Acid test for Berlo

The nuclear vote will be an important marker of popular opinion on atomic energy in Europe in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan and after Germany this month passed a bill phasing out nuclear power by 2022.

If turnout is higher than 50 per cent, a vote against nuclear power will definitively scrap the government’s plans to re-start Italy’s atomic energy programme by 2014, which have already been put on a temporary moratorium.

Voters could also strip Berlusconi of his legal immunity under a law that was approved by his government soon after his re-election victory in 2008. The prime minister is a defendant in three ongoing trials, involving allegations of having paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl, bribery and fraud.

A Constitutional Court ruling this year curbed part of the legal protection linked to his duties but the 74-year-old can still invoke some immunity. A strong vote against Berlusconi would add to signs of the growing discontent seen in local elections earlier this month, in which his ruling People of Freedom party lost key mayoral contests in Milan and Naples.

Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the leftist La Repubblica newspaper, said there would be “unpredictable effects” if the referendums are approved. “I exclude Berlusconi’s resignation but I do not exclude the implosion of the People of Freedom and of the Northern League,” a junior but highly influential partner in Berlusconi’s governing coalition, Scalfari said.

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