Italian politics have always been slightly unpredictable but the recent electoral landslide that saw Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, or ‘Brothers of Italy’ party, sweep to victory with over 40% of the total vote, shocked many thought leaders in the European Union.
Giorgia Meloni’s party represents a fairly widespread opinion in Italy that the EU is overly bureaucratic, undemocratic and favors the Northern countries of Europe, such as France and Germany, in its general economic policies. The Brothers of Italy party is considered to be a center right populist party that supports traditional nationalism and conservatism; all views which are broadly opposed to the EU as a whole.
Giorgia Meloni’s victory has forced the discussion relating to EU membership back into the limelight at a time when the economic, social and cultural issues facing Italy are more prominent than ever. Energy shortages, rising unemployment, war on the EU’s Eastern borders and a lack of strong leadership from the continent’s political elite, have all contributed to a growing sense among many voters that leaving the EU is the best policy for Italy to pursue.
What Is The European Union?
The European Union is a project that began in the late 1940s and sought to unify the continent in a supranational economic and political union. Starting with just 6 members, the EU has grown to a total of 27 member countries with a population of almost 450 million people, which makes up almost 6% of the planet’s total population. The EU covers an area of over 4 million square km, has a GDP of 13 Trillion Euros and is one of the world’s largest single market (the United States, China and India are the others).
Why Was The European Union Formed?
The pages of the past 1000 years of European history are filled with wars, conflicts, rebellions and numerous periods of widespread social upheaval. In fact, a never-ending cycle of violence plagued Europe right up to the end of World War 2. This was one of the major reasons for the formation of the EU which aimed to bring the nations of Europe together to share resources instead of fighting over them. It is to be noted that the United States had a great influence in the creation of the EU.
As a tribute to the success of the European project of unification, the last 50 years of European history has been a period of unparalleled peace and cooperation on the continent. Living standards, economic opportunities and prosperity all rose dramatically in the post-war period, largely due to the European Union.
Why Should Italy Leave The European Union?
There are many reasons why Italy should consider leaving the EU. The EU is dominated by Northern Europeans and their belief systems and their philosophies. The defense apparatus of the EU in many ways in NATO, which is dominated by the United States, which is not an European nation. Many Europeans are increasingly beginning to feel that the behavior of the United Status towards the Europeans is hegemonic.
The EU Economic Policies Favor The Northern Countries In The Union.
One of the main reasons why many Italians want to leave the EU is that they see the union favoring the larger Northern economies over the Southern nations. For example, between 2012 and 2016 the GDP of Germany rose by 19%, the GDP of the Netherlands rose by 14% and the GDP of Portugal rose by 10%. During the same period, 2012-2016, the Italian GDP rose by just 6%.
This clear disparity has long been a cause for complaint in Italy where people feel that the general economic policies of the EU funnel investment into the larger, wealthier nations and leave countries like Italy and Greece to struggle without the same levels of support.
High Levels Of Migration Into The European Union.
Another major concern in Italy is the levels of immigration into the European Union. A large proportion of these refugees arrive in Italy where they require support and assistance to find work and housing. Each year tens of thousands of refugees arrive in Italy by sea, often taking dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean to reach the European continent.
For instance, in 2016 over 180,000 refugees arrived in Italy having made the risky sea crossing although by 2021, the levels had fallen to around 60,000 new arrivals by sea. Even so, many Italians feel that the cost of housing and supporting the newly arrived migrants is not fairly borne by other countries in Europe.
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Some people think that unless Italy can control its own levels of immigration the country’s national interests could be damaged. This sentiment is partly due to the high levels of unemployment in Italy, particularly in the younger generations. With unemployment levels hovering around the 9% mark, many Italians feel that high levels of immigration are putting unnecessary pressure on the local job market.
There are many small towns in Southern Italy that initially welcomed these new refugees from Africa and other regions. One of the key reasons they did this was because the younger Italians moved out of these towns for better opportunities. Media outlets all over the world praised the administrators of these small towns, but things have changed. These towns are totally dependent on government funding to support the refugees. Once the funds dry up, these towns are back to square one.
The European Parliament Does Not Equally Represent All Member States.
The European Union, partly as a result of its sheer size, is not always very transparent in the way that the bureaucratic decisions are made at the highest levels. There are also concerns about the way that nations are represented in the European parliament. For instance, Malta, a small European nation, has 6 representatives, known as MEPs, in the EU parliament compared to Germany which has 96 MEPs. By comparison, Italy has around 73 MEPs in the EU parliament.
This means that on any decision, the will of the German people will be overrepresented compared to other nations, such as Italy or Malta. However, the number of representatives is based on the population size of the nation, much like the American House of Representatives. Even so, this issue causes concerns among some Italians.
