No to nuclear and no to Berlusconi

A giant mock nuclear waste barrel built by anti-nuclear protesters stands in central Rome, 7 June Anti-nuclear protesters erected this giant mock nuclear waste barrel in Rome

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 power.

The French have bet heavily on the nuclear industry providing clean energy. Given the chance, Europe's citizens are saying "no way".

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.

Start Quote

[The Italian vote] could open a serious phase of reflection in other [EU] member states”

End Quote Daniel Cohn-Bendit Green leader, European Parliament

Now Italy will not revive its nuclear industry. The people have spoken and spoken convincingly.

Silvio Berlusconi had urged his supporters to boycott the polls, hoping that the turnout would not reach the necessary threshold of 50%.

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
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attends a television programme in Rome, 25 May Silvio Berlusconi looks more and more isolated

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 away.

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.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

Europe in 2014: Ghosts return

History came back to haunt Europe in 2014, not least with Russia's intervention in Ukraine, the BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt writes.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    agree, the problem is not just Berlusconi; and the opposition is not formidable; and, and, and... but when you have to vote to abolish a law that allows the PM to skip attendance of his corruption trials for legitimate commitments in the exercise of his function, something is deeply wrong. No one can be worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Re #56.

    Thorium-using reactors are not available yet, but GE already sells commercial reactors which have much simpler design (therefore much cheaper than the current generation) and are much safer, since they're
    passively (nor pressure) water-cooled.

    Unfortunately Japanese reactors had an obsolete design and were built in earthquake/tsunami prone areas.

    [not exactly Europe's case]

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    "France must be quivering with anticipation at the thought of selling electric power to both Italy and Germany."

    Just like Russia builds excessive hydroelectric power stations not far from PRC's border knowing that the Chinese will buy any amount of electricity from it, France can build new atomic plants knowing that Germany and Italy will buy from it any amount of electricity it can spare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    "Whilst Italy has problems surely the real crisis is in Greece? Look at what is happening there today...."

    Not really: EU can survive Greece's default; even euro most likely will.

    But eurozone and its currency will not survive necessary gigantic bail-outs of such big economies like Spain and Italy.

    Nor their defaults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Re #46 Huaimek [re extradition of the Merchant of Death, former (?) GRU major Victor Bout to U.S.] :

    "Many people in Thailand felt the law had been compromised , corrupted , that Abhisit must have been bribed by the US ."

    Or the more embarrassing alternative might have been Navy Seals doing what they do best: rappelling into the Bangkok jail and ...

    [As witnessed in Pakistan]


Comments 5 of 63



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.