How Will Renzi’s Failed Referendum Reverberate in Italy, and Across Europe?

How Will Renzi’s Failed Referendum Reverberate in Italy, and Across Europe?
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi speaks at a press conference, Rome, Italy, Dec. 5, 2016 (AP photo by Gregorio Borgia).

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned Wednesday after nearly 60 percent of voters rejected a referendum Sunday on a series of changes to the constitution that Renzi had staked his premiership on. The referendum’s failure and the resignation of the brash prime minister have plunged Italy into political and economic uncertainty, leading many to speculate about Italy’s future in the eurozone and the strength of populist movements across Europe.

Renzi said the constitutional reforms would make Italy a more governable country by reducing the size and power of the Italian Senate, the upper house of parliament, and empowering the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. But for many Italians, the referendum was a way to air their grievances with Renzi and his coalition’s failure to deliver on campaign promises, including reducing unemployment and increasing economic growth.

“The personalization of the referendum by Renzi turned it into a plebiscite on his government, causing his own defeat,” Silvia Francescon, the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Rome office, says in an email. She adds that anti-establishment forces were able to convince the electorate “that the real purpose behind these reforms was the strengthening of the prime minister and of his executive, and therefore of the elites.”

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