The Great Reform That Never Was
Alessandro Chiaramonte and Alex Wilson
In Italy, 2016 was meant to be the year of the “great reform,” a constitutional revision that would have concluded the never-ending transition from “First” to “Second” Republic, a long process involving several transformations in the electoral system and party system since the 1990s. It did not turn out this way. Instead, the Renzi-Boschi law for constitutional revision, which started its parliamentary procedure in April 2014 and saw its final reading in the Chamber of Deputies in April 2016, was eventually rejected by voters in a confirmative referendum held on 4 December.
Italy in the Middle East and the Mediterranean
Evolving Relations with Egypt and Libya
Elisabetta Brighi and Marta Musso
The Mediterranean and the Middle East have long constituted an important “circle” in Italy’s foreign policy, with Egypt and Libya playing a particularly important role. During 2016, two sources of tension emerged in Italy’s relations with these countries. The first reflects a wider European situation. Like the rest of the EU, Italy has followed strategic interests—on migration, energy, and security—that sometimes conflict with the promotion of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, which the EU claims to promote in its external relations. The Regeni affair, involving a murdered Italian graduate student, exemplified this tension. The second source results from the role of corporate interests in Italy, especially those of oil and energy companies, in relation to the country’s “national interests.” Italian foreign policy toward both Libya and Egypt seems to have been driven by a combination of somewhat overlapping but also divergent national and corporate interests.
Matteo Salvini's Northern League in 2016
Between Stasis and New Opportunities
Under Matteo Salvini’s leadership, the Northern League has sought to move away from its status of regionalist party to become a truly national (even nationalist) party, following the example of the National Front in France. For the new leader, the issues of federalism and devolution seem to play a less relevant role than opposition to the European Union and, more generally, to the so-called political establishment. This chapter shows that 2016 has been a transition year for the party. After two years of significant electoral expansion, the 2016 local elections seemed to mark a moment of stagnation. Salvini’s popularity ceased to grow and even started to decline. This posed some challenges to his right-wing populist project. Yet the concluding section of the chapter highlights the new political opportunities arising from Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election and from Renzi’s constitutional referendum defeat at the end of 2016.
The 2016 Municipal Elections
Vincenzo Emanuele and Nicola Maggini
The importance of the 2016 municipal elections in Italy was a consequence not only of the number and relevance of the cities involved, including Rome, Milan, Naples, and Turin, but also of their timing, occurring in the middle of the 2013–2018 electoral cycle. These elections were thus perceived as a mid-term test for the national government, acquiring a relevance that went beyond their specific local context. This chapter analyzes the electoral supply, voter turnout, electoral results, and vote shifts, focusing on a synchronic and diachronic comparison of the performance of the candidates and the parties. The evidence presented shows that despite winning the plurality of municipalities, the Democratic Party clearly paid the cost of ruling at the national level. The number of its mayors was halved, and it was defeated in Rome and Turin by the Five Star Movement, the true winner of these elections.
The Persistent Issue of Refugees
Organized Hypocrisy, Solidarity, and Mounting Protest
Tiziana Caponio and Teresa Cappiali
In 2016, migration issues in Italy became synonymous with the “refugee crisis.” Dramatic images of boat people, rescues, and the deaths of thousands of people in the Mediterranean Sea have catalyzed public attention. Examining the Italian government’s responses, we argue that the “refugee crisis” is the result of an “organized hypocrisy” aimed at containing, rather than managing, the crisis and at gaining access to international protection. Structuring the immigrant reception system on the opposition between humanitarian and economic migrants, Italian policies struggle to offer adequate responses to current mixed flows. Furthermore, this system often has a negative impact on local communities, where we find diversified responses that range from solidarity to opposition and, more recently, the emergence of a “reception market.” Additionally, our analysis suggests that the dysfunctional nature of the Italian reception system, combined with alarmist attitudes promulgated by the media, amplifies discomfort and contributes to an increase in public hostility toward immigrants.
Relations with Europe
Beyond the Vincolo Esterno
The relationship between Italy and Europe has changed since the 1980s. Where Europe used to provide a constructive external constraint (or vincolo esterno) on domestic Italian politics, now European constraints are less constructive and more problematic. At the same time, Italy has a more important role to play in contributing to European debates. The government headed by Matteo Renzi demonstrated both sides of this change in 2016. Renzi argued that European policies regarding macro-economic policy coordination, financial stability, and international migration did not help Italy. He also insisted that Italian proposals in these policy areas warranted closer European attention. Renzi was not successful in redefining Italy’s role in Europe, but he did win recognition for his efforts. The question is whether the government headed by Paolo Gentiloni will keep pushing in the same direction.
The 2016 Italian Constitutional Referendum and Its Outcome
Martin J. Bull
The referendum of 4 December 2016 on Renzi’s proposed constitutional reform was the most significant in Italy since the referendum that rejected Berlusconi’s proposal in 2006. The 2016 outcome was more dramatic than its predecessor as it resulted in the resignation of the prime minister, who was succeeded in the office by Paolo Gentiloni. The referendum campaign was less concerned with the merits of the reform itself than with delivering an electoral verdict on the Renzi government. This was caused partly by Renzi himself, who declared that he would resign if the referendum failed, and partly by the inevitable partisanship of much of the voting and the influence of populist parties, which tapped into the dissatisfaction that many Italian voters felt. With two popular rejections of “great reform” proposals in the space of a decade, the future of institutional reform on such a grand scale is now in doubt.
Yet Another Failed Attempt to Reform the Italian Constitution
On 4 December 2016, a large majority of Italian voters turned down the most comprehensive and cohesive attempt to revise significant parts of the Constitution since 1948, namely, to overcome the country’s symmetrical bicameralism, to establish new state-region relations, and to streamline institutions, in part by abolishing the provinces and the National Council for Economics and Labor. This chapter offers an outline of the reform, which had been boldly approved by Parliament, and places it within its political and institutional context. It identifies the changes that the reform was set to introduce, attempts to assess the effects it would have had if it had been passed in the referendum, and considers some of the consequences of its rejection.