The Brexit-Trump Factor in Europe
As Charles Dickens would have put it, after the day of Sunday, December 4, 2016 “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” for the cities of Vienna and Rome. The presidential re-run in Austria and the constitutional referendum in Italy had been expected to be a confirmation (or not) of the Brexit-Trump trend. As it turned out, it was a day with some bad news and some good news.
Presidential elections in Austria are held once every six years, under a two-round system, and the president is directly elected. Incumbent president Heinz Fischer (Social Democratic Party/SPO, center-left) had served two terms and was not eligible for a third successive term.
On April 24, 2016, in the first round of the elections, Norbert Hofer (Freedom Party of Austria/FPO, conservative-populist) received the most votes, but under 50%, and Alexander Van der Bellen, a former SPO member (The Greens/DG, left), placed second. On May 22, in the second round run-off, Van der Bellen defeated Hofer after the postal ballots were counted.
The results were challenged and the Constitutional Court of Austria found that almost 78,000 absentee votes were improperly counted too early. The Court annulled the results, and planned a re-vote of the second round on October 2, which was eventually postponed to December 4.
On December 4, the voter turnout was estimated to be 74.1% and Van der Bellen was in the lead with 53.3% of votes, with Hofer second with 46.7% of votes. Hofer conceded the race to Van der Bellen in an election with a troubled history, which was called “a blow to the populist movement.” Although Hofer did not specifically campaign for the country’s exit from the European Union, his opponent was perceived as a better choice for the Austrians, who support EU membership in “an overwhelming majority.”
A Hofer victory would have been considered “of the same magnitude as Britain’s vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president last month.”
In spite of his defeat (at a narrow margin at almost 47%), Hofer said that his party is “now in pole position for the parliamentary elections in 2018” and promised that he would run again for the next presidential elections, planned to be held in 2022.
Austria (where immigration has been a top issue) was a close call from the Brexit-Trump hot wave, and the Freedom Party looks well-poised to ascend in the upcoming elections.
On April 8, 2014 the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (Democratic Party/PD, center-left) introduced a bill in the Senate that amended the Italian Constitution, with the aim of reforming the composition and powers of the Parliament (the bill reduced the number of Parliament members, the role of the Senate and the Regions). The bill was eventually approved by the Senate on January 20, 2016, and the Chamber on April 12, 2016. According to the Article 138 of the Italian Constitution, because the amendment failed to be approved by a majority of two-thirds in each house of Parliament, it would become law only if it received the support of a majority of votes cast in a national referendum.
If approved by referendum, the constitutional amendment would have achieved the most extensive reform – in terms of enlarging the government powers - since the end of monarchy (in 1946). This was the third constitutional referendum in the history of the Italian Republic. Previously, there were referenda in 2001 (approving the amending law) and 2006 (rejecting the amending law).
Matteo Renzi, the youngest Italian prime minister (nominated in 2014, when he was just 39), regarded by some as too arrogant, was confident in the Parliamentary support of his agenda, and put a personal spin on the referendum (popularly called “Renzirendum”), claiming that he would resign in case of a negative vote.
The referendum was a major blow to his policies. Some 60% of the Italians voted “no.” Renzi conceded defeat on December 5, before official results were announced, and announced his resignation.
Now it is up to President Sergio Mattarella (also PD) to either call for immediate elections, as the leaders of the main opposition parties demand (the Five Star Movement/M5S, populist, and the Lega Nord/LN, regionalist), or to opt for a care-taker government (of the same PD) until the May 2018 elections, in order to prevent a financial earthquake.
After Renzi’s defeat, the Euro dropped, but only temporarily.
And, the Euro’s drop was not as far as the British pound after the Brexit result.
Thus has Italy, the third-largest EU economy, where unemployment and immigration have been the top issues, become the first European country hit by the effect of the Brexit-Trump hot wave.
Tiberiu Dianu has published several books and a host of articles on law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Medium.
Check out some other articles from Tiberiu Dianu on the CP:8 THINGS ABOUT ROMANIAN POLITICS – THAT EVERY ROMANIAN KNOWS (BUT NO ONE ELSE DOES)
FOREVER YOUNG… AND LIBERAL
THE ATYPICAL ELEMENTS OF THE 2016 MUNICH SHOOTING