Can Europe Make It?

Italy turns from one of the most pro-EU countries, to the most eurosceptic

Jacopo Barbati
21 February 2014

Italy is quickly turning from being one of the most pro-EU countries – one of the six founders of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community, precursor of the current EU), the homeland of Altiero Spinelli (main author of the “Ventotene Manifesto” and founder of the Movement of European Federalists in 1943 ) – to being one of the most eurosceptic countries, where it is likely that these anti-EU parties will win a large number of seats at the European Parliament following the May elections.

The Euopean parliamentary elections are indeed very close (22-25/05/2014) and currently the political debate is dominated by issues of internal and national politics. When talking about theEU, eurosceptics take centre stage.

And talking about the “stage” is appropriate, because the leader of the main eurosceptic party in Italy, called Movimento 5 Stelle (“5 Stars Movement”, M5S) is Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo, who gained notoriety in the 1980s for being a satirist on Italian television. When his satire began pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on TV, he began touring Italy with live shows characterized by highly political content. He then moved from the stage to the web, making his blog one of the most followed in the world.

His main points were about the corruption of Italian politicians and the necessity of giving the politics back to citizens (the so-called “antipolitics”). From those foundations, he founded the M5S party, which was able to get 25.5% of total votes at the 2013 Italian general elections. And now, Beppe Grillo is ready to go back on stage touring Italy with his new show, called “Te la do io l’Europa” (“Here you are, this is Europe”). As deducible from the title, this show has as its main point Grillo’s view of the EU. Reading the show synopsis makes things clearer:

“A monster is haunting Europe. It is called the euro. Those who have met it often ended in misery. Whole states have become debtors of a bank, the ECB. If you do not pay, instead of the mafia, the Troika - so much worse - comes. Political Europe has turned into a financial nightmare. Unknown officials are managing our lives, from the mortgage to the cormorant hunting. […]”

Italy was hit very badly by the worldwide economic crisis. For most Italians, the equation was simple: " 2001, I was living in a country which had the seventh biggest GDP in the world. Now I live in the same country but we have nearly 40% of young people who are unemployed, with enterprises closing every day, and businessmen committing suicide over their debts. What changed since 2001? A-ha! The euro! We got the Euro!". Nobody is explaining to people, who are indeed really suffering, that the situation is a bit more complex; that the euro is a great opportunity for financial stability but that it is currently showing its limits only because there is not a common government (democratically legitimated) to rule it; that the EU has no real powers over financial policies and thus member states are trying to solve, at a national level, a crisis that has international origin; that abandoning the euro to go back to the lira (as proposed by a steadily growing number of politicians and economists) would be a step backwards rather than a step forwards.

In a few words: no one, among the most known Italian political parties or politicians, is taking the responsibility to say that leaving the euro is not the only way to move towards the solution of this crisis: we can also push to have a reform of the EU treaties that will lead to a European federation, thus making a United Europe one of the most – if not the most – developed and trustworthy regions of the world, something we cannot hope to accomplish if we go back to our small nation states.

But only one of the major parties has the fight for a federal Europe in its political programmes. That is the Partito Democratico (“Democrat Party”, PD) which is currently drowning in a sea of internal conflicts – too large to be explained in this brief blog – with the only result being the reluctance to talk about the future of the EU, with less than 100 days to go to the EP vote.

This Kafkaesque situation is of course feeding Grillo’s antipolitics: his show will be sold out everywhere and M5S will go beyond the 25%, at EP elections. That is what’s happening in Italy.

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