Italian constitutional referendum, 2016

Italian Constitutional Referendum
Do you approve the text of the Constitutional Law concerning 'Provisions for overcoming equal bicameralism, reducing the number of Members of Parliament, limiting the operating costs of the institutions, the suppression of the CNEL and the revision of Title V of Part II of the Constitution' approved by Parliament and published in the Official Gazette no. 88 of 15 April 2016?
Date 4 December 2016
Results by provinces
  Yes —   No

A constitutional referendum was held in Italy on Sunday 4 December 2016.[1] Voters were asked whether they approve a constitutional law that amends the Italian Constitution to reform the composition and powers of the Parliament of Italy,[2] as well as the division of powers between the State, the Regions, and administrative entities.

The bill, put forward by the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and his centre-left Democratic Party, was first introduced by the government in the Senate on 8 April 2014. After several amendments were made to the proposed law by both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, the bill received its first approval on 13 October 2015 (Senate) and 11 January 2016 (Chamber), and, eventually, its second and final approval on 20 January 2016 (Senate) and 12 April 2016 (Chamber).[3]

In accordance with Article 138 of the Constitution, a referendum was called because the constitutional law had not been approved by a qualified majority of two-thirds in each house of parliament in the second vote.[4] The constitutional amendment will not become law unless it receives the support of a majority of votes cast in the referendum. This was the third constitutional referendum in the history of the Italian Republic; the other two were in 2001 (in which the amending law was approved) and in 2006 (in which it was rejected).

Had the voters approved the constitutional law, it would have achieved the most extensive constitutional reform in Italy since the end of the monarchy, not only influencing the organization of the Parliament, but also improving, according to its proponents, on the poor government stability of the country. Opposition parties harshly criticised the bill, claiming that it was poorly written and that it would have made the government too powerful.[5]

After the exit polls and the first projections of the evening showed a clear victory of the "No" vote, the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, announced he would resign.[6]

Constitutional background

Palazzo Madama, the meeting place of the Italian Senate.

The Italian Parliament is described as a perfectly symmetric bicameral legislature, in that it has a lower house (the Chamber of Deputies) and an upper house (the Senate of the Republic) with the following characteristics:

Political background

The first concrete attempts at reforming the Senate took place in the 1980s, when the first bicameral committee for constitutional reform headed by Aldo Bozzi was created (1983). A second bicameral committee (headed by Ciriaco De Mita, later replaced by Nilde Iotti) operated in 1993–1994, followed in 1997 by the third committee headed by the leader of the Left Democrats, Massimo D'Alema. These three attempts were completely unsuccessful.

A reform bill proposed by Silvio Berlusconi's government was finally approved by the parliament in 2005. This proposal, which would also have considerably strengthened the powers of the Prime Minister, at the same time weakening the role of the President, was ultimately rejected in the 2006 referendum.

In 2011, with the financial crisis ensuing and Berlusconi forced to resign from the position of Prime Minister, the Parliament reprised discussions on constitutional reforms at the urging of president Giorgio Napolitano. However, strong disagreements between the two main parties (the People of Freedom and the Democratic Party) prevented the Parliament from deciding on a reform.

Matteo Renzi in 2015.

After the 2013 general election, constitutional reform remained a prominent political topic. However, the first real breakthrough occurred when Matteo Renzi, the new Secretary of the Democratic Party, was appointed Prime Minister in February 2014. As part of his government's program, Renzi pledged to implement a number of reforms, including the abolition of the perfectly symmetric bicameralism, with a substantial decrease in the membership and power of the Senate. As well as effectively abolishing the current Senate, the package also included a new electoral law, aimed at giving the party that won the most votes in elections for the Chamber of Deputies a great many additional seats, allowing the formation of a stronger government.

After the proposals passed both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate multiple times, Renzi announced that he would hold a referendum to secure the endorsement of the Italian people for the change. In January 2016, announcing an October date for the referendum, Matteo Renzi stated that if his reforms were rejected he would resign as Prime Minister and leave politics.[7] Some opposition parties, predominantly Five Star Movement, Lega Nord and Italian Left, and also some newspapers like Il Fatto Quotidiano and Il manifesto, accused Renzi of turning the referendum into a plebiscite on his premiership with those comments.[8] However, after some months, Renzi said that his government will continue until the end of the legislature.

On 15 January 2016, La Repubblica announced that Renzi had hired American political adviser Jim Messina, who had previously managed Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, to oversee the campaign for "Yes".[9]

Details of the proposed reform[10]

Role and powers of the Senate

The Senate represents territorial institutions. It shares the legislative power with the Chamber of Deputies, but the vote of the Senate is only required to enact laws regarding specific matters. For all other laws, the vote of the Senate is optional and can be overruled by a second vote of the Chamber of Deputies.

Senators enjoy the same immunities as the deputies, but receive no remuneration.

The Government does not need to have the confidence of the new Senate, and the Senate cannot pass a motion of no confidence against the Government.

