In the wake of successful efforts to defeat a national referendum that would have limited oil drilling, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sought to bolster his environmental credentials by insisting Italy would look to promote renewable energy as well.
Renzi sparked the ire of environmental protection advocates when he took an unusual tact to defeat the April 17 referendum on offshore oil exploration.
Renzi said he wanted the referendum to fail, but rather than encouraging voters to cast ballots against it he asked them to stay home to keep voter turnout low.
It is uncommon for an Italian politician to take that tact. In 1991, Bettino Craxi, a former prime minister who was still secretary of his political party, encouraged would-be voters to "go to the beach" rather than cast ballots on a constitutional reform he opposed.
Renzi's tactic worked.
Around 13.3 million of the 15.1 million ballots cast April 17 were in support of the referendum that would have blocked new oil and gas drilling within 12 miles (19.2 km) of Italy's shore, and phased out 44 existing projects already in production. But the total votes amounted to less than a third of the electorate, far below the 50-percent threshold required to the vote to count.
"It's not exactly a proud moment for Italian democracy for the prime minister to ask people not to vote, but the result of the referendum has to be seen as a victory for Renzi," Lorenzo De Sio, coordinator of the Italian Center for Electoral Studies, of CISE, told Xinhua.
"He got the result he wanted," said the expert.
The result did not earn Renzi accolades from the environmental community, which had pushed hard for the referendum to pass so that resources could be redirected toward cleaner, renewable sources of energy.
"There was a lot of misinformation going around before the vote on the referendum," Rossella Muroni, president of the environmental lobby group Legambiente, said in an interview.
"The government could have shown its commitment to renewable energy by listening to the voice of voters on the issue of oil and gas drilling," said Muroni.
Now, in the wake of the referendum, Renzi is seeking to show a commitment to renewable energy despite his stance on the referendum.
On several occasions since the vote, Renzi has mentioned that renewable energy remains a priority. He also said the continued offshore drilling will help make the transition to renewable energy easier and more affordable.
Renzi left Thursday for New York, to sign the Paris Agreement, the climate change pact negotiated by nearly 200 countries in December in the French capital.
The document obligates Italy and other signees to take specific steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including increasing the use of clean energy. En route, the prime minister promised "near initiatives for renewable energy."
Legambiente's Muroni said the environmental community planned to hold Renzi to his word.
"Two weeks ago, Renzi said he wanted to increase renewable energy production from 40 percent of the country's energy production to half by the end of 2018," Muroni said, adding "We are going to make sure he follows through on that promise."