As Italy Weighs National Referendum, Get Ready To Hear The Word 'Italexit'
LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
Now it's time for our regular segment Words You'll Hear. That's where we take a word or phrase you'll be hearing later this week and talk about what it means. This week, our word is Italexit. And yes, it sounds a lot like Brexit - for good reason. A week from today, Italians will head to the polls to vote on a referendum on some constitutional changes. If voters say no, it could be viewed as the next major anti-establishment tremor to rock Europe, possibly triggering the resignation of Italy's prime minister.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Rome to explain what's at stake in this referendum. Sylvia, thanks for joining us.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
SINGH: So tell us, what is this referendum all about?
POGGIOLI: Well, Italians are going to be asked to vote yes or no to constitutional amendments that the proponents say will substantially streamline the legislative process, which right now in Italy is very slow and very complex. So a yes vote would favor reducing the powers of one of the chambers of Parliament, the Senate, and shifting those powers to the executive. These would make the Italian parliamentary system much more similar to most of those in Europe. But these are very dry, very technical issues that many voters don't really understand. And the latest polls suggest that the no vote against these issues has a 5 percent lead.
SINGH: And why is this expression, Italexit, being used in connection with the referendum? How's it similar to Brexit? That was the vote in June when most U.K. citizens voted to leave or exit the European Union.
POGGIOLI: Well, actually, the expression's not used at all in Italy. You see it mostly in the non-Italian media. But there's a lot of similarities in sort of the tone and the emotions that have been happening in the two campaigns. While Italians are not really talking about leaving the European Union, there is strong resentment against the other member states for their refusal to share the burden of the migration crisis, where Italy is on the front line. Italy's facing huge unexpected costs in dealing with the hundreds of thousands of migrants that are - continue to arrive and for reconstruction after the recent earthquakes. It wants more budget leeway from the EU.
So in this climate, the referendum has taken on very emotional, very polarized tones that go beyond the strict constitutional issues. And European financial markets and other EU countries are worried that Sunday's vote could turn into the third big anti-establishment populist vote after Brexit and after the Trump victory in the United States.
SINGH: What happens if Italy votes no?
POGGIOLI: That's a big question. Now, early in the campaign, Prime Minister Renzi said that if a no vote wins, he would step down as prime minister. That more or less turned the campaign into a referendum on his government rather than the merits of the constitutional issues. He since has pulled back a little, but it's not clear what he's going to do.
Now, the proponents of the no vote say it's not a problem. They don't believe markets will react negatively. But many analysts disagree. This week, the Financial Times warned that a no victory could lead to Europe's disintegration. What's causing all the anxiety is the possibility of early elections if the government falls and the possible victory of the populist Five Star Movement.
It's an anti-establishment movement that was founded by a stand-up comic, Beppe Grillo, who cheered Trump's victory in the U.S. and hailed it as a harbinger of his movement's future success in Italy. Grillo wants Italy to drop out of the euro currency. That prospect could trigger another major crisis in the eurozone. And ultimately, if that happened, yeah, that could lead to probably an Italexit.
SINGH: That's Sylvia Poggioli, NPR's senior European correspondent, speaking with us from Rome, Italy. Sylvia, thanks so much for your time.
POGGIOLI: Thank you.
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