Italian referendum on oil and gas flops on low turnout

Italian referendum on oil and gas flops on low turnout

ROME – Agence France-Presse
Italian referendum on oil and gas flops on low turnout

AP photo

A closely-watched Italian referendum on oil and gas drilling concessions failed to reach the required turnout threshold on April 17, in a win for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who had urged voters to stay home.

Pitting environmentalists against the government and big industry, the referendum was seen a key challenge for Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) after two years in office during which he has pushed through a string of pro-business and political reforms.

About 90 minutes after polls closed at 11:00 p.m., the interior ministry said near-complete figures showed turnout stood at around 32 percent.

Under Italy’s referendum law, a referendum is only valid if more than 50 percent of the country’s nearly 47 million registered electors cast their vote.

The result will be savored by Renzi, who had openly called on Italians to shun the ballot in the hopes of sinking the referendum, a stance that frustrated the opposition and deepened a rift within his own camp.

The referendum centered around whether Italians wanted to repeal a new law about drilling near the country’s coast.

The current legislation, passed in January, says existing concessions within 19 kilometers of the coast should remain valid until the fields are depleted - to the dismay campaigners for renewable energy.

Environmentalists claim platforms near the shore present risks to health and protected habitats.

They argued that reversing the law would send a clear signal the country wants to go green and stop what they call “dirty deals” that benefit oil companies, in the wake of a recent scandal that saw a top minister resign over alleged favors to French oil giant Total.

But Renzi dismissed the referendum as “a hoax” this week and said a win for the “Yes” camp - backed by environmentalists and opposition parties - would lead to rig closures and massive job losses.

The referendum also fuelled a bitter internal battle within Renzi’s party, with some PD members saying it was unacceptable for the premier to be the head of the pro-abstention campaign.

“Those who wanted to settle accounts at all costs have lost. The winners are the 11,000 people whose jobs were at risk,” Renzi said in a speech after the polls closed.