Italy’s pro-European proposal

In the midst of Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini’s attempts to form a united anti-European front, Italian opposition parties are starting to reorganize their ranks in preparation for the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. The first centre-left proposal comes from Carlo Calenda, former Italian Minister of Economic Development during the Renzi and Gentiloni administrations.

His plans for Europe, although still not too detailed or concrete, revolve around the idea of a “New Deal” for the digital era targeting social and economic inequalities. The manifesto also supports the idea of a European army, with common European policies for defence, immigration and border control. In this respect, he calls for a shared management of the migration flows, which would go beyond the Dublin Regulation and towards a common integration system.

Calenda’s manifesto, titled “We are Europeans”, has already gained a discreet support, gathering so far around 150,000 signatures. Among the relevant subscribers from the Italian center-left, many names belong to local and regional administrations, as well as to the civil society and business community. The goal is the creation of a unified pro-European list, and the initial reactions seem to bode well for the former Minister. His declared electoral goal is to gain 30 per cent of the vote or more, while the latest projections from the Cattaneo Institute suggest a potential value of around 22 per cent.

Marco Valbruzzi, a political scientist for the Cattaneo Institute, attributes the estimated value to the nature of the project, which at the moment does not seem to go beyond a sum of different political groupings. However, if Calenda’s plans assumed a more defined identity, he could be looking at a 25 per cent of vote. Although this percentage would still not be enough to pose a threat for the right and far-right Italian formations, it could potentially affect the Five Stars Movement.

Despite the success among the electoral base, the project seems to have encountered obstacles in getting the necessary political support at the party level. Calenda is a member of the Democratic Party (Pd), whose leadership initially appeared favourable to his appeal. Instead, the party congress of this weekend revealed severe inner struggles, as the candidates for the party leadership expressed different degrees of appreciation for the proposal.

Moreover, it is still unclear whether the Democratic Party will present its own independent proposal for the European Elections. According to a survey conducted by the party, “We are European” appeals to 82 per cent of the democratic electorate. Calenda does not appear to be worried for the lack of political support within the party, of which he has spoken very critically: “The Pd is not enough anymore… It has a huge credibility issue in the Country. It can either make itself available for a wider and more convincing project or it will be really at risk of extinction”.

A unified program would represent a benchmark for the Italian centre-left forces, which in recent years have struggled to present a united front. The lack of a cohesive program has certainly been one of the main shortcomings among the opposition, which so far has appeared too weak and fragmented to counteract more “popular” and anti-European movements in the country.

At the same time, the former Minister has carefully reminded that his proposal should not be seen as an appeal directed at any anti-nationalist movement. “It is a manifesto with precise proposals, which need to be shared. It is not ‘against’, but ‘pro’ something”, he reminded during a radio interview. At the moment, the traditional left and centre-left groupings seem reluctant to sacrifice their autonomy in the run for the European Elections, especially for a project which is still lacking definition and a clear identity.

Nonetheless, Calenda still believes that the proposal would be the only one strong enough to defend Italy’s interests in Brussels without turning the country into “Poland and Hungary’s lackey”. Indeed, Salvini has been looking for allies among the Central European countries, where anti-European sentiments are on the rise. Calenda mentions the Visegrad group explicitly in his manifesto, opposing to it an hypothetical “Rome group” composed of an enlarged core of founder Member States to define an agenda for the future developments of the European Union.

The former Minister is convinced that, at least domestically, the immigration crisis will continue to play a central role and will represent one of the most crucial issues during the electoral campaign. In this respect, he recognized the communication mistakes of the left, departing from the idea of a welcome always and for all. At the same time, he believes that the debate should not revolve around “ships transporting a few dozen desperate victims of shipwreck”, he argued referring to the SeaWatch affair. It is important to make a clear distinction between protecting the national borders and abandoning victims, who have nothing to do with the immigration policy.

By Vera Ventura

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