Composition of the Senate

No seats are assigned to the overseas constituencies of Italian Parliament (unlike in the Chamber of Deputies and the pre-reform Senate).[11]

The Senate is not subject to dissolution; instead, when a Regional Council ends its five years term, so do the senators elected by it; new senators will be elected after the Regional Council is renewed.

Apportionment of seats among Regions[12][13]

Region Seats Region Seats Region Seats
Abruzzo 2 Friuli-Venezia Giulia 2 Sardinia 3
Aosta Valley 2 Lazio 8 Sicily 7
Apulia 6 Liguria 2 South Tyrol 2
Basilicata 2 Lombardy 14 Tuscany 5
Calabria 3 Marche 2 Trentino 2
Campania 9 Molise 2 Umbria 2
Emilia-Romagna 6 Piedmont 7 Veneto 7

Legislative procedure

The reform differentiates between two main legislative procedures: a unicameral procedure (in which the role of the Senate is mostly consultative) and a bicameral procedure (in which a bill must be approved by both Chambers).[14]

Under the unicameral procedure (which is used every time the Constitution does not require a special procedure), bills can be adopted by a vote of the Chamber of Deputies. At that point, the approved bill is sent to the Senate, which has 10 days to decide whether to examine it to propose changes, or let it be enacted without modification. If one-third of the senators ask to review the bill, the Senate has 30 days to formulate amendments and send the bill back to the Chamber of Deputies. Then the deputies will take the final decision on the Senate's proposals and on the bill as a whole. No further approval of the Senate is needed, but a qualified majority might be required to overcome the Senate's veto for laws adopted under the supremacy clause.

The bicameral procedure works in a similar way to the current legislative procedure, in that bills must be approved in the same text by both houses to be enacted, and will be forwarded from one house to the other until approved by both. This procedure is required for bills regarding the following.

Opponents to the referendum argue that the legislative procedures under the reformed Constitution would be much more than two, because of the several articles that introduce exceptions.[15][16]

State and Regional competence

The reform draws a different partition of matters reserved to the State and to the Regions. The so-called "concurrent competence", according to which State law legislates the principles that are later to be implemented by Regional laws, is abolished. All concurrent matters are reassigned to either the State's or the Regions' competence.

The Government can propose legislation to the Parliament on matters that are not reserved to the State, when this is required to protect the juridical or economic unity of Italy, or to protect national interests. Such laws are adopted according to the unicameral legislative procedure: however, when modifications are proposed by an absolute majority of the members of the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies can override the proposals only by voting against them with an absolute majority of its members.

CNEL and Provinces

The National Council for Economics and Labour[17] (CNEL), which is a consultative assembly of experts of the economic, social, and legal fields, representatives of public and private-sector producers of goods and services, and representatives of social service and voluntary organisations, is abolished.

Provinces (the second-level administrative divisions of Italy) are removed from the Constitution, except for the Autonomous Provinces of Bolzano and Trento. This opens the door for ordinary laws to abolish or radically reform them. In 2014–15 fourteen provinces were already replaced by "metropolitan cities" (that still exist in the reformed Constitution).

Other changes

Reactions and criticism

Prime Minister Renzi was accused by some law scholars and politicians, such as Stefano Rodotà and Fausto Bertinotti, of being authoritarian and anti-democratic for proposing this reform.[18][19][20][21][22] Others, like Gianfranco Pasquino, argue that the adopted text is badly written.[23][24]

In April 2016, a paper called "Appello dei costituzionalisti" ("A Plea from Constitutional Scholars") was written by 56 law scholars (mainly constitutional law scholars), showing criticism of the proposed reform and their numerous concerns: among them are Francesco Amirante, Paolo Caretti, Lorenza Carlassare, Ugo De Siervo, Giovanni Maria Flick, Paolo Maddalena, Valerio Onida, Alfonso Quaranta and Gustavo Zagrebelsky.[25] The main points of criticism the paper raises are the following.

Later, in May 2016, other 184 law scholars and professors of various disciplines (among whom Franco Bassanini, Massimo Bordignon, Stefano Ceccanti, Francesco Clementi, Carlo Fusaro, Claudia Mancina, Stefano Mannoni, Angelo Panebianco, Pasquale Pasquino, Francesco Pizzetti, Michele Salvati, Tiziano Treu) signed, instead, an appeal in favour of the constitutional reform.[26]

Campaign positions


Choice Logo Campaign Slogan Website
Yes Yes
Just a Yes
Basta un Sì
Committee for No
Comitato per il No
I Vote No
Io Voto No

Main political parties

Choice Parties Political orientation Leaders Ref
Yes Yes Democratic Party (PD) Social democracy Matteo Renzi [27]
New Centre-Right (NCD) Conservatism Angelino Alfano [28]
Liberal Popular Alliance (ALA) Centrism Denis Verdini [29]
Civic Choice (SC) Liberalism Enrico Zanetti [30][31]
No Five Star Movement (M5S) Populism Beppe Grillo [32]
Forza Italia (FI) Liberal conservatism Silvio Berlusconi [33]
Italian Left (SI) Democratic socialism Nicola Fratoianni [34]
Lega Nord (LN) Regionalism Matteo Salvini [35]
Brothers of Italy (FdI) National conservatism Giorgia Meloni [36]
Conservatives and Reformists (CR) Conservatism Raffaele Fitto [37]

