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Italians don’t see the EU as something they can rely on

Flags of Italy and the European Union waving on the main facade of Palazzo Chigi, the seat of the Italian government [personal archive]

The European elections confirmed Italians feel the EU is far from them. Their vote was the expression of disaffection for the European Union, the latest Eurobarometer survey revealed. A special report was published last week under the title “First results of the European Parliament post-electoral survey”, as a first analysis of the citizens’ attitudes across the EU territory. For Italy the main sentiment driving voters was a strong rejection of Europe, not considered as an added value.

In Italy only 42% of people think that the country benefited from the EU membership. Italy has the remarkable negative record of being the only EU country where a minority of the people interviewed were in favor of the European Union. Only in Italy the threshold of those who believe the EU to be a good thing is below 50%, according to the Eurobarometer research.

No other population in the EU showed such a negative vision of Europe, not even in the United Kingdom, although the country is on its way to exit the EU. In this particular comparison it must be noted that public opinion in the UK changed mind more than in Italy. Compared to the previous survey, those who believe that the EU is a benefit for their own country grew by 5% in Great Britain, while in Italy the change was a modest one percent.

Frankly speaking it was possible to jump to the same conclusion as the Eurobarometer already last May, the day after the ballot. Among the five Italian political teams sent to Brussels and Strasbourg only the one of the Democratic Party is fully engaged in relaunching the European Union. Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is still in the EPP, but they center-right party would like to contribute building a more far-right oriented Europe. The other parties who received the confidence of the Italians are all critics to the EU. The Five Star Movement (M5S) is by definition anti-system, Brothers of Italy (FdI) wants less Europeanism and more nationalism, and the League simply dislike this kind of EU.

According to the survey, it seems that Italians don’t want the EU to be completely dismantled. Only a small part of voters declared to have participated to the elections in order to express disagreement (9%), and just a quarter of Italians (25%) declared to have taken part because they are “in favor of the EU”. It means that in Italy the 77% of citizens with the voting right is not Euro-enthusiastic. This could be another reason why the turnout in Italy was the lowest ever (55%).

The impression is that Italians don’t believe in Europe, but at the same time they are not sure to put the integration process to an end. It seems, on the contrary, that they voted for a change. In the special Eurobarometer survey all European were asked: “What are the issues which made you vote in the recent European Parliament elections? Firstly?” Well, Italians said “economy and growth” (55%).

It must be recalled that is up to member states to promote measures and policies on economy and growth. In the case of Italy the answer provided by the people surveyed suggests that the time has come for the Stability and growth pact to be revised. After all, the political debate on public finance characterized the relations between Europe and Italy until few weeks ago.

Since the first days of life of the current Italian government, Rome and Brussels have been fighting over economic policies. It was only at the beginning of July that the European Commission decided not to open an infringement procedure because of the high Italian debt. The story didn’t come to an end, it was just postponed to autumn, but apparently Italians sent a message to the EU. If it was not understood, four Italian political delegations out of five in the new European Parliament will make it heard. 

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