The Malta Independent 20 January 2022, Thursday

Editorial: Will it be a Brexit 3 and Brexit 4 weekend?

Saturday, 3 December 2016, 09:59 Last update: about 6 years ago

Unnoticed by most Maltese, this weekend may well be decisive in the fortunes of the EU and thus of our country as well.

The first shock to the system was on 23 June when the British electorate voted for Brexit, to exit from the EU. That was a result that the polls had not foreseen and thus the shock of the result was even greater.

Some months later, the world suffered another shock – the election of Donald Trump as President of the US. Again, this was an issue largely unforeseen by most pollsters and the world as a whole was quite unprepared to it.

The two outcomes were quite similar not just because they constituted surprises but also because they signified what the French call ‘rupture’ – that is a complete break with what was happening before.

Now, before the world and in particular the EU has had time to assimilate these results and their consequences, we have two electoral consultations this weekend, which may have incalculable impacts on the consistency of the EU as a whole.

In Austria we have the re-run of the presidential election. The election had taken place earlier in the year and was a very close run thing between a candidate from the Far Right and a candidate from the Greens who had the support of all the other parties behind him.

The faceoff is between Norbert Hofer, 45, of the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Freedom Party founded by former Nazis in 1955 and Alexander Van der Bellen, 72, a soft-spoken economics professor and former Green Party chairman whose candidacy is not affiliated with the party.

At first it was said that it had been the postal votes that had led to the victory of the Greens candidate, then some mistakes in the counting process were discovered and hence the re-run of the election.

Last time, Van der Bellen won but meanwhile the populist roller-coaster has grown all over the world, as witness the Trump win, and hence no one can be sure who will win tomorrow.

If Hofer wins, it will be the first time an EU state has a president from the Far Right. It will be a signal that anti-immigration has moved to the forefront of European concerns and that the EU as an institution has gone down in people’s list of priorities.

But if the election in Austria is important, the referendum to be held in Italy is even more important and will surely have consequences on the European level.

The referendum was thought up by prime minister Renzi who wants to cut the (frequently obstructive) Senate to just 100 seats and to bring in a series of reforms that will strengthen the hand of the head of government.

As such, these reforms are not really needed to get the country back to growth (as Renzi is saying) and they have been turned in people’s minds into an attempt to consolidate power in his hands.

Renzi, foolishly, has staked his political future on the outcome of the referendum and has said that if the No vote succeeds, he will resign. Now he should have known that the moment a leader puts a consultation along these terms, he is asking the electorate to kick him out. Which it seems the electorate will be doing.

If Renzi goes, the country may have an early election  unless a compromise candidate can be found. Either way, the resultant uncertainty will stop the feeble signs of growth there have been. More importantly, the resulting uncertainty may well lead to the collapse of around seven banks which are on life support. Italy is the third largest economy in the EU and whatever happens to it and its economy, especially at a time like this, will have an immediate impact on the rest of the EU and of the euro.

What is fascinating, as has been said before, is the tidal wave of euroscepticism that is sweeping across Europe and which next year may have incalculable results in the French presidential election and in the German election later on.

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