Italy's Vote: A Historic Opportunity

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Italians called to confirm or reject Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reform on December 4 may be under the impression that they are participating in a plebiscite on the popularity of their young, bold, over-confident leader. To be sure, an unnecessarily heated, confused and ultimately misleading electoral campaign has spread that feeling. Arguably, however, the political fate of Renzi will not be sealed on December 4. The consequences of Italians rejecting his reform, on the other hand, may well prove dire for the country, and for the exceptionally fragile and disoriented EU of today.

Italians like to praise their constitution, a remarkable compromise document drafted by political forces that had been fighting on the same front – although not necessarily together – in the civil war that engulfed the country in the last phase of World War Two. There is little doubt, however, that the post-war institutional system – focusing first and foremost on preventing the emergence of a strong Executive – has aged considerably. Over the past few decades, moreover, it has undermined Italy’s capacity to effectively engage with its long-standing structural problems, and to play a more effective role on the European and international stage.

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