The strong performance of Eurosceptic parties in Italy’s 4 March election stands out in a country that was generally pro-European in years past. EURACTIV.fr reports
The aftershocks of Italy’s electoral earthquake continue to make themselves felt. On Sunday 4 March Italians voted en masse for Eurosceptic parties: the Five Star Movement (M5S) topped the polls with 32% of votes, while the Northern League (far-right) increased its votes fourfold compared with the 2013 elections.
It has been branded a blow to Europe, as Italians have long been considered one of the most pro-European populations within the EU.
“Three decades ago, Italians were highly pro-Europe, but today they are among the most ‘Euromorose’ of the EU’s nations,” stated the researchers Daniel Debomy, Emmanuel Rivière and Arno Husson in a policy paper for the Institut Jacques Delors.
In 1991, 79% of Italians expressed favourable opinions about their country’s membership of the bloc compared to only 36% in autumn 2017 (41% had a neutral viewpoint).
At 21 points below the European average, Italy places third in the list of least favourable countries to the EU, following Cyprus and the Czech Republic.
A trend that goes back to the 1990s
The migrant crisis and Europe’s alleged ineffectiveness in providing help to the country are often put forward in political debates to explain Italy’s disenchantment with the EU.
“Europe has left Italy to its own devices concerning a major problem that affects the whole continent,” said Pierre Musso, professor at the University of Rennes 2, during a study day on the results of the Italian elections organised by CERI (the Centre for International Studies and Research) on 7 March.
“It’s clear that in the opinion of Italians, the European Union (and neighbouring member states) showed great indifference and a lack of solidarity towards their country,” said the authors of the policy paper published by the Institut Jacques Delors.
But some researchers believe that there are deeper roots to Italy’s disenchantment with Europe. Marc Lazar, director of Science Po’s History Centre and a specialist on Italy, identifies three significant moments to explain Italy’s progressive move away from Europe.
The first dates back to “the 1990s with the implementation of the Maastricht criteria which put an end to the Italian model for the development of the economy and society by increasing public debt and deficits”.
Then comes “the 2007-2008 economic and financial crises” and the migrant crisis in 2013 when migrant boats were shipwrecked off the island of Lampedusa.
Uncertainty over the future of Italy in Europe
For now, uncertainty prevails over the country’s future path. Although Eurosceptic parties led the polls, none obtained enough support for an absolute majority and negotiations will begin on 23 March to try to form a coalition.
The European position of the future government will largely depend on the outcome of these negotiations. Even if the government ends up being led by a Eurosceptic party, experts are still unsure of the consequences for Europe.
Marco Tarchi, a professor at the University of Florence, downplayed the effects of the potential rise to power of Eurosceptic parties, insisting that whatever coalition emerges from the talks “should not call into question Italy’s membership of the European Union or its accession to the eurozone.”
For Tarchi, the main consequence could be a hardening of Italian positions in negotiations at European level, ready to review its positions “rather than simply obeying, systematically and without discussion”.
Marc Lazar highlighted the risk of the country becoming marginalised, in the event of new life being breathed into the Franco-German European partnership.
“The aim of Italian policy on Europe is to try to be a part of this partnership (…). If it marginalises itself or becomes marginalised by France and Germany this would only sustain the sentiment (…) of a country that feels that it has been abandoned by the European countries.”
On a more positive note, Federico Santi, researcher at the Eurasia Group think-tank believes that the far right and the M5S could moderate their position once in power, to “prove their status as a credible government”, AFP reported.