Italy referendum nothing to do with EU and more complex than populism, Italian economic experts say

Lorenzo Codogno says Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen claim that vote was anti-EU is 'nonsense'

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The Independent Online

The Italian referendum was categorically not about the European Union and was far more complex than populism, according to a former Italian treasury economist.

Lorenzo Codogno, ex-chief economist and directory general at the Treasury Department of the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, said claims Italians voted against the EU were “nonsense”.

Right-wing politicians Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen both claimed victory for the anti-EU campaign in the aftermath of the referendum.

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Former government economist Lorenzo Codogno said the referendum vote was nothing to do with the EU Nigel Stead/LSE

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned after his attempt to change the country's constitutional was emphatically voted down by 59 per cent of the population.

But Mr Codogno told The Independent: “It’s nonsense to say this was a call for an Italy EU exit.

Italy's PM Matteo Renzi quits after losing reforms vote

“The referendum was not about exiting Europe.”

Mr Codogno directed economic programmes under the premiership of Romano Prodi, media baron Silvio Berlusconi, Mario Monti, Enrico Letta and Mr Renzi, between 2008 and 2015.

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Italians rallying for the 'no' camp of the referendum in Rome Getty

The London School of Economics visiting professor is an outspoken critic of Democratic Party leader Mr Renzi and his government, but was a “yes” supporter.

“Yes’ was for institutional and constitutional changes that could have allowed Italy to make laws in a more efficient way and basically give more power to the government," he said.

“But we are back to square one so to speak.

“The situation was very complex. It’s easy to jump to conclusions that this was about integration with the EU or that this was another protest vote. There is an element of a protest vote.

“There were a number of different motives for voting ‘no’ and the ‘no’ camp was all over the place: people from the far right, far left, in the north and the south – totally different regions.

“It was not about Europe and the protest was not about the EU, it was about the government.”

Mr Codogno predicts – in what appears to be the general consensus among analysts – that the same coalition of parties will lead the country up until the next general election in late 2017 or early 2018.

He said the likely adoption of a proportional representation electoral system will make it difficult for far-right fringe parties, such as the Five Star Movement, to gain power.

“No one really knows what the Five Star Movement stands for. Some are from the far left, some far right, some don’t know what they are. It’s a grassroots group and it’s not easy to tell.”

Dr Chris Hanretty, an award-winning reader in politics at the University of East Anglia, said Italians voted because they were “p***** off at the government”.

“Does that mean it’s not about populism? Maybe, because it’s not really about the EU – why would you say that?” said Dr Hanretty, who studied his Phd in Italy.

“There was no polling evidence to support that and no pollsters asked that because it’s not relevant.”

A 21 November poll, by the Community Media Research and Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, showed only 15.2 per cent of Italians wanted to leave the Euro. 

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A total of 67.4 per cent were self-described single currency believers.

And 81 per cent of voters aged between 18 and 34, a generation that formed the bedrock of the Remain camp in the Brexit vote, voted “no” in Italy.

Giampaolo Brunelli, a 43-year-old Five Star Movement supporter who quoted by the Wall Street Journal, said he voted “no” because he lacked faith in Mr Renzi – not because of EU sentiment.

Dr Hanretty added: “Renzi has been in office for more than two years and although there were some reforms in the labour market, and although GDP growth and reduced unemployment improved slightly, he didn’t deliver much.”

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