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Is Italy out of love with EU?

Italian flags with the slogan "my vote counts" in a public rally. Despite slogans, Italians don't feel their opinion can make the difference in Europe [personal archive]

Italians don’t have much confidence in the European Union, the latest Eurobarometer survey revealed. According to the opinion poll released  just before the Christmas break, voters in Italy don’t trust the EU more than the British.

Also, Italians don’t think their opinion counts much at EU level. This is something to take into account, since the next European elections, to be held next May, are practically behind the corner. It is a different matter if those who wish to win the popular trust will take these findings on board.

Trust in the EU is far from being predominant in Italy, one of the six founding members of the European Union. On the contrary, the country is among the last in terms of confidence in the European project. Only 36% “tend to trust” the European Union. Conversely, 55% of Italians admit they do not trust the European Union. Only in four EU countries the level of trust was at lower levels, including the UK, on its way to Brexit.

While the share of the “EU-friendly” Italians remained stable compared to the spring values, the percentage of Italians who distrust the EU increased by 4% from Spring to Autumn 2018. Undoubtedly, this happened against the background of the campaigning for the 4 March 2018 general elections.

My voice has no value”. Towards stronger abstentionism?

The opinion poll may suggest that in May the Italians could tend toward even bigger abstentionism, or cast a strong vote against this European Union, perceived as distant or even useless. When asked about the importance of their voice, the strong majority of Italians (66%) declared to “totally disagree” that their vote matters. Only three Italians out of ten (31%) believe they can impact on Europe through their active participation. Scandinavian countries and Belgium top the list of countries the citizens of which believe their vote matters.

Only in five EU countries citizens are even more pessimistic about the importance of their vote (Greece, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia). Surprisingly, UK nationals are more optimistic about the importance of their vote in the EU, at 2% more, compared to Italians.

Don’t touch my Euro

Italians don’t believe so much in Europe, but they appreciate the single currency. 63% of interviewed people declared to be in favour of the Euro, marking a two-point increase since spring 2018. This result brings Italy slightly above the EU average of 62%.

This finding acquires particular importance in view of the political ideas expressed in the past by the leaders of the two political parties now in power in Italy – the far-right Lega and the anti-system 5-Star Movement. 

Both the League and the Five Star Movement have repeatedly spoken out against the single currency, suggesting the idea of a return to the former Italian currency, the Lira. Apparently such an idea is not on the political agenda of the Italian ruling parties any longer. Whoever will run in order to try to get as many votes as possible is unlikely to mention any “Italexit”, namely the way out from the eurozone.

Migration in focus

The Eurobarometer survey also offers insight on opinions about EU policies and challenges for the Union. Unsurprisingly, Italians are concerned about migration, both domestically and at EU level. Refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants are considered by Italians as the number one top priority the EU should solve (41%). 

This however is very close to the EU average of 40%, and much below the perceptions of countries that have experienced no migration challenge. (Estonia tops the list of countries where migration is perceived as the biggest threat, with 65% of respondents considering it as the biggest challenge.)

There is little doubt that such attitudes boost the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, seen by many Italians as the politician capable of changing the status quo at both levels. Last summer Salvini closed the Italian harbours to the NGO vessels engaged in search and rescue operations. As a result, NGOs no longer operate in the Mediterranean, and the Lega leader was perceived by many as the winner. In Italy migration is expected to play a major role in the next European elections. And if the EU is perceived as incapable of providing the answers, the anti-EU ticket could only be stronger.

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Disclaimer

The project was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this project. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the project.