Following the outcome of Sunday’s referendum, Italy’s President, Sergio Mattarella, will do his best to avoid early elections. Any new caretaker government would easily take a full year to deliver a new electoral law and thus the baseline case remains for elections no earlier than the natural end of this parliamentary term in spring 2018, writes Lorenzo Codogno. He also suggests that the risk of the Five Star Movement getting into power, a prolonged period of political instability, and a euro-exit remain very low in the current context.

With a very high turnout of 65.5% (including Italian residents abroad) and a defeat of the constitutional proposal by 59.1% to 40.9%, the message could not have been lauder and clearer. It was no surprise that Renzi immediately announced his resignation. With such a strong defeat and Renzi’s determination not to ask for a new mandate, President Mattarella has already accepted his resignation, although he also asked Renzi to put his planned resignation on hold until parliament had approved the 2017 budget, which could be done as early as Friday. Consultations will likely start immediately, although probably in an informal way.

Early elections?

Renzi will likely try to remain as leader of the PD, at least until the next congress. This would leave Mattarella no other solution but to appoint a caretaker government to introduce a new electoral reform, which would then allow for elections to be held. A caretaker government would be politically weak, with a leader who is equally politically weak, but who nevertheless should be able to secure consensus beyond his/her political party (people like Pietro Grasso, the speaker of the Senate, or Piercarlo Padoan, the current Finance Minister, are options).

The current government will facilitate the passing of the Budget through parliament, which is likely to be done by year-end. Any new government will have to work on a new electoral law and thus it would have to adopt a consensual approach. Ideally, the broader the government the better, as passing a new electoral law after such a big defeat would require a broader consensus among political forces.

As I have pointed out in the past, early elections look unlikely, as going for them with the current electoral laws (very different in the two houses) would be a recipe for disaster, i.e. a hung parliament. President Mattarella will do his best to avoid it. Any new government would easily take a full year to deliver an electoral law and thus the baseline case remains for elections no earlier than the natural end of this parliamentary term in spring 2018.

Are Italy’s political stability and euro participation under threat?

There is clearly some risk that the current political crisis extends beyond two-three weeks, thereby leading to instability. I remain convinced that a government will be in place by Christmas or at the latest by the end of January. It is nonsense to call for Italy to exit from the Eurozone or the EU. Today’s outcome strengthens the anti-establishment and anti-euro parties such as the Northern League and the Five Star Movement, but again it would not be justified to jump to the conclusion that they will win the next general elections and that they will command an exit.

The outcome of the referendum is much more complex and nuanced than ‘just another wave of protest across the globe’. So the tail risks of the Five Star Movement getting into power, a prolonged phase of political instability and/or a euro-exit (or EU exit) remain very low probability events, in my view. In fact, following this referendum any change to the electoral system would be in the direction of a more proportional system, thus condemning Italy to a grand coalition forever if the Five Star Movement stays at about 30% of the votes. Not a great outcome, but not a disaster either.

For the financial sector, it is not over

The initial reaction in financial markets was muted as participants were already positioned for a ‘no’ victory. I believe it will stay like this over the next few days. However, if there is no solution, say, by Christmas, financial markets will start getting nervous again. We will see whether Monte Paschi will dare to announce the long-awaited capital increase. There is clearly a risk of delay or outright cancellation and this may slow down current initiatives for the whole banking sector.

The banking sector has to work out its own capital strengthening, restructuring and cleaning up, which may become more difficult following the result of the referendum. If Italy does not get a new government soon, financial stability risk would increase and would reduce the time needed for the healing of the banking sector. The ECB may provide temporary relief if needed, but it would only be temporary.

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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Simone Ramella (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

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