Referendums in Italy


July 5, 2022

The referendum in Italy (in Italian: referendum) is a constituent vote in a question posed to all the electors of the Italian Republic, who must answer "Yes" or "No". The Constitution recognizes five types: abrogative, regional, statutory, territorial, and constitutional.

The abrogative referendum


Article 75 of the Constitution provides that the ballot is held at the request of 500,000 voters - i.e. approximately 2% of the electorate in 1946, and approximately 1% in 2019 - or at least five regional councils, or 20% of the parliamentarians. Signatures must be collected within 90 days, between January 1 and September 30 of the current year. It can only relate to the total or partial repeal of a law or an act having the force of law, except those concerning taxation, the budget, amnesty, remission of sentences, and the ratification of international treaties. . The petition is filed with the Chancellery of the Supreme Court of Cassation, which examines its validity, followed by the Constitutional Court which ensures that the subject of the referendum complies with the Constitution. In 2019, out of 100 referendum requests, a third were rejected for formal defects. If the Constitutional Court agrees, the ballot is called by the President of the Republic on a Sunday between April 15 and June 15. If several abrogative referendums have been called for this period, they are all organized on the same day. In addition, the referendum cannot be organized in the last year of the mandate of a legislature, nor in the six months following the beginning of a new one, including in the case of an early dissolution. The repeal is acquired if the "Yes" wins with the absolute majority of the votes cast, provided that the ballot exceeds the quorum of participation of 50% of the total number of registered voters. This quorum, considered to be very high, makes it difficult to complete the proposals, even approved once put to the vote. If all the conditions for a repeal are met, the President of the Republic declares by a decree published in the official journal the repeal of the text concerned. This takes effect the following day. However, on the proposal of the minister concerned, the president may delay the entry into force of the repeal for up to sixty days. According to Dominique Chagnollaud de Sabouret, “the referendum of popular initiative in its so-called abrogative form is in reality a referendum of proposal, since it consists in amending the law passed by Parliament”. In 1987, the Constitutional Court decided that it was not permitted to reproduce a law repealed by referendum; however, it remains possible to reintroduce elements repealed in other laws. The Italian abrogative referendum served as a model for several neighboring countries: Albania, Malta, San Marino and Slovenia.


Although explicitly legalized by article 75 of the 1947 constitution, abrogative referendums of popular origin cannot be implemented for more than twenty years for lack of implementing law. This one ends up being voted by the Italian parliament on May 25, 1970. The implementation of the first Italian abrogative referendum did not take place until 1974. This was triggered against a law authorizing divorce for three years. Rejected by nearly 60% with a participation of 87.71%, the referendum provoked a certain interest in the exercise of direct democracy due to its very divisive theme in a society strongly anchored in Catholicism. Since then, several abrogative referenda have been implemented with a frequency of three to four years. Academics Raul Magni-Berton and Clara Egger note that those organized in the 1970s “