Can Italy Finally Reform?

By Erik Jones

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Italians head to the polls on Sunday, December 4, to approve or reject a series of constitutional reforms, which will redirect policy competence from the regions to the state, transform the Senate into a council of regions, and concentrate power in the Chamber of Deputies and the national government. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi argues that these reforms are necessary to equip Italy with the flexibility needed to compete in the 21st Century global economy. His opponents counter that changing the constitution this way will eliminate critical checks and balances and make the country vulnerable to authoritarianism, if not dictatorship.

The division between those supporting the reform package and those opposing it runs deep and cuts across traditional party lines. Renzi and his supporters in the governing Democratic Party are strongly in favour of the package. They admit that the language for the new constitutional provisions is not always elegant, but they insist that this compromise is the best chance Italy has seen to bring an end to its moribund constitutional arrangement since efforts to change the constitution began in earnest in 1992 (when Renzi was just 17 years old). Opponents of the reform – including at least four former Prime Ministers from the left (Massimo D’Alema), center (Ciriaco De Mita, Mario Monti), and right (Silvio Berlusconi) – admit that some change is necessary but argue that this package should be rejected as badly written and self-serving for Renzi as current prime minister.

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