The reform for other reforms: The Italian Referendum.

Yesterday night my dad thought it would be funny to play a prank on me, by telling me that he had ticked ‘si’ and sent my vote for the approaching Italian referendum. This joke played out a little longer than expected and I was quite annoyed, not because I necessarily wanted to vote ‘no’ but because I felt like it wasn’t my place to vote in something that doesn’t affect me personally on a daily basis, even if I am an Italian citizen (ironical and all that I am currently living and abiding by Italian law).

So when I was recounting what I thought would be just another silly, light-hearted story to my host family, I found that instead I was met with a more in-depth and eye opening discussion about the constitutional referendum. Up to date I have heard different snippets of discussion about the referendum floating around, whether it be via the dramatised news reports, colleagues at work, or facebook friends, every Italian I know seems to have a strong opinion on it. The majority of the responses when someone is asked which way they’ll vote, seems to be a bitter-sweet ‘No’ verging on a ‘Si’. Whenever I ask individuals why they’re so torn about this vote, they usually respond that it is due to ‘present circumstances’ which are either too vague or numerous to list and so I gradually began to lose interest in keeping up to date with the referendum. Although many sources told me that the referendum would be looking at the way laws are passed in Italy, and that Renzi and the ‘si’ campaign are hoping to ‘stabilise’ the governmental system through these reforms, I was still left dissatisfied. I now found myself in the position of those Italians who even so many months after Brexit, still ask me: ‘but why did England what to leave the EU?’ If it was just a case of the ‘official’ reason for the Referendum there would be no need to ask this question and more-so, if it was just a case of deciding whether the current constitutional system is right for Italy, there would be no hard-feeling in voting.

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Italian referendum will be on the 4th December 2016 (Photo: constitutional-change.com)

From my own personal experience with Brexit I’ve learnt that there is always more factors at play. Our referendum was meant to be whether we felt being part of the EU was beneficial for the UK’s future, but somehow it became about more than that; it became about people’s fear of immigrants  or of Germany as a European ‘superpower’– it became a way for the politicians to benefit from our fear. I find myself asking in this case, if this is not a way for politicians to benefit from scaremongering, what do they get out of this? And so from deciding not to vote, I began to find myself more drawn into a referendum that I had no intention to take part in– even from the side lines. What better way to get clued up about the situation than to go back to basic and read the very thing that this referendum sets out to change: The Italian constitutional laws. 

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President at the time, Enrico de Nicola signing the constitutional laws.

Looking at gli articoli della costituzione italiana, part of me thinks it would be an erroneous and dangerous mistake if these fundamental stepping stone for humanity were put up for modification or manipulation, yet another part of me cannot help but think that they have already been somewhat compromised. Reading article no. 7: “Lo Stato e la Chiesa cattolica sono, ciascuno nel proprio ordine, indipendenti e sovrani”; “the State and the Catholic Church are independent and sovereign, each within its own sphere”, it’s clear that these laws sound nice on paper, but what good does that do if they are not implemented into the actual governing process?

The Roman Catholic church still exerts a disproportionate amount of power over Italy’s socio-political affairs– just remember that up-until the 1980’s it was still illegal to have an abortion in Italy due to religious doctrines, and it is precisely this grasp which modern day Italy has yet to unchain itself from. Whilst ‘religious education’ in state schools is not compulsory for students, the Italian state is still very much coerced into hiring a religious education teacher, even if ALL students have opted out of these classes. That might not seem so bad but put into perspective that many schools (especially in the south) do not have enough qualified special educational needs teachers due to funding shortage, that extra money could go a long way. Not to mention that these ‘religious education’ classes might as well be called Sunday school given that they so heavily reflect on the teachings of the Roman Catholic church.

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Inside the Vatican Church: YR 13 school trip.

The Vatican’s exploitation of tax-free ‘church hotels’ and commerce could be an entire post in itself so I’ll just cut it short at this: currently the official Vatican enterprises enjoy tax-free propertiesBearing all this in mind, just remember that on February 18 1984, the Italian state and the Vatican signed a concordat that Roman Catholic would cease to be Italy’s ‘official’ religion– at least on paper.

Back to the referendum, article no. 1 of the Italian constitutional principles states: “L’Italia è una Repubblica democratica, fondata sul lavoro. La sovranità appartiene al popolo, che la esercita nelle forme e nei limiti della Costituzione.” 

: “Italy is a democratic Republic founded on labour. Sovereignty belongs to the people and is exercised by the people in the forms and within the limits of the Constitution.” 

But what does this mean if the majority vote ‘si’ in the referendum? Well for starters Renzi proposes to change the current ‘bicameral’ system (in which the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate are both equally required to approve certain laws) to a new system with reduced exertion of senatorial power, and a reformation of power relations between the centralised and local institutions. The number of Senators would be greatly reduced from 315 to 100 in the process, and with the removal of this two step system, central government’s power would be greatly augmented. In effect, this would mean one layer of this sophisticated democratic system would be stripped away, placing this ‘sovereignty’, which supposedly belongs to the people, even deeper into the pockets of the politicians.  

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So Renzi and his followers believe that ‘basta un si’ is needed to provide ‘stability’ to the Italian state as a way not only to combat ‘increasing terrorism’ (which is reality isn’t increasing as much as one might think) but also as a means to attract investment into Italy with the guarantee of a ‘sped-up’, fully-functioning governmental system. Maybe I have no place to judge, but shorter process or no shorter process, the lethargic nature which seeps into Italian politics is, in my opinion, more a cultural problem than it is a constitutional one. I agree that perhaps reducing the number of senators or the time span in which legal procedures can be carried out is an effective way to establish more consistency, but this referendum– just like the UK’s and just like the U.S Election– is no longer a sole question of what is best for Italy’s future. When politicians begin to remove and modify system which protect our democratic system, I think it’s important to ask ourselves if the motives they claim to set out for these changes are transparent and genuine. For me this referendum has become a question about personal political gain and the extent of which Renzi is willing to put at stake, Italy’s democratic system for increased power.  

Translation of the Italian Constitutional Laws/ Principles.

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