Israeli at the forefront of Italian upheaval sees no chance for ‘Italexit’

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The top Israeli-born economic adviser to outgoing Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says the results of a failed referendum on government reforms will not lead to Rome leaving the European Union and sees a future for the Italian political prodigy despite the heartbreaking loss.

Yoram Gutgeld, 56, is currently a member of the Democratic Party and the Chamber of Deputies. Since 2012, he has been Renzi’s right-hand man in shaping economic policy. For decades he worked in Italy at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

Gutgeld told The Times of Israel in an interview shortly after the referendum results that analysts are unlikely to see the nuances of the populist wave that has seen shock victories by Brexiteers and US President-elect Donald Trump in the case of the Italy.

“It would be crazy for Italy to leave the EU and the majority of Italians don’t want to leave the European Union,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Yoram Gutgeld (Courtesy)

But many took exactly the opposite message from the resounding success of the ‘no’ side in Italy’s December 4 vote on a list of government reforms, which turned into a referendum on the prime minister himself once Renzi has staked his political future on the success of a “yes” vote.

A solid majority of 59% of Italians voted against reforms that would have changed many aspects of the Italian Constitution, including the abolition of the Senate and a change in the representation of territorial institutions. The participation rate in the referendum was 70%.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announces his resignation during a news conference at the Palazzo Chigi following the results of the vote for a referendum on constitutional reforms, on December 5, 2016 in Rome.  (Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announces his resignation during a news conference at the Palazzo Chigi following the results of the vote for a referendum on constitutional reforms, on December 5, 2016 in Rome. (Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)

Renzi has since resigned after initially being asked to stay to pass the budget, which he did on Wednesday.

It is not yet clear whether Italy will go to a snap election or an interim government – ​​which will likely be decided once President Sergio Mattarella meets with political parties this weekend – but either way, Eurosceptics in Italy saw the results as an opportunity to get closer. in power.

Chief among them is the Five Star Movement, founded by former comedian Beppe Grillo, which currently emerges as Italy’s most popular opposition party.

The party’s policies are variously anti-establishment, eurosceptic, anti-immigration and pro-green. If Five Star takes power, the possibility of an exit from Italy seems almost certain.

Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo addresses a rally ahead of Italy's constitutional referendum in Turin, Italy, December 2, 2016. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, addresses a rally ahead of Italy’s constitutional referendum in Turin, Italy, December 2, 2016. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

Gutgeld was born and raised in Tel Aviv, but moved to Italy in 1989, eventually taking citizenship and rising through the ranks of the Italian branch of McKinsey & Company. In 2012, he met Renzi, then mayor of Florence, and decided to hitch his wagon to the popular young politician, hoping to help him bring much-needed reforms to Italy’s notoriously unruly political and economic scenes.

With the wheels now appearing to have left that wagon, Gutgeld still manages to project a sense of optimism when speaking to The Times of Israel in an interview conducted in Italian.

YOU: What do you think of the results of this referendum?

I don’t dispute the results of this one, of course. It was a democratic decision and the Italians decided that way. The possibility of losing was real and polls showed NO leading by a small margin until the last day. Obviously, we couldn’t have predicted such a big victory.

Did Renzi make a mistake that could have led to his defeat in this referendum

Renzi, as he said, personified the referendum too much, so it became a political vote, not a vote on the Constitution. It was a mistake of political tactics made by him, but at the same time, this personification showed his political savvy.

From the start, it was clear: he would resign in the event of a defeat. Constitutional reform was something crucial to do in Italy, and he had no choice but to propose it.

And now ? What future for Renzi?

There will be an interim government, and very soon there will be new elections. I hope Matteo Renzi will stand in these new elections because he still has a lot to give to Italy.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after speaking at a rally ahead of Italy's constitutional referendum in Florence, Italy, December 2, 2016. (Maurizio Degl'Innocenti/ANSA via AP)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after speaking at a rally ahead of Italy’s constitutional referendum in Florence, Italy, December 2, 2016. (Maurizio Degl’Innocenti/ANSA via AP)

If you think about it, in this referendum, he alone obtained 40% of the votes, against the majority obtained by all the other parties combined. This percentage is significant, and it shows that many Italians still believe in him.

If the eurosceptic 5-Star Movement wins in new elections, could this lead to an italexit of the EU and the euro?

It would be crazy for Italy to leave the EU and the majority of Italians do not want to leave the European Union. I therefore exclude this possibility, even if many parties like the 5 Star Movement and right-wing parties are pushing in this direction.

Of course, events like Brexit, the result of this referendum and the election of Donald Trump are all different from each other, but they all highlight social inequalities. European politicians will have to understand this thing and come up with a concrete political response to populism, which will mainly mean reforming social policies.

Your own Democratic Party was divided on this referendum, and many members decided to go against their leader. What happened?

Anti-referendum activists gather in downtown Rome after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi conceded defeat in a constitutional referendum and announced he would resign in Rome, early Monday, December 5, 2016. Banner in italian reads "You wanted to change the Constitution?  Bye Bella".  (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

Anti-referendum activists gather in downtown Rome after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi conceded defeat in a constitutional referendum and announced he would step down in Rome, early Monday December 5, 2016. The banner in Italian reads “You wanted to change the Constitution? Goodbye Bella’ (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

The minority of the Democratic Party behaved in an unacceptable manner. It is one thing to criticize a reform and quite another to campaign against your party. The first thing is understandable; the second is not, especially since the same members of the Democratic Party have already voted six times for this reform between Parliament and the Senate.

You spent a lot of time with Renzi. What can you tell us about him?

He is a man of great intelligence and great courage. He has excellent communication skills and he thinks very quickly. He’s a leader with great abilities, and that’s why I decided to quit my job and work with him.

What are you going to do now? Will you continue to work with him?

My family lives in Italy, so I will stay here. I am still a Member of Parliament and I am the current Commissioner for Expenditure Review until 2018. So I will be there, and I will continue to be alongside Matteo Renzi, of course.

Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.

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