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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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.