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Referendum. The Council of Ministers on Monday chose the most distant date among those available to them.

Italy schedules referendum on Renzi reform for Dec. 4

The referendum has been announced for the most distant date possible. The constitutional referendum will be held on Sunday, Dec. 4, the last date available to the Council of Ministers held Monday. The President of the Republic will formally issue a decree to convene the referendum.

The referendum is required because the re-revised Renzi-Boschi constitutional law was approved with less than two-thirds of the votes in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. So it’s up to the voters to confirm or kill the reform, to which Renzi has linked his personal fate as prime minister (although lately he has a few steps back). The law on fairness in radio and television information will start monitoring only after the official opening of the electoral campaign on Oct. 20.

Around that date — the deadline set by law is Oct. 15th, but in previous years the government has always gone over — Palazzo Chigi will broadcast the Stability Law from the Chamber of Deputies. Then, we will be able to see what and how many measures Renzi will be able to put in the maneuver in an attempt to climb in the polls.

At the moment, the outlook is bleak, and this made the prime minister overthrow his strategy. First, he announced he wanted the referendum to take place “as soon as possible,” then “Oct. 2” and now he’s chosen the last possible date. The official justification is that the budget package needs to be secured — that is, approved by at least one branch of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, before an eventual victory of the No overwhelms everything.

But the justification no longer holds, even from the point of view of communications from the prime minister’s office. Since now it is clear that there will be no fallout on the legislature, even in the case the Yes does not win.

As provided by the referendum law, the Council of Ministers had the opportunity to order the referendum as early as Aug. 8, and in that case, the ballots could have been summoned in early October. But by convening the referendum on Dec. 4, Renzi has not only guaranteed the possibility of using the Stability Law for propaganda purposes, he also gave himself three free weeks of heavy campaigning without monitoring (the fairness law can only enter into force 45 days prior to the vote). Evidently, he plans to exploit them fully, and the day after tomorrow, he will start a campaign tour, beginning, of course, from Florence.

If we look at the history of every election (political, administrative, European) or referendum, there is no precedent for elections in December in Italy, with the exception of the second ballot in some big municipalities in 1993 and 1994. The government took a conscious risk that many voters will stay away from the polls.

In the previous two constitutional referenda, the turnout was 34 percent in 2001, when voters attended the ballots to confirm the Title V reform one day at the beginning of October, and 52 percent in 2005. In the later, voters submitted ballots for two days in June and rejected the reform presented by Berlusconi and Bossi. Right now, all the polls give a virtual parity between the Yes and the No, however, there is a large mass of undecided voters.

There will be elections in Austria also on Dec. 4, for the presidential runoff repeatedly postponed. The prime minister’s office must have liked the idea of matching the referendum with that appointment which is already under the European spotlight, because one of the two candidates is an ultra-right nationalist and anti-European leader.

For some time now, Renzi has been pushing the impression that a No victory would push Italy country away from Europe. We have already seen several statements of support for Yes from leaders of allied countries, and we will see more.

As for the “merit” of the reform, Renzi is still firm, even on the issue of what to call it. The way the question will be phrased on the ballot will be misleading for the voter. “Do we want to overcome equal bicameralism, yes or no?” Renzi asked through his widespread e-news a minute after the conclusion of the Council of Ministers on Monday. And again: “Do we want to reduce the number of MPs or not? Do we want to contain the costs of the institutions or not? Do we want to erase the CNEL [National Council of Economics and Labor], yes or no? Do we want to change the relationship between the state and the regions that have caused so many conflicts of jurisdiction, yes or no?”

The elimination of the CNEL is incontestable. As for the rest, the reduction of representatives is very partial; the cost reduction is only in his imagination. The relationship between the state and the regions will remain confused. Despite a strong centralist steering.