ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s opposition 5-Star Movement, the country’s second-most popular party, described Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as a lesson in democracy on Friday and vowed to pursue its own proposal for an Italian referendum on the euro.
The anti-establishment party, considered a genuine contender for government at the next general election, believes strongly in direct democracy and wants Italy to hold a “consultative” or non-binding referendum on whether to remain in the euro zone.
The party’s leaders avoided voicing an opinion on the result of Britain’s referendum, which showed a near 52-48 percent split for leaving, but applauded the fact it had been held.
“Whether you like it or not the British people have chosen, and they have every right. A popular vote is always a conquest,” lower house deputy Alessandro Di Battista, a member of 5-Star’s leadership committee, told Reuters.
The party made big gains at local elections last weekend and is running almost neck-and-neck with Matteo Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party in national opinion polls. A general election is not due until 2018 but could come earlier if Renzi fails to win his own constitutional referendum in October.
The right-wing Northern League, a member of Italy’s opposition center-right, was more outspoken.
“Thank you Great Britain, next it is our turn,” party leader Matteo Salvini said in comments on Facebook and Twitter.
Both Salvini and 5-Star’s founder, Beppe Grillo, vowed to pursue a legislative change to allow an ad-hoc exception to the Italian constitution, which forbids referendums to be held on international treaties such as those that hold the EU together.
Such an exception was made in 1989, when Italy held a consultative referendum on whether to give certain powers to the European Parliament.
Grillo, writing in his blog on Friday, said 5-Star had already collected enough signatures to start this process and pave the way for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro.
Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Mark Bendeich