Soccer wasn’t the only big news in Italy this week. The centre-left
government of Romano Prodi, elected by a hair’s breadth in April,
received a boost on Monday with the decisive defeat of a constitutional
referendum proposed by its opponents, the previous government led by
Silvio Berlusconi. The “no” vote was almost 62% on a turnout of just over half the voters.

If passed, the referendum would have comprehensively revised Italy’s
1948 constitution, giving more power to the prime minister at the
expense of parliament, and more power to the regions at the expense of
the central government.

Berlusconi had scheduled the referendum under pressure from his
coalition partners, the Northern League, who support autonomy for
Italy’s wealthier northern provinces. Most of the region voted for the
centre-right in April, albeit by narrow margins. But the proposals were
widely regarded as half-baked, and were rejected by voters even in the
north. A spokesman for Prodi’s communist allies described the result as “a clear defeat for Berlusconi”.

Some of the Italian media
are warning Prodi not to interpret the referendum as a vote of
confidence. According to La Repubblica: “It was a positive vote
because it rejected reforms which were confused and messy, and which
would have been dangerous for our country.” But the result probably had
more to do with party politics than with the merits of further
regionalisation; regional autonomy remains a popular cause in Europe,
as evidenced by a referendum in Catalonia the previous weekend. The Prodi government, if it lasts, might find that one day it needs to revisit the issue.

Peter Fray

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