Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is at a crossroad after having called for a referendum on his premiership and having (politically speaking) placed his head on the result of October’s vote. Everything and everybody suggests pulling back the reins on October’s referendum in order to avoid ending up like David Cameron. Ex-President Giorgio Napolitano was explicit. “We will need to give back objectivity in the debate on constitutional reform and, for the sake of a natural progression of future political developments, its neutrality.”
But how? Renzi flew to Paris this weekend for an informal dinner with president President Hollande. In fact it was a pre-meeting in sight of the panic room meeting in Berlin, with only Merkel plus the other two great founding countries left, along with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. The foreign Brexit crisis is a very delicate one. But, for Italy, it interlaces with a no-less delicate domestic crisis: The media is calling it “Renxit.”
The events in the United Kingdom came the day after the Italian Democratic Party’s defeat in administrative elections and have alarmed Renzi’s cabinet. The risk of losing the next referendum is growing. The opponents are promising it, and allies are worried. “I think Renzi has understood, by now, that the referendum will fail. The age of Renzi is over. We are preparing ourselves for the aftershock, when we will deal with the Five Star Movement,” said Matteo Salvini, the Lega Nord candidate for European Parliament. It remains to be seen whether the Five Star Movement has the same determination.
Giancarlo Cuperlo, from the opposite front (that is, within Renzi’s own party), gathered his Sinistradem group in Bologna and asked for a modification to the Italicum, which might “simplify the passing of the referendum, today somewhat complicated.”
But if Renzi, for now, doesn’t want to see reason on modifying the Italicum, he soon will have to decide the time schedules within which the government will implement the referendum. And the statements made from one day to the other clearly show the fact that, at the moment, it doesn’t have any clear idea.
In a behind-the-scenes article by Maria Teresa Meli, the most explicit reporter on the inner workings of Palazzo Chigi, the premier was declaring to his faithful followers: “I will call for it when it’s going to be most convenient for us.” Too bad that, on the previous day, he told the press, without any objection, the exact opposite, denying the hypothesis of a delay in the referendum. “The referendum will follow the time schedule provided by the Court of Cassation. And that’s that. What are we talking about?” he said.
But things aren’t as they appear. All you need to do is read Article 15 of Law No. 352 of 1970. As Domenico Gallo, the judge at the Court of Cassation explains: “If the collection of the people’s signatures are successfully implemented by July 15, this is the term; the Cassation would have a month to verify their validity, and therefore, it would have to decide by Aug. 14. At that point, the government has 60 days to decide about the referendum which will, then, be announced by the President of the Republic. A referendum that must be carried out on a Sunday between the 50th and the 70th day from the moment of the announcement.
“If, on the other hand, the 500,000 signatures threshold should not be reached neither by the DP’s signature gathering, nor by the one implemented by the citizens who, instead, are opposed to the reform, the request for the referendum made by the parliament members will remain valid. In this case, the 60 days to allow the government to decide will start from July 15.”
Therefore, if the government wants to delay, it might push the referendum back until the beginning of December, at least theoretically. Anyway, Renzi is lying to the press or, at least, is not telling them everything, not even close to “and that’s that”: the Court of Cassation has a role in identifying the date. But, in the end, the government will decide whether to call for the ballots, sooner or later. The more so when the Commission will meets Oct. 4 to evaluate the Italicum on the Majority Bonus, on the blocked lists and on the procedure for the approval of the law itself. The Court might express itself on the same day or postpone a decision. And this also will matter when choosing the day for the vote.
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