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Reportage. John Phillips told a group of No representatives that he will remain neutral and that his interests are only protecting American investments.

U.S. ambassador in Italy clarifies referendum position

“I just made obvious remarks, which the press has amplified and exaggerated.” This is how the U.S. ambassador in Italy John Phillips welcomed his guests at 10 a.m. Friday. After the Ambassador had made headlines for his comment about the referendum — “if No wins, foreign investment would make a step back” — he called for a meeting in a living room at Villa Taverna. While enjoying espresso or American cups of coffee, the Washington representative and half a dozen representatives of the No committee sat for a couple of hours for a conciliatory meeting.

Some guests, like professors Stefano Rodotà and Gustavo Zagrebelsky, had to decline the embassy’s invitation. The meeting at Villa Taverna was attended by the president of the No Committee Alessandro Pace and three other legal experts of this committee, Massimo Villone, Felice Besostri and Pietro Adami. They were joined by Professor Guido Calvi, chairman of the new center-left committee, the one Massimo D’Alema asked for. Also in attendance, the former MEP of Forza Italia Giuseppe Gargani, who heads a center-committee for No, and former President of the Constitutional Court, Antonio Baldassarre, who signed one of the appeals for No.

After retracing the Italian origins of his family, Ambassador Phillips explained to his guests: “My institutional duty is to foster American investments in Italy; this is why I listen to entrepreneurs. Their major concerns in Italy are: the political instability, the lack of efficiency of the public administration and the slow pace of civil justice.”

The exponents of No responded by explaining that two of these three concerns — justice and public administration — are not even remotely addressed by the constitutional reform proposed by Renzi and Boschi. The third one, the stability of government, is only superficially resolved. Because the super-majority premium proposed on the Italicum (at least 340 seats equal to 54 percent, for the ballot winner, even if it gets a much lower percentage in the first round) does not guarantee the government that representatives will remain loyal. In this legislative period, at least 260 representatives and senators have changed sides at least once (many did it more than once), 28 percent of all Parliament seats.

It cannot be said, as published Friday night on the site of the small center-right “popular committee for No,” that when “the U.S. ambassador sees Gargani, he has second thoughts.” All guests at Villa Taverna have noted with pleasure that Phillips reiterated his intention to remain neutral in the dispute at the conclusion of the event. Perhaps in the coming days, he will hold a similar meeting with representatives of Yes.

Friday was marked by controversy after Renzi chose to show the referendum card on TV. “It is a serious offense that the President of the Council presented it before even setting the date of the referendum,” said the Italian Left leader Scotto. The date of the referendum will be finally announced on Monday. The question on the card asks whether to confirm or not the constitutional law, whose title is so unappealing because it deals with reduction of representatives and cost reduction. But it is only a name, chosen by the government.