The Cable

The Weekend Behind, the Week Ahead: Italians Voted No. Plus, No Neo-Nazis for Austria, and Tweets for Trump.

Here's a quick rundown of top world news you may have missed over the weekend.


Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s gamble did not pay off.

On Sunday, the referendum to reform the Italian constitution, which Renzi had called much-needed, was voted down. The referendum would have moved power from regional governments to the central government, and also would have neutered the Senate.

His critics, who ranged from constitutional scholars to members of his own party to the populist, anti-euro Five Star Movement (led by Beppe Grillo, a former comedian), said that it would give too much power to one man. Renzi pledged to resign if it failed, an oath he upheld early Monday after almost 60 percent of voters said no.

Speaking at Palazzo Chigi, Renzi said, “I take full responsibility for the defeat,” and said he would resign office later that day. The president may ask him to form a new government, or may put in place a technocratic caretaker government.

Some, like far-right Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, are already hailing this as a win for anti-establishment euro (and Europe) Italians. Others, like Nadia Urbinati, political science professor at Columbia University, believe it is more of a statement on Italy’s turbulent domestic politics.

It “is a call for stabilizing democracy as it is now. I don’t think this has any connection with Europe,” she told Foreign Policy. While this may throw Italy’s political parties into tumult, its institutions, she suggested, are more stable now.

Or, rather, they might be, provided Parliament can reform a now-poisonous electoral law that was passed under the assumption that the referendum would pass, too. The new law hands a “great prize” (a guaranteed legislative majority) even to razor-thin parliamentary victors, Urbinati said. That’s now problematic for Renzi’s Democrats, but it’s also impossible for governance — it can’t be implemented under the existing system because it doesn’t apply to the Senate, which, again, was supposed to be neutered. This makes an early election unlikely — an election can’t be held until the law is reformed. But regardless of whether a general election is held in a few months or a year, there are, at present, few viable alternatives for a vision for Italy. That reality, Columbia University economist Andrea Prat told FP, coupled with the current banking crisis and electoral uncertainty, is likely to push back even further the kind of structural economic reforms Renzi was pushing, which are needed to address the ills of Italian society

Elsewhere, establishment politics in Europe had a better weekend. Norbert Hofer, leader of the far-right Freedom Party, which was founded in the 1950s by a former Nazi, conceded defeat in Austria’s presidential election to Alexander Van der Bellen. Van der Bellen has vowed to govern a “pro-European” Austria.

In the United States, meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit necessary for the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near a Sioux reservation. Also, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, in a tweet, accused, China of intentionally cheapening its currency, a two-finger salute following his Friday phone call with Taiwan’s president, a potentially historic breach in U.S. policy toward China.

The president-elect also obligingly tweeted his displeasure at a Saturday Night Live depiction of Trump’s frenetic Twitter habits.  

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

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