Italian referendum: a matter of political preferences

On 4 December, Italian citizens will go to the polls. The referendum will determine whether or not to accept or reject the constitutional reform bill proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government and approved by the Parliament in April. The reform would be one of the most ambitious changes ever put forward in Italy, amending 47 out of 139 articles.

What will happen if “Yes” wins?
The key points of the Constitutional reform are:

  • Overcoming the “perfectly equal bicameralism”
  • Review of the attribution of competences between State and Regions
  • Elimination of Provinces

There will be a change in the symmetric nature of the parliamentary system. Currently, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic have the same powers and this often lengthens the whole legislative process.

If “Yes” wins, the Chamber of Deputies will be the main actor of the legislative procedure, while the Senate will become a “House of Regions and Municipalities” and will have limited and specific legislative powers, except a number of cases that will remain subject to bicameral legislative function.

The Senate together with the Chamber of Deputies will still have the power to approve, abrogate or amend laws in limited areas such as: referendum, constitutional reforms, provisions for the protection of minority languages, local entities and European policies.
Furthermore, the Senate will consist of a maximum number of 100 members, down from 315.

One of the key parts of the reform is that the attribution of legislative competences between the State and Regions will be reviewed. This brings a major change in the relationship between central and local governments. The Constitutional reform calls for the elimination of the so-called “concurrent competences” between the State and Regions. Currently these are, amongst others, foreign trade, education, health protection, energy distribution. The aim is to strengthen the role of the State by giving the central government exclusive competence for example in the field of labour active policies, energy, health protection, anti-trust and strategic infrastructures. Residual competence will be left to the Regions in area not falling exclusively under the State’s responsibility.

… and if “No” wins?

Earlier this year, Matteo Renzi repeatedly said he would resign if “No” wins. The country’s opposition parties both on the left and right, as well as a minority from the Democratic Party, are encouraging to vote “No”, to send a strong signal to Renzi.

The group most likely to benefit in case of victory of “No” is the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement (M5S), that is popular especially among younger voters and is currently Italy’s main opposition party, having achieved considerable victories in local elections earlier this year.

Critics of the reform claim that it will make the parliament weaker since the Senate will have a significantly reduced powers in passing legislation, maintaining only a de facto consultative function.


Reinforcing the Executive is an explicit aim of this reform. The main problem with the current system, according to the “yes movement”, is the “weakness of the executives in implementing the government programme”. On the contrary, the “no side” claims that there is no guarantee that the reform would make the legislative process more efficient, as the main problem is not so much the production of laws but their implementation.

In conclusion, since the contents of the reform are mostly technical and there has not been a proper information campaign about it, citizens will likely vote in line with their political preferences.

That’s the reason why the results will essentially be an indication on Renzi’s Government and future.

Words Andrea Bailo, Martina Lusi (Burson-Marsteller Italy)
Photos CC/Kostandin Minga

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