Could Italy follow Britain's lead and exit the European Union? Given the populist nature of the newly sworn-in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s rise, it's at least a possibility.
In Italy's recent election, the populist Five Star Movement dramatically outperformed their expectations compared to the multitude of Italy’s regional parties. The party won the most seats out of any other individual party because their platform focused on environmental sustainability, euroscepticism, and direct democracy. However, the Five Star Movement failed to earn a majority of seats in the legislature, and since they were not part of a party coalition, they’ve been working to strike a deal with another right-leaning party. Eventually they struck a deal with the League, another populist party, in order to gain control of the government.
Italy was without a solvent government until Thursday, when President Sergio Mattarella called Giuseppe Conte, a law professor with no elected experience, to the Quirinale, Italy's presidential palace, and confirmed Conte as the country's new prime minister.
This may feel like dejavu because just last week President Mattarella confirmed Conte as Prime Minister, only for Conte to step down after Mattarella rejected Conte’s choice for Finance Minister, 81-year old EU critic Paolo Savona. Following Savona’s rejection, Mattarella had two choices: schedule another election or attempt to appoint his own government and gain consent from the legislature. Mattarella chose the second and appointed Carlo Cottarelli as Italy’s PM.
In response, the new, populist-party coalition, led by FSM leader Luigi Di Maio and League Leader Matteo Salvini, appealed to their anti-establishment bases by rejecting Cottarelli, calling for Mattarella’s impeachment and an immediate referendum to remedy the situation. Many thought a later referendum would result in an even larger majority for the populist coalition because nothing motivates voters like political ire, which would only increase the chances of Italy leaving the European Union and the Euro.
However, because the Europhillic president confirmed Conte as PM on Friday, along with his reshuffled cabinet, with Di Maio and Salvini in high ministerial roles, that will most likely not be the case, at least not anytime soon.
What’s more, Article 75 of the Italian Constitution makes it very difficult to withdraw from the EU by popular referendum. Part of the article states, “A general referendum may be held to repeal, in whole or in part, a law or a measure having the force of law, when so requested by five hundred thousand voters or five Regional Councils. No referendum may be held on a law regulating taxes, the budget, amnesty or pardon, or a law ratifying an international treaty."
Since EU and eurozone membership qualify as international treaties, a constitutional referendum may be necessary in order to make a general referendum on EU membership possible in the first place.
Regardless, with a lot of fresh faces to politics leading Conte’s government (including Conte himself) who have expressed a desire to withdraw from the European Union, the results of the 2018 elections were a marked step in a possible "Ital-exit."