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.