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Inaki Irazabalbeitia

Former MEP, Aralar

Italian referemdum

Nov 29, 2016

Next Sunday’s referendum could produce a new storm in Italian politics, but not only there. If no vote wins Europe will panic again. Bellow you have the reflection of the green leader Monica Frassoni on the reasons of her ‘no’ vote

Done! I am one of those Italians living abroad who has already voted. I put my good form in a double envelope and delivered it to the post office, or rather to the newsstand which also acts as a post office. Even here in Belgium, austerity has shut down a plethora of post offices and now newsstands and supermarkets perform the service.

I voted No. Not calmly. Neither serenely: first of all, because since we were already here, I would have preferred being able to vote on a useful, properly executed reform. And secondly because in this endless election campaign, I often felt cheated. Cheated from a serious debate, on the merits of the reform, free of manipulation, egocentrism and testosterone.

Without regretting a past, which offered few truly exciting moments, I am not ashamed to say that I loathe the politics that are in fashion today. The one of the “young people” and of the less “young people”, who have learned that it is not necessary to study for a career, it’s enough just to scream and shoot high, gesticulate without solving anything, reduce everything down to 140 characters and prefer showdowns to the lost art of constructive dialogue, attacking and delegitimizing those who disagree with you.

For this reason, I consider the insistence with which Renzi has put himself and his government at the centre of the decision on constitutional reform and the “perverse” gusto with which the Grillini [nickname for the supporters of the 5 Stars Movement led by Beppe Grillo] and others threw themselves into the fray, a kind of filibustering to the detriment of everyone. Essentially, a theft. In any case, this reform and the unnecessary showdown of which it has ultimately become the instrument have always appeared to me to be a colossal waste of time; changing the Constitution is not a priority compared to the urgent political decisions on economic, social, energy, foreign and European policy that should be taken and are not taken.

Seen from Brussels, this scrimmage also made me think, accounting for the relevant differences, about the one Cameron imposed with his Brexit referendum to maintain his power in the Conservative Party: an overwhelming success, as we know.

Of course, no one can really say how this referendum will turn out, but, precisely because too much time has already been wasted, I do not think the government should fall if Renzi loses. I strongly dislike both the idea of a technical government and of a premature electoral campaign. As former President and “yes” supporter Giorgio Napolitano said, and until recently much of the opposition agreed, we are voting on the Constitution, not on the government.

As such, I plugged my ears and dove into the text of the reform. My first impression was that, once again, the Radicals were right: the text is inconsistent and "unpacking" it would have been a good idea; not least of which because it would have removed the sense of the choice that many are preparing to make: Yes (Renzi) No (not Renzi).

I voted No mainly due to three factors, which I consider a real worsening over the current situation: I am all for change, but for Goodness’ sake, not for the worse.
The first point is that I don’t buy a pig in a poke. While I agree on the need to reform the system of perfect bicameralism, I believe the Senate as outlined by the reform is a “rabelot”, as they say in Brescia: a big mess. First of all, due to its composition, since as shown by the experience of the Committee of European regions, mixing together mayors and regional councillors introduces an element of inconsistency between members which complicates the operation and impact; and then, unlike the members of the German Bundesrat which have to represent their regions whether they like it or not, senators have no binding mandate. In that case, they might as well be elected directly by citizens, might thy not? Furthermore, due to the lack of clarity in the division of powers: reading the text and discovering the myriad of cases where bicameralism remains and the opportunity for the Senate to intervene even in cases in the Chamber of Deputies’ [lower house of the Italian Parliament] jurisdiction, it is rather unrealistic to expect there to be no more conflicts of jurisdiction or wastes of time. And finally, because no one knows how the senators are actually to be elected, since this remains to be determined in a future law. Why? Because Renzi is “blackmailing” its internal dissidence: you take the reform now, we’ll see later on issues like elections and electoral law.Moreover, as a former MP, convinced by direct experience of the value of work well done in an elected assembly, I don’t like the “vote on a fixed date” mechanism, or the idea that Parliament shall always give priority to the government’s legislative proposals, if it so requests. Already today, room for parliamentary initiatives has been reduced, including in constitutional and electoral matters, as made obvious in this reform process, totally led by the government.

The second reason for my negative vote is that I do not agree at all with the considerable spokes placed in the wheels of direct citizen participation mechanisms concerning standards development processes. Mechanisms which are already rather cumbersome today and which could have been reformed very differently in order to be improved. Given a profoundly ill media system, with a practice that does not ensure the authenticity of signatures unless you have armies of elected friends, and the profound difficulties in obtaining funding for grassroots initiatives, it is obvious that tripling the signatures required for citizens’ initiative bills, and to increase the number of signatures required to call a referendum from 500,000 to 800,000 if they are to be adopted with a diminished threshold than the current one (50% of voters participation) , means that all the talk about the importance of citizen participation is just that: all talk.

By no means am I a great lover of never-ending referendums, on the contrary; but I am increasingly convinced that the conscious participation of citizens and their mobilisation are powerful weapons in our shaky democratic systems, in which the temptation to delegate powers to a leader who will take care of everything is really strong. With this reform, from anywhere you look, this participation becomes more difficult.

Thirdly, I am not convinced by the systematic recentralisation of powers to the State, particularly when it comes to energy, infrastructure and environment. I know from first-hand experience of battles for the most part going on for years, from the TAV in Valdisusa, to the Messina Bridge, to the motorway concessions, to the parks, to the energy facilities, that the best method to ensure the maximum level of protection with regard to citizens’ health, the environment, the public budget but also the support of virtuous economic activities, is not the maximum level of centralisation or decentralisation, but rather the existence of an adequate and respected European regulatory framework; a serious strategy and national plan, in particular in the energy sector, taking climate change into account; and the involvement of local authorities on some of the decisions that concern them more closely, in the context of clear and shared priorities. Difficult and laborious? Absolutely. But much less harmful than the disgraceful decisions that led to disasters like ILVA [ the biggest European steel production plant] in the middle of the city centre, and countless other examples of waste and devastation or omissions and delays, mostly due to the impact of various lobbies, myopic bureaucracy and a public debate in which politics, including that of the opposition, has lost its sense of mediation and constructive dialogue.

So now, after years of ill-devised decentralisation and bureaucratic bottlenecks due to poor administrative efficiency, the opposite extreme is sought, without first having reformed anything at all, and fundamental choices for many territories will continue to depend on non-transparent economic interests and on an uninformed and productivity-based ideology. Frankly, I would rather avoid this and continue to fight politically at whichever level is required.

For the sake of brevity, I omit other aspects which leave me rather puzzled, such as the advantages of the lower cost of politics with a diminished Senate (only the expenses of the SG of Palazzo Chigi are higher than the ones of the senate) and especially the link between the constitutional reform and the new electoral law, a law which really ought to be thrown out, if you ask me. Alternatively, I do regret the maintaining of the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget.

I am finishing this text on the way back from a short and fascinating mission with a group of Green deputies in Ankara and Istanbul. From that beautiful and ill-fated country, I return thinking that the game of the referendum in Italy seems a dispute of luxury, compared with the real tragedy of hundreds of thousands of people caught in Erdogan’s repression and the war that has been revived in the south east of the country.

And I return with the awareness of the hunger for a protective and friendly Europe with effective national policies, pleaded for by many of the people we met, but also by many people in need within EU borders.

In short, after so many words, and conscious of the risk of falling into somewhat easy rhetoric, I hope that the energy that so many powerful and less powerful are putting into this referendum battle can soon be spent instead to take care of the real problems of such suffering and courageous humanity.