Alexander Van der Bellen. So it seems Austria is now being run by pro-European Greens.
Meanwhile, in Italy, it appears that the Italian people have voted to reject Matteo Renzi’s planned constitutional changes, meaning the No vote, and the populists, won the day. Matteo Renzi is to resign from his office, just as he said he would, pledging to take full responsibility for his defeat, and the euro has fallen as a result of the No victory (I imagine it’ll return to normal after a while though, like with Brexit).
At this point I feel I should clarify something: the No vote is not a sign that Italy will leave the EU. It is a source of turmoil for the European Union, sure, and panic for markets, and it appears to be galvanizing Eurosceptic politicians, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Italy will exit the Euro or the EU yet. It was a victory for democracy, if anything else. I do imagine that with Renzi’s defeat the populists, such as the Five Star Movement, will make significant gains and will want to make their next move. We will have to wait and see before this materializes.
All in all, this in an interesting moment at this stage of the current year. And as we draw closer to 2017, we should keep our eyes on the rest of Europe.