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Is it our right not to vote? During the hours before the Italian referendum on drills, scheduled on Sunday, many people are asking themselves this question. We should not underestimate this topic because it concerns the very core of democracy. In fact, this prerogative changes in terms of strength and impact, depending on whether it is considered a duty or a right. It is not only a legal discourse, but also a matter of respect toward those who have sacrificed everything, even their lives, to make us become a “sovereign” a people endowed with the power to freely choose its own future.

It was a necessary premise, since the debate opened by Matteo Renzi who invited Italians to boycott the consultation. Tomorrow we are asked to vote for the possible revocation of a regulation on drilling at sea to search and extract oil and gas. This regulation is part of the 2016 Stability Law. An ecologist consultation first promoted for the first time by 9 regions (Basilicata, Marche, Puglia, Sardinia, Veneto, Calabria, Liguria, Campania, and Molise), without collecting voters’ signatures. It was acknowledged by the Constitutional Court last January. The voters are asked the following question: Do you want Art. 6, paragraph 17, third period of the legislative decree of 3 April 2006, n. 152, “Environmental Regulations” to be abrogated, as substituted by the paragraph 239 of Article. 1 of the Law of 28 December 2015, n. 208 “Provisions for the preparation of the annual and multiannual budget of the State (2016 Stability Law)”, limited to the following words: “for the term of the life of the oil field, in compliance with safety standards and environmental protection”? Thus, Italians are asked whether they want drilling activities in their territorial waters within 12 miles (about 22 kilometers) of the coast to continue after the expiry of the concessions or after oil fields are depleted, or not?

REASONS TO VOTE YES – If YES prevails, oil extractions that are already in progress will continue until their concessions expire or oil fields are depleted. The drilling ban within 12 miles of the coast will only concern new extractions. Technically, the following words will be removed from the regulation: “for the term of life of the oil field, in compliance with safety standards and environmental protection”. The environment, according to promoters, would significantly benefit from it.

REASONS TO VOTE NO – If NO prevails, the 35 extraction concessions will have the possibility to be renewed and continue their extraction activity until oil fields are drained. And no one can accurately predict when this is going to happen.

Many environmental organizations, such as Legambiente, Greenpeace, WWF, the committee “No triv”, and 50 prominent national scientists have signed an appeal for Yes vote, that is, against unlimited drilling within 12 miles. On the other side of the “barricades” there are those who support abstention from voting, not the promoters of the “No” vote. Among them, besides Renzi, there is also the former head of state Giorgio Napolitano. Whereas the president of the Constitutional Court, Paolo Grossi, has invited people to vote for the exercise of a fundamental right of the citizen and for full citizenship: “It is necessary to vote at the referendum, the way citizens prefer to vote, but they have to participate”. The call for abstention, in short, is an insult to the exercise of full citizenship.

To date, in Italian waters within 12 miles of the coast, there are 35 concessions for oil and gas extraction. Three of them are inactive, one is pending till the end of 2016 (off the coast of Abruzzo), and 5 were non-productive in 2015. The remaining 26 concessions for a total of 79 platforms and 463 wells, are distributed between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and the Strait of Sicily. 9 of these concessions (38 platforms) have expired or are expiring, but they have already requested extension. The other 17 grants (41 platforms) will expire between 2017 and 2027 and in case Yes wins, they will work till their expiration date. The referendum would have an impact already in 2018 on 21 concessions out of the 31 active: 7 are in Sicily, 5 in Calabria, 3 in Apulia, 2 in Basilicata and in Emilia-Romagna, one in Veneto and in Marche. The referendum question concerns 9 research permissions, four in the north of the Adriatic Sea, 2 in Central Adriatic Sea, in front of the coast of Abruzzo, one in the sea of ​​Sicily, between Pozzallo and Pachino, and one off the coast of Pantelleria.

The referendum, in short, it touches a sensitive topic such as the environment. A topic that is the core of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Praised be”. Protection the creation, nature, and the environment, as well as “care of our common home”, are an “urgent challenge” for the citizens of our time and also for Christians as such, as the Pope says in the document. “This sister protests against the evil we are causing to it, due to an irresponsible use and abuse of the goods God put in her.”

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