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Will Italy be the main exponent of the anti-EU sentiment in Europe?

This time more than ever these European elections “really do matter”. It is the future of Europe to be at stake, a prominent think-tank warned in its latest scoreboard on the political situation in the EU member States. If anti-European forces get the control of the European Parliament, the entire course of the political life of the EU as we know it will radically change and could even be over, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) cautioned in its 48-pages document.

The real challenge will be turnout. People not familiar with the European Union and the EU affairs could be tempted to stay home. The same behavior could be expected also from those who are basically not interested in Europe. Abstentionism could make the fortune of the eurosceptics, therefore their opponents should better convince people to vote.

Nothing is decided yet, so let’s decide

Recent national elections in France, Germany, Sweden, and Italy “have shown that Europeans are increasingly willing to gamble with a vote against the establishment”, stressed the ECFR. Nevertheless, nothing is decided yet. Pro-European forces “have the potential to repel the attack” launched by the anti-European. In order to succeed, “they cannot simply defend the status quo or engage in the polarized debate that both sides are currently shaping”. Traditional political forces will have to propose some change. That requires thinking out of the box.

“Despite their different ideological traditions, pro-European parties will need to become more open to compromise with one another to collectively defend the European project”, ECFR stressed.

It is thus matter of political recipes, and it is about messages to be disseminated in all the EU countries during this crucial electoral campaign. Last but not least, the pro-European narrative must succeed in revert the idea that may people have in Europe, according to which EU institutions have too much power. The European Union idea is confronted with the United Europe of nations idea, with the latter on the rise. This is why next May elections are unlike the previous ones.

What is at stake

There is nothing to joke about. For sovereignists, populists and euro-skeptics winning more than   33% of seats in the European Parliament (33.3%) would enable them to form a minority that could block some of the EU’s procedures and make the adoption of new legislation “much more cumbersome”. An example in this sense is the rule of law. One of the key procedural powers that flows from controlling at least 33% of EP seats is that to block the EU’s Article 7 mechanism, which is designed to defend the rule of law in member states. [see Article 354 of TEU]

Then comes the budget. The European Parliament has a crucial role in shaping the EU Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF). In case the so-called “mainstream” (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens) is divided, the anti-systems forces can “influence the shape of the MFF and its programs” as well as the annual budget of the EU.

Trade is also at stake. “The threat of a parliamentary veto is enough to shape the EU’s trade policies”, the think-tank recalled. More are the anti-system MEPs, higher is the probability to be in troubles when it will come to trade.

Italy as the Trojan horse?

The European elections in Italy are very tricky, according to the analysis made by the think-tank. First of all, “Italy’s two largest parties are both deeply Euro-skeptic, albeit in different ways”. This means that the country will bring to Brussels a majority of MEPs against the EU project. If you look for defenders of Europe, don’t look at Italy.

Rather than the real issues on the table, Italians’ attention will be prey to pure propaganda. ECFR has no doubts: “Lega will emphasize the need for a common asylum policy, strongly linking migration to domestic and European security problems”, while at the same time “the Five Star Movement will focus more on economic issues: putting an end to the EU’s austerity policies, making sure that national sovereignty has precedence over globalization, and calling for a major reform of the EU’s trade agreements”.

“Basta euro” (enough euro). Matteo Salvini, leader of The League, campaigning against the single currency [personal archive]

In other words, in Italy, the European Parliament elections risk “becoming a referendum on the government’s approach to the EU”, thereby “largely mobilizing its greatest critics and supporters rather than the less partisan sections of the electorate”.

Considering that Matteo Salvini’s The Leauge “is poised for a clear victory – possibly becoming one of the two biggest national parties in the next EP, alongside Germany’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union”, sadly, Italy is the main exponent of the anti-European sentiment in Europe and will contribute to feed the anti-EU activity in the next European Parliament.

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