05-Dec (FT) — Europe’s fightback against populism was going well for a couple of hours. On Sunday afternoon, it emerged that the far-right candidate had lost the Austrian presidential election. But the good news from Austria was drowned out by bad news that same evening, from the other side of the Alps. Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, had lost his referendum on constitutional reform and confirmed that he will resign.
The consequences for Europe of Italy’s referendum result are not as obviously dramatic as those of Britain’s referendum in June. The British voted to leave the EU. The Italians have simply rejected some complex constitutional changes, which many experts regarded as ill conceived in the first place.
And yet Brexit and the Renzi resignation do form part of the same story. The European project is under unprecedented strain. Britain’s decision to leave is the most striking evidence of this. But, in the long run, the unfolding crisis in Italy could pose a more severe threat to the survival of the EU. The reasons for this are political, economic and even geographic.