Many observers feared that yesterday would be the day that could rock the European Union to its core, six months after the Brexit referendum. Austria looked ready to elect Europe's first far-right president since the end of World War II. Meanwhile, Italy, a founding member of the EU, was expected to reject a proposed constitutional reform, paving the way for new elections and possibly an anti-EU government.
This morning, the best Brussels can do is a one-handed clap: The far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost the Austrian presidency to his left-backed opponent Alexander Van der Bellen; but in Italy, where the vote actually mattered more, it was a "Triumph for the ‘No"," as La Repubblica puts it on its front page. Making good on his pre-vote pledge, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned, opening a period of uncertainty for Italy and, for many reasons, the EU itself.
The aftermath of the referendum could prove dramatic for Italy's third-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is saddled with bad loans and needs to raise more than $5 billion by the end of the month. Failure to raise that capital would likely trigger a banking crisis in what is Europe's second most indebted country after Greece.
That, added to what La Stampa"s editor-in-chief Maurizio Molinari describes as a "middle-class protest" behind the referendum result, provides a perfect stage for anti-establishment parties, especially the increasingly popular Five Star Movement led by former standup comic Beppe Grillo. "Italy needs a new welfare for families facing hardships, it needs a recipe to reignite economic growth and a formula for integrating migrants," Molinari warns in his post-referendum editorial. "The longer these questions are left unanswered, the wider the protest movement will grow, which could trigger a domino effect of unpredictable consequences. To relaunch Italy, a new government is simply not enough: The popular rebellion must be respected, and its demands must be met."