Italian Referendum: Lessons Learned

In an earlier comment we wrote that: “The ‘populist’ movement that inspired the raise of Trump and Sanders  may be about to surge through Europe. If so, it will change drastically the Continent’s political landscape in ways not seen since  World War II”.

In Italy, the last polls published before Sunday’s referendum showed a widening opposition to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s proposed constitutional reform package. Although there were rumors that the contest had tightened up in the last two weeks, when polls could not legally be published, the government ultimately lost by a wide margin. Just under 60 percent of the Italian electorate voted against Renzi’s package, whereas just over 40 percent supported it (turnout was a historically high 65.5 percent.) Renzi, speaking just after midnight on Monday morning, acknowledged defeat. He thanked the country for its involvement in the debate and for the high level of participation. He also made it clear that he would tender his resignation.

Italy now needs a new government and likely some electoral reform.

Italy’s biggest problem, however, is not debt, economics, or even immigration. It is the widespread disillusionment of Italy’s youth. The most striking revelation to emerge from public opinion polling prior to the referendum was the extent to which young people feel excluded from the political system. Macro Advisory Partners, a London-based consulting firm, found in its final pre-referendum poll that opposition to Renzi’s reforms was strongest among the youngest voters. Fifty-eight percent of Italians between ages 18 and 24 said that they rejected the constitutional reform package, as did 51 percent of Italians between 25 and 34; opposition among students was 59 percent. The youngish Renzi had hoped that the youth would throw its support behind his “hope and change” message of reform. In reality, however, they were more likely to support Beppe Grillo and his populist Five Star Movement.

Young Italians have good cause for disillusionment. Despite the fact they are, on average, more educated than their parents are, many are under- or unemployed and still live in the homes they grew up in. Tackling this disillusionment, which is leading to an exodus of youth from the country and a decline in participation among the mainstream political parties, needs to be the next government’s top priority.  If Italy’s political leadership cannot promise the rising generation better material circumstances or real political engagement, it, and the rest of Europe. will soon have to face the consequences.

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Final Week for the 114th Congress.

This is the final week of legislative activity for the 114th Congress, with the House and Senate expected to work through the outstanding items that remain for 2016.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be in session until Dec. 16, but resolution and passage of a spending measure to keep the government funded into 2017, the annual national defense authorization act, and the biomedical innovation bill, among a handful of other final legislative items should be finished this week, enabling members to depart Washington, D.C., at the end of this week.

Negotiations over a continuing resolution have been ongoing and press reports indicate congressional leaders are close to a deal that should be ready for a vote this week. Current government funding expires on Dec. 9. Although initial discussions on the CR were focused on a three-month extension of current spending authority into March 2017, leadership now seems to be agreed on extending that authority into April after acknowledging the reality of the congressional calendar. Both chambers are anticipating an active legislative agenda in the first few months of the 115th Congress, and the Senate will be particularly busy with the confirmation process for appointees to the new administration. Republican leadership recognizes that it would be challenging to add an appropriations deadline to the agenda in the first 100 days of the new session. Legislative text has not yet been released, but House leadership indicated on Friday that the text of the spending bill would be ready to permit a vote this week. Although the funding portion is easily crafted, many funding anomalies and various legislative provisions that can be agreed upon must be crafted, making the final drafting of the CR a laborious and time-consuming task.

In addition to the expected consideration of a CR this week, the Senate is set to take up two additional lame duck priorities. Following the successful passage of both the biomedical innovation bill (H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act) and a $619 billion conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) through the House of Representatives last week, the Senate is now poised to take action on these measures. Senators are scheduled to return on Monday for a procedural vote on the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation that will invest greater resources in medical innovation and speed up the process by which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves new drugs and devices. The legislation also includes additional provisions to address the opioid epidemic and to bolster the country’s mental health systems. There is widespread, bipartisan support for the measure, and even though several Senate Democrats have criticized the final version of the bill and announced their opposition, the legislation is expected to see Senate approval this week and be signed into law by the president.

Once the 21st Century Cures Act has been dispensed with, the Senate will begin consideration of the conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House last Friday by a vote of 375-34. This legislation provides an additional $8 billion in funding for overseas contingency operations and readiness shortfalls and covers the $5.8 billion supplemental request sent by the president to Congress in November. It also includes a 2.1 percent pay raise for U.S. troops. The funding in the bill is simply an authorization, and defense hawks have been critical of the CR strategy that congressional leaders have been pursuing because a CR will not provide the military with all of the funds authorized by this bill

The House is scheduled to convene again on Monday when it will take up six bills under suspension of the rules, including S. 1635, legislation authorizing the activities of the Department of State for FY 2017.

On Tuesday, members will consider a suspension package consisting of 21 bills, reported out of the Energy and Commerce, the Natural Resources, or the Veterans Affairs Committees.

On Wednesday and during the remainder of the week it is possible for the House to take up additional measures under suspension of the rules. Also expected for floor consideration is H.R. 5143, the Transparent Insurance Standards Act of 2016. The legislation would require the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to provide additional reports to Congress on international negotiations regarding regulatory standards in the insurance industry. Chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., chairman of the House Financial Service Committee’s Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, stated the bill is intended to “increase transparency and strengthen Congress’ role in supervising foreign standards setting organizations.” Consideration of H.R. 5143 will be subject to a rule. Finally, the House will tackle the CR when it becomes available.

Populist parties surge in Europe

The “populist” movement that inspired the raise of Trump and Sanders  may be about to surge through Europe. If so, it will change drastically the Continent’s political landscape in ways not seen since  World War II.

It’s already hit the UK in the form of Brexit, killing David Cameron’s pro-EU government in the process.

Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Greece already have populist, —or “non-mainstream”—parties in power.

Italy is the next flashpoint.

A “No” vote in Italy is virtually assured at this point.

But it won’t be the end of the populist surge. Voters in Europe’s biggest countries could soon throw out their “mainstream” parties in favor of populist, or anti EU Alternatives.

Here’s the rundown…

Austria

Austria is holding a presidential election today. It’s actually a redo of an election held in May, where a populist candidate, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, barely lost.

Austrian courts found irregularities in the results and ordered a prompt new election. But when opinion polls showed the populist candidate in the lead, the government delayed the vote until today. Nevertheless, Mr. Hofer looks set to win the election.

France

France has a presidential election next spring. There’s a chance that Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, will do better than many expect. After more than a decade of disappointment under Presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, French voters are clamoring for something different.

Spain

Spain recently re-elected incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. However, Spanish voters fled traditional political parties en- masse for new populist upstarts Podemos and Ciudadanos. So Rajoy was unable to form a majority government.

Rajoy now leads a severely weak minority government. The political power of the Spanish populist parties is only expected to grow.

Germany

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, embodies the European establishment more than any other politician. Her party suffered a series of stinging defeats in regional elections this year, mostly because of her signature lax immigration policies, which have flooded Germany with migrants.

Merkel’s troubles have only helped the Alternative for Germany, a new populist party surging in popularity. The party could pose a real problem for Merkel in the 2017 federal elections.

The Netherlands

As the Netherlands approaches elections in March, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, which advocates leaving the EU, is basically tied in opinion polls with the establishment parties.

As populist parties surge, the entire European Union is looking shakier by the day.