- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2016

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, one of President Obama’s closest partners in Europe, announced his resignation Sunday after voters rejected proposed political reforms in a referendum influenced by anti-establishment attitudes also on the rise in other countries.

The vote was intended by Mr. Renzi to revise Italy’s Constitution and reduce the size of its Senate to streamline the government and consolidate the prime minister’s power. But the balloting instead became a referendum on Mr. Renzi himself, with voters expressing some of the same anti-establishment dissatisfaction that has surfaced from the United Kingdom to the U.S. this year.

Exit polls in Italy showed the referendum losing by roughly 55 percent against 41 percent in favor. The euro hit a 20-month low on the results.

“I have lost and I say it out loud,” Mr. Renzi told a news conference, adding that he would submit his resignation on Monday.

The political upheaval in Italy is another foreign policy blow to Mr. Obama, who hosted Mr. Renzi for his final State Dinner at the White House in October and publicly endorsed Italy’s proposed reforms. The president praised Mr. Renzi’s cooperation with the U.S. on the refugee crisis in Europe, on strengthening NATO and standing up to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

At a White House news conference with Mr. Renzi, Mr. Obama said the U.S. was supporting the referendum “because we believe that it will help accelerate Italy’s path toward a more vibrant, dynamic economy, as well as a more responsive political system.”

Mr. Obama called Mr. Renzi “one of my closest partners and friends on the world stage.”

“By virtue of his progressive vision, his energy, the reforms that he’s pursuing — which are sweeping — the bold vision that he has for Italy and the world, I think Matteo embodies a new generation of leadership, not just for Italy, but also for Europe,” the president said at the time.

Instead, the result of the balloting in Italy was reminiscent of Mr. Obama urging British voters last spring not to leave the European Union, a move that some in the U.K. considered heavy-handed meddling. Britain decided to leave the EU, and Mr. Obama’s close ally, Prime Minister David Cameron, resigned.

There is growing concern among the political establishment in Europe that similar movements fueled by worries over globalization and unchecked migration could impact Germany and France.

As the referendum in Italy was going down to defeat, Mr. Obama was hosting a glittering ceremony in the White House for the latest Kennedy Center honorees, including actor Al Pacino, singer James Taylor and the Eagles rock band.

Mr. Obama said the annual ceremony is “one of the parts of the job that I will miss.”

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