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“Trade steals our jobs”. Italians the most skeptical of the EU on global commerce

Demonstrations against EU-Canada (CETA) and EU-US (TTIP, then abandonend) free trade agreements in Brussels [personal archive]

Free trade agreements (FTAs) are not good for the national system. That is what Italians believe, according to a survey published yesterday (20 November). No matter what the trade deal is: whether it is EU-Canada (CETA), EU-Mexico, EU-Viet Nam or EU-Singapore, just a little minority in the Italian Peninsula declared to be in favor of signing partnerships with other countries.

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey on Europeans’ attitudes on Trade and EU trade policy, only 35% of Italians approved the commercial relations. Nowhere else in the EU was shown so little confidence in trade, and only Italy and Greece have the absolute majority of the public opinion officially against any trade policy 56% and 54%, respectively). Why such an approach? There is no a specific reason. There are many reason to be against trade, the survey stressed.

Free trade steals my job

Reasons for not benefitting from international trade are varied. In general, in Italy as in the UE, those who are trade-skeptic or completely on the anti-free trade movement side mentioned the impact on the labour market. They believe that trade “has increased unemployment” at national level. ‘Free trade steals my job’ is thus the slogan of those who are not in love with FTAs, including Italians.

The fact that respondents from Italy indicated “to create jobs in the EU” among the top priorities of the European Commission is not a case. Nevertheless, despite Italians are the less enthusiast for FTAs in Europe, public opinions in other 14 EU Member States asked for the safeguard of employment within the single market (Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Ireland, Slovenia, Finland, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, Latvia, Belgium and Poland).

Anyway, in Italy unemployment-related risks is the second biggest reason to justify the anti-free trade sentiment (33%) after the low quality of goods and products put into the market (35%). At national level one person on three is concerned about jobs places, while at EU level one person on four (25%) is worried about.

Economic difficulties behind job fear

Of course financial problems play a role in feeding this anti-trade sentiment. According to the Eurobarometer survey work-related issues are mentioned mainly by those who struggle financially (58% of those who have difficulties paying bills most of the time compared to 54% who have difficulties from time to time and 53% who almost never or never have difficulties).

EU at stake?

Among the others, an element in particular emerged from the Eurobarometer survey on Europeans’ attitudes on Trade and EU trade policy, the one of mistrust and disaffection. In Italy as well as in the EU we do not get to have two out of ten people (14% and 18% respectively) who consider the already signed FTAs with Canada, Japan and Mexico as good in terms of creating new jobs.

It sounds like an alarm bell for the European Commission, which has the power of negotiating free trade agreements on behalf of the 28 Member States. Just few people believe that this EU trade policy strengthens the economic role of Europe on the international stage. Only 23% of EU citizens are convinced of this. In Italy this figure stood at 18%.

Looking behind, it must be recalled that the EU was born and is based on the assumption that sharing resources is key to preserve peace among peoples and nations. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was created in 1951 (to enter into force the following year) in order to promote cooperation among the Europeans. ECSC is where everything has begun. The EU comes from the ECSC. If the history and essence of the integration process is questioned, so is the European Union.

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