06 Jun 2011

On June 12 and 13, Italy goes to the polls. People are called to express their opinion on keeping or abrogating 4 laws with a law-repealing referendum. They vote in favour or against the new nuclear power program, the law on legitimate impediment, and the liberalization and privatization of the management of the water network.

Referendum: what the fuss is about.


On June 12 and 13, Italy goes to vote again just two weeks since the last vote. This time, people are called to express their opinion on keeping or abrogating 4 laws with a law-repealing referendum. Italian law does not allow for law-making referendums: people can only vote to ask for a law to be repealed.

In order for the result of the vote to be valid, 50% of the electorate + 1 voter must go to the polls. Since we have just voted for the local governments in several major cities, you might be wondering why these referendums could not be combined with that vote. Most of us are wondering… this will cost the country a lot of money. The official answer is that the government wanted to make people feel free to participate or not. The fact is though that you can choose to accept or refuse (some of) the referendum voting papers, so the truth I suspect lies elsewhere.

The four questions

All the fuss is about two questions, but I believe the most important vote should be the one about the other two laws.

Grey Voting Paper: Question on nuclear power stations

The question voters are asked to answer is whether they want to abrogate the law that allows the construction of new nuclear power stations in Italy. The commas that would be abrogated if the majority of the voters vote YES are n. 1 of the 5th article of the DM Omnibus, which delays the selection of the locations for the new power stations, and n. 8, which sets the date of the beginning of the nuclear program in 2012.

This is the most opposed and promoted question of the four at the same time. The government is actually trying to invalidate the question in order to exclude it from the referendum vote. First they changed the law slightly in the hope that it would be enough for the referendum to be annulled. Then when the Supreme Court of Cassation judged that changing the law was not enough to make the question invalid, the government appealed to the Constitutional Court. The verdict will be made public tomorrow.

The arguments of those who support the project for the nuclear power program in Italy are that no renewable energy source can possibly provide the amount of energy necessary to the industrial infrastructure of the country. The new power stations would be safe, and besides there are plenty of them just on the other side of the border so fears of nuclear catastrophes are irrational.

The arguments of those who are against the nuclear program are that it is too expensive, the time it will take for the new power stations to be ready is so long that the technology used will be obsolete, the country has many areas at risk of earthquake, there is no way to guarantee the quality of the constructions as by law public contracts must be awarded to the lowest bidder. And much more.

My opinion. Personally I am not against nuclear energy per se, but I don’t trust Italy to be able to make it safe, to be able to dispose of the nuclear waste in a serious way (we are still suffering from the bad disposal of the nuclear waste of the 70’s when we did have nuclear power stations), and most importantly, I believe that this is not the investment our country needs at all. How long can Italy remain an industrial power? 20, 30 more years? The future of heavy industry, as sad as it may sound for our economy, lies elsewhere. I believe our economy cannot sustain such a big investment, and the money should be spent more wisely on research, education and other fields that can give our young people more hopes for the future. Besides I believe that research is making progress in renewable energies, and I am not so sure that if a serious effort is made in that direction, green energy cannot represent a valid alternative to nuclear power in the future.

Green voting paper: question on the legitimate impediment law.

The referendum on the legitimate impediment law aims at abrogating this law which has been judged partially unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in January 2011.

The law says that the Prime Minister and all the Ministers can choose to never appear in court during office because of the commitments entailed by their institutional obligations. This has the practical result of blocking the trials in which they should be involved.

By voting YES, people can have the law repealed.

The people who are in favour of this law say that until proven guilty, everybody is innocent, so there is no point in disrupting government activity for some allegations.

The people who are against the law say that it stands in open violation of the 3rd article of the Italian Constitution, which says that all citizens have equal social dignity and are equal in the face of law, indistinguishable of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, personal and social conditions.

My opinion. I am in favour of abrogating this law, partly because of this clash with the constitutional law, but most importantly because it’s a risky, unethical law in a country that has had a dictatorship in its past. In civilized countries, Ministers resign when they are even suspected of something as serious as some of the things some members of our government and parliament have been accused of. In this country they have immunity. It’s unacceptable. The people who govern a nation should be model citizens and not just professionals of the political career with no scruples. I don’t care at all if Silvio Berlusconi is brought to trial or if he is made a hero for his conduct. The laws of a country should guarantee that, no matter who the Prime Minister and the Ministers are, justice and equity be ensured.

Red and Yellow Voting Papers: two questions on water

We can live with nuclear power stations and with corrupt politicians. We cannot live without water. For some reason, though, even though these should be the most important questions, they have been relegated to the background of the debate.

The red voting paper allows people to abrogate the law on the ways in which the management of local public services of economic importance (e.g. water…) can be given to private entities. The existing law allows the liberalization of public water management and the privatization of the water network and services (aqueducts, sewers, etc.).

The yellow voting paper concerns the law that allows people who will manage the water network to set the price according to the investment they have made in the project.

People supporting these laws say that this would make the system more efficient and it would relieve the state from a heavy financial burden. The local municipalities are not capable of facing the costs of maintenance and the services are often in the hands of the organized crime.

People who are against this law say that this would allow organized crime and private interests to gain further control over such a precious sector. A fundamental good like water should be public.

My opinion. I believe these are the most important voting papers to accept and that it is fundamental to vote YES to abrogate these infamous laws. Most people worry about the day oil will run out without worrying about the much more serious moment when fresh water will be in high demand. We must protect this public good, we must make sure part of the money the government would be ready to spend on nuclear power stations goes towards the maintenance of the water network so as to solve many of the problems and wastes that make water expensive in many regions. Public, affordable, safe water is a fundamental right in any democratic state. There are certain services that simply cannot be given to private entities, because, no matter how ethical they might be, they will always have private interests to guard. The state should vouch for the preservation of the basic rights, and the right to good affordable water is one of them.

Will the referendum questions get the “quorum”?

I don’t know, but I do hope they will. It will be a serious loss for this country if they don’t, and not because of this or that politician’s future, but because there are certain matters of public interest that should just not be underestimated.

I will go vote and I will vote YES to all 4 of the questions. I hope those of you who can vote, or who have a husband, a friend, a son or a daughter who can vote, will ask them to go and vote according to conscience and not just political orientation.


  1. Gloria, this was fabulously clear and helpful to anyone trying to untangle this referendum. Thanks.

  2. Gloria, I hope all the affected people read this article. You’ve done a great job explaining the issues. It helps that I agree with you in all particulars, I’m sure, but before you expressed an opinion, you described the issue without prejudice.

    I find these issues terribly important to Italy, and I would hound out of office the proposer of at least one of these laws. I leave it there.

  3. Thank you Rebecca and Judith. I strongly believe that in a democratic state, one must be ready to accept other people’s ideas. However, I also believe that when you really believe in something it is right to express one’s opinion clearly and explain why it is such (which I think is the thing this country lacks the most… everybody has an opinion but it’s always hard to hear why) .

  4. Beautifully, clearly written. I now (believe myself to) understand what I didn’t before. Thanks.

  5. Thank you Bill!


  1. […] Italians have decided that they don’t want a future nuclear energy program, they are against the legitimate impediment law and the privatization of the water network and services. If you want to know more about it, I suggest this very good article about the referendum at  our friends’ blog At Home in Tuscany. […]

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