European political parties

Choice Parties Political orientation Leaders Ref
Yes Yes Party of European Socialists (PES) Social democracy Sergei Stanishev [38]
No Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 25) Alter-Europeanism Yanis Varoufakis [39]

Trade unions and business organisations

Choice Organisations Political and cultural orientation Secretaries
Yes Yes General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confindustria)[40] Employers and businesses' organisation Vincenzo Boccia
Italian Confederation of Workers' Trade Unions (CISL) Centrism Anna Maria Furlan
No Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL)[41] Democratic socialism Susanna Camusso
Neutral/Undeclared Italian Labour Union (UIL)[42] Social democracy Carmelo Barbagallo


Choice Newspapers Political and cultural orientation
Yes Yes L'Unità[43] Social democracy[44]
Il Sole 24 Ore Business newspaper
Il Foglio[45] Liberal conservatism
No Il Fatto Quotidiano[46] Anti-establishment, Populism
Il Giornale[47] Conservatism[48]
Libero[49] Liberal conservatism
Il manifesto[50] Communism
Neutral/Undeclared La Repubblica Social liberalism
Corriere della Sera Centrism
La Stampa Centrism


Choice Periodicals Political and cultural orientation
Yes Yes La Civiltà Cattolica[51][52] Periodical published by the Society of Jesus
Mondoperaio[53] Monthly journal, official organ of the Italian Socialist Party

Other organisations

Choice Organisations Political and cultural orientation Leaders
Yes Yes Christian Associations of Italian Workers (ACLI)[54] Catholic social teaching Roberto Rossini
No National Association of the Italian Partisans (ANPI)[55] Anti-fascism Carlo Smuraglia
Neutral Libera[56] Anti-mafia Luigi Ciotti

TV debates

Date Channel Program Moderator Participants Audience Notes
Yes YES NO Audience Share
16 September La7 Sì o No Enrico Mentana Roberto Giachetti Massimo D'Alema 792,000 3.4% [57][58]
23 September Gian Luca Galletti,
Dario Nardella
Renato Brunetta,
Giuseppe Civati
574,000 2.7% [59]
30 September Matteo Renzi Gustavo Zagrebelsky 1,747,000 8.0% [60][61]
14 October Luciano Violante Tomaso Montanari 626,000 3.8% [62]
23 September La7 Otto e Mezzo Lilli Gruber Matteo Renzi Marco Travaglio 2,280,000 9.4% [63]
7 October Maria Elena Boschi Matteo Salvini 2,000,000 8.4% [64]
28 October La7 Sì o No Enrico Mentana Matteo Renzi Ciriaco De Mita 825,000 10.8%
4 November Stefano Ceccanti
Anna Ascani
Elisabetta Piccolotti
Anna Falcone
603,000 3.5%

Opinion polls

Polling data about the 2016 Italian constitutional referendum.


Ballot used in the referendum.
Choice Votes %
Yes Yes
Invalid/blank votes
Registered voters/turnout
Popular vote
YesY Yes
N No

Results by Regions

Region Electorate Voter turnout,
of eligible
Votes Proportion of votes
Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Aosta Valley 99,735 71.9% 30,568 40,116 43.2% 56.8%
Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Trentino-South Tyrol
Umbria 675,610 73.5% 240,346 251,908 48.8% 51.2%
Veneto 3,725,399 76.7% 1,078,883 1,756,144 38.1% 61.9%


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  44. Official newspaper of the Democratic Party
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  48. Owned by Silvio Berlusconi's brother
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  56. "(no title)". Libera (in Italian). 14 October 2016.
  57. "Speciale TgLa7 Referendum/ Anticipazioni e diretta streaming: in studio Giachetti e D'Alema (oggi, 16 settembre 2016)". 16 settembre 2016. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  58. Mattia Buonocore (17 settembre 2016). "Ascolti TV 16 settembre 2016". Check date values in: |date= (help)
  59. Mattia Buonocore (24 settembre 2016). "Ascolti TV 23 settembre 2016". Check date values in: |date= (help)
  60. "Enrico Mentana pronto a moderare venerdì il duello televisivo tra Matteo Renzi e Gustavo Zagrebelsky sul referendum". L'Huffington Post. 27 settembre 2016. Retrieved 29 settembre 2016. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  61. "ASCOLTI TV VENERDI 30 SETTEMBRE 2016. TALE E QUALE (21.8%) SURCLASSA SQUADRA ANTIMAFIA (13.7%). BOOM SPECIALE REFERENDUM CON RENZI (8%)". 1 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  62. "Venerdi 14 Ottobre 2016. IN 5,1 MLN per TALE e QUALE (23.3%), SQUADRA ANTIMAFIA AL 13.7%". ASCOLTI TV. 15 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  63. "Ascolti tv, record per Otto e mezzo con Renzi e Travaglio: 2 milioni di spettatori, 9,35% di share". 23 September 2016.
  64. "Scontro Boschi-Salvini. Ora Renzi corre ai ripari".
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