A Yes for Austria, a No for Italy

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For The Wall Street Journal Alexander Van der Bellen’s, center-left candidate of Austria, “victory over right-wing opponent Norbert Hofer marks break with series of anti-establishment electoral wins in West”. He won 53.5% of the vote against the right-wing, anti-immigrant populist Norbert Hofer. Austrians said no to the one that was going to become the first right-wing populist president after the WWII in Western Europe, they said no to anti-European politics, to toughen border controls, they said no to a far-right party established by former Nazis that reminded them of their darkest days. They said yes to reason, to a “pro-European Austria” as the winner said on television, to freedom, equality and solidarity “with all those who at the moment aren’t well off in our economic system”. As former head of Austria’s Green Party and as an independent this was also a yes for the earth and a Yes for democracy which feels kind of wounded since last June.

The same day Italians said no to the constitutional reform in a referendum that was seen more as a vote of confidence in their prime minister Matteo Renzi. The exit polls estimate between 54 and 58 percent have voted NO. In a different scenario than the Austrian one, the Italians demonstrated their anti-establishment sentiment just like Americans did last November.  In fact, the NO campaign has been led by the anti-establishment Cinque Estelle movement and the opposition leader Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant party Lega Nord who said that if the exit polls were confirmed this will be “a victory of the people against the strong powers of three quarters of the world”. This result coincides with the rise of the anti-immigrant party Front National in France, whose leader Marine Le Pen showed her support to the no campaign on Twitter: “we must listen to this thirst for freedom of nations”.

Which is true is that Italy is now plunged into political and economic uncertainty, and that this result shows once again how far Europe is swinging to the Right. Even if the result in Austria calmed some nerves for some hours, the large rejection of Renzi sent shivers through the world. Renzi will be added to the list of Italian prime ministers that have resigned since the beginning of the century. He wanted to put an end to Italian’s postwar, “perfect bicameralism”, parliamentary democracy. But this system might not be as perfect as it seems, Italy is after Greece the lowest in government effectiveness,[1] which means that in ranges going from -2.5 to +2.5 analyzing how slow is to pass laws Italy has 0.48 compared to Lithuania with 1.2 or Netherlands with 1.82. The reform was trying to partially remove a system of check and balances and to hand more power to the executive branch. The legal framework of Italian system was written so strictly to safeguard the country against fascism, and it will remain this way.

And just like with BREXIT the Euro fell against the dollar immediately after exit polls, let’s hope that the most searched things in Google Italia tomorrow will not be what does the constitutional reform means? What happens if Renzi resigns?

[1] World Bank Worlwide Governance Indicators, Government Effectivenss Index in 2015.


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Jimena Leyva

Jimena est étudiante en Master 2 Diplomatie et Négociations Stratégiques, à Paris-Sud en partenariat avec l’American Graduate School of Paris, au sein duquel elle se spécialise en négociations des crises et géopolitique. Elle est également titulaire d’un master en droit international, européen et comparé du Common Law.