Michele Marchi: Creeping anti-Europeanism
Creeping anti-Europeanism: a spectre haunting Italy
At the recent Ambrosetti Forum, hosted at Cernobbio as every year, prime minister Mario Monti delivered a heartfelt appeal in favour of the European integration process. He dwelt on the risks associated with the current crisis to the single currency and the “perilous populism that may lead to the European Union disintegrating”. To allay this danger, the Italian premier proposed the highly symbolic gesture of organising an extraordinary European Council of heads of State and government “against populism”; the venue to be equally symbolic: Rome’s Capitol where the EEC act of foundation was signed in 1957.
The proposal was warmly welcomed by Hermann Van Rompuy, and goes to show the authority Mario Monti enjoys in Europe and the world. He is particularly alarmed at the image of the EU and the integration process in general, as perceived in our country and its daily politics. One marked symptom of the populism that Monti fears is the decline of pro-European spirit in Italy. Agreed, the days of Italy as a bulwark of continental Europeanism are over, but the data from the latest Eurobarometer are nonetheless shocking. In the space of a few years national public opinion has swung from convinced Europeanism to Euro-scepticism, if not outright rejection. While 31% of the 27-strong Union taken as a whole state they are confident of what the Union is doing, the figure in Italy is a mere 22%.
Those who say they “somewhat lack confidence in the Union” amount to 62% – 13% up on the previous poll. To 29% of Italians the Union has a distinctly negative image (again, an increase: +8% in the last few months). Lastly, in response to the statement “I feel more secure because my country is a member of the EU”, only 38% of Italians are “completely in agreement” (-15%), while 53% (+20%) are “in total disagreement”. Monti is evidently aware of these figures; but there is another side to creeping populism that he mentioned in his Cernobbio speech.
As public opinion grows doubtful about the value of Europe-building, a sizable part of the political line-up has started exploiting the situation. In its new look under former Home Minister Maroni, the Lega Nord has reverted to anti-Europeanism and criticism of the single currency in particular. This serves to shake the militants out of their bemusement at the internal scandals that have centred round the founder, Umberto Bossi. Maroni answered Monti’s Cernobbio appeal by stating that the Lega is poised to propose a popular-backed bill authorising a referendum to he held, parallel with the next general election, on the subject of Europe and the single currency.