Italy’s referendum is ‘not like Brexit’: Renzi

Italy’s upcoming referendum on constitutional reform is not akin to Brexit, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in an interview on Monday.

Italy’s referendum is 'not like Brexit': Renzi
Italian premier Matteo Renzi has staked his leadership on the upcoming referendum on constitutional law. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP

Renzi, who became premier in February 2014, has staked his leadership on the outcome of the vote, which is due to be held in either October or November.

In that respect, many are comparing it to the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU, which was called by ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron stepped down on June 24th, the day after the country voted to leave the bloc, immediately causing political and economic chaos.

Read more: Why Italy might be the next big threat to the EU's future

“I don’t believe it’s the same thing,” Renzi told Corriere columnist Beppe Severgnini, adding that the UK’s referendum “blamed the EU for everything that failed to happen”.

The Italian referendum is something else, he added.

The ''Yes' or 'No' referendum on which Renzi is betting his political future intends to bring about reforms that would streamline Italy's political system, which basically means getting laws passed quickly and stabilizing future governments.

The reforms are much-needed. But now the important decision has been left in the hands of Italians after parliament failed to reach the maximum support required to avoid sending it to a public vote.

The problem is, with many failing to grasp Italy's complex political systems, the vote could be a chance for people to simply say “Yes” or “No” to Renzi as the country's leader.

Renzi stepping down would undoubtedly pave the way for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement, the second-biggest party in parliament, to gather even more ground.

“For 30 years we’ve been saying that constitutional reforms are needed because we have the largest and most expensive parliament in the world, and I will do everything in my power to make sure the reforms law is voted on its merits,” Renzi said.

“I'm not afraid of the referendum, because you shouldn't be afraid of people expressing themselves.”

The referendum comes as the government tries to force through legislation which will dramatically reduce the size and influence of the upper house of parliament, or senate.

If the changes are passed, the number of senators will be slashed from 315 to a mere 100. Unlike today, the senators will not be directly elected, but hand-picked by the government from local councils across the country.

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Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.