No to nuclear and no to Berlusconi

Jun 14, 2011

In the past two days the people of Italy have
been given their say.
They have convincingly rejected nuclear
power and they have delivered another
humiliating defeat to Italian Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi.
The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear
power plant in Japan is changing Europe's
energy future. Increasingly it looks as if it
may become a continent without nuclear
The French have bet heavily on the nuclear
industry providing clean energy. Given the
chance, Europe's citizens are saying "no
Eyes on France
On 30 May, Germany, Europe's economic
powerhouse, decided to phase out atomic
power between 2015 and 2022.
Switzerland looks set to follow. It is
examining a proposal to phase out the
country's nuclear plants by 2034.
Now Italy will not revive its nuclear industry.
The people have spoken and spoken
Silvio Berlusconi had urged his supporters
to boycott the polls, hoping that the turnout
would not reach the necessary threshold of
In the end, 56% of voters took part and
afterwards the prime minister conceded:
"We will have to commit strongly to the
renewable energy sector."
The leader of the Greens in the European
Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said this vote
"could open a serious phase of reflection in
other member states".
If Europe moves away from nuclear power,
a question arises as to whether it can fill the
gap with renewable energy. Will the mood
in France change and will they, too, get a
chance to vote?
Evaporating magic
There was a second plot to the vote in Italy:
Silvio Berlusconi himself. Last month, in
elections he made about himself and his
authority, his candidates were badly beaten.
Now he has suffered a serious defeat on a
number of referendum questions.
The public rejected plans to privatise the
water system. Even the Vatican got involved,
declaring that water was a human right and
should not be subject to market forces.
Most significantly, the people rejected a
change in the law that would have enabled
the Italian leader and other high officials to
avoid prosecution.
Berlusconi's appeal to the Italian electorate,
which has long survived gaffes and
scandals, is now ebbing away.
The magic has gone. That bond between
Berlusconi and ordinary Italians seems to
have snapped. Perhaps voters have become
weary of a leader where so much of public
debate is about his personal life and his
political survival?
Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the main
opposition Democratic Party, was calling on
Mr Berlusconi to resign. "This referendum,"
he said, " was about the divorce between
the government and the country."
Berlusconi still has a majority in parliament
but it is dependent on the Northern League.
They are now questioning whether their
alliance with Berlusconi's party is damaging
them. Some may decide it is time to break
Next week there were be a vote on
confidence in the Italian parliament. It is not
in Mr Berlusconi's character to step down
but he is increasingly an isolated figure. He
has a fragile majority in parliament but
almost certainly not in the country.