Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Naples for European elections. Demotix/isoimages. All rights reserved. Europeans voted against the establishment. In far too many countries, including France, the UK, Denmark, Austria, and Hungary, this has taken a racist and bigoted form. In others, such as Greece, Spain and Ireland, the anti-establishment vote is decidedly more left-wing and more directed against the politics of austerity. Yet, au fond, it is a sign of deep distrust with the political system and the direction taken so far by the European Union.
Bucking the trend is Italy with the highest turnout, at over 60%, and a firm endorsement of Matteo Renzi’s direction. Italy was beaten severely by the euro crisis and often humiliated by European partners, yet Italians decided to step up and believe in themselves. They shunned the angry and inward-looking defeatism of Beppe Grillo and cast their vote of confidence for positive change.
But the newly elected MEPs of the Italian Democrats must understand that they need to honour that trust and deliver real change in Europe. In June, Italy will be taking over the Presidency of the European Union and will be in a position to influence its direction. This is a crucial opportunity for Italy to make its mark and counter the dogma of austerity as much as the division between so-called core countries and peripheral countries. It is an opportunity for proposing alternatives and a path of growth.
Europe is tired of the crisis, of the loss of welfare, the backbone of European nations and of their identity, and of immigration seemingly changing the face of European countries. Immigration, in particular, has dominated the political discourse in recent years across the Union. The fact that immigration has a positive effect on a country’s economy is soon dispelled by fear. The fact that immigration to much of Europe has fallen is not talked about.
European media and populists feel threatened by changes they cannot control and have found a convenient scapegoat. Europe is going through a very deep identity crisis at the national and federal (yes, federal) level. It has realised that instead of riding the wave of globalisation, it has been dragged along, suffering all the consequences of transformations taking place on the other side of the world. Employment has become increasingly precarious and badly paid; younger generations face lower living standards and have little prospect of a secure old age; all the while their parents are often relied upon to provide the childcare they simply cannot afford.
Globalisation is a complex mixture of processes that connect together different countries, but with profoundly unequal impacts. The complex and contradictory global changes engulfing Europe cannot be managed at the national level, but require strong European and international institutions. It will not happen overnight, but Europe must raise its game if we want a more equitable world. In an atmosphere of distrust and discouragement, the Italian vote shines out as a ray of hope that should not be brushed aside as a merely national and temporary result.
It is the willingness to start again, to believe in ourselves, and to build a future. There are too many MEPs elected on the basis of parochialism, racism, and blind opposition to all. Italy has gone against the dark fears paralysing much of Europe. Let it not be in vain. Let MEPs from across Europe embrace that ray of hope and unite in building a brighter future.
Read more from our European elections coverage here.