Lack Of Independent Trade And Foreign Policy.
It is in the best interest of every nation to follow an independent foreign policy, a policy that reflects what is in the nations best interests. Member nations of the EU have certain flexibility when it comes to their foreign policy but not entirely. For example, there are many people in Germany with close cultural ties with Russia. After World War II, Germany has developed close ties with the former Soviet Union and now Russia.
Cheap energy from Russia has enabled Germany to grow rapidly and become the most dominant economy of Europe. This is changing and Germany is in the process of getting deindustrialized because it reluctantly joined the sanctions against Russia. This is not in Germany’s best national interest.
This is very true in the case of Italy also. Italy used to import almost 40% of its natural gas from Russia through pipelines. Italy is now in the process of reducing this energy “dependence” on Russia. Italy is trying to source oil and natural gas from African countries, many of whom are unstable and corrupt.
Sovereignty Is Essential To Democracy.
Sovereignty is the ability of the state to govern itself. Sovereignty is essential for a functioning democracy. Italy and many European nations are not sovereign nations. They do not have control over their borders, they do not have the right to make independent policy decisions and they have outsourced the defense of their borders to a non-European nation, namely the United States.
If you lack sovereignty, the way other nations treat and perceive you will also be different. If they have an important issue to discuss, who should they discuss it with? The leaders of Italy or the leaders of the country that has several bases and thousands of troops in Italy or the leaders of the EU in Brussels? Countries like India have stayed away from signing free trade agreements with nations in the EU precisely because of these reasons. On the other hand, India is very close to signing a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
Reasons Why Italy Should Stay In The European Union.
Staying in the EU has certain benefits. One could argue that Italy and it’s neighbors can come to an agreement on all of the items below without having the need to establish an European parliament or an EU trade and foreign policy.
The EU Makes It Easier To Travel – For Business And Tourism.
A fantastic benefit of the European Union is the ability of its citizens to travel freely to any other member state. The area of free travel is known as the ‘Schengen Zone’ and means that as long as you are staying for less than 90 days in another country you don’t need to fill out any extra paperwork or apply for a Visa.
The freedom to travel is great for tourists but it also helps people move from one country to another for work. After arriving in a new country from another member state, you have 3 months to sort out the rest of your paperwork. This helps to boost the economic opportunities for everyone living in the European Union. These benefits also apply to students who want to study in another member state.
The EU Has Improved Food Standards And Consumer Safety.
Before the EU established continent-wide health and safety standards there were frequent problems with poor-quality food, consumer products and services. Cross-border trade required constant inspections and monitoring to ensure that dangerous foods didn’t end up on the supermarket shelves of another country. These onerous requirements cost a huge amount of money and severely limited trade within the European continent.
This was another reason why the EU was established, to address the issues that were hampering the profitability and smooth running of cross-border trade in Europe. The EU, despite setting up a whole new raft of regulations, has done a great deal to improve the economic growth of the European continent by streamlining cross-border trade.
The EU Consistently Protects Human Rights.
Although it’s not very well known, many parts of Europe had terrible human rights records before the establishment of the EU. For example, former Eastern Bloc countries effectively had no functioning legal system and corruption was rife throughout the entire continent. Prison conditions in parts of Southern and Eastern Europe were appalling and labor rights in Northern Europe were seriously below standard.
The European Union set up the European Courts of Human Rights (ECHR) to monitor human rights across the continent and ensure that the highest standards of legal representation, dignity and rights are maintained. The ECHR guarantees equal treatment for everybody living in the union, regardless of nationality, gender, religion or culture. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements of the EU because it allows the citizens of the entire continent to operate under a fair legal system.
The Intergenerational Factor.
The feelings about EU membership in Italy are far from unified. Generally speaking, the biggest critics of the EU come from the older generations while the younger Italians have, by and large, embraced the European project and remain firm supporters of the union, despite the prevailing economic and social problems facing the country today.
Younger Italians tend to believe that the current issues can be overcome with cooperation between the nations of the EU instead of further division. This intergenerational difference is not unique to Italy; in fact, it’s reflected very consistently across the entire continent.
This seems to indicate that even if political movements that are in favor of leaving the EU occasionally emerge in Italy, the general trend will see these sentiments fade over time.
Will Italy Leave The European Union?
Despite the perceptions of some, Giorgia Meloni is not strictly opposed to the EU and does not actually advocate leaving the union. In an exclusive interview with Reuters in August 2022, Giorgia Meloni said that she ‘does not mean that we want to destroy Europe, that we want to leave Europe, that we want to do crazy things.’
Shortly before Meloni was sworn in as the first female president of Italy, she was quoted in the Financial Times of London as saying that her support for Europe and NATO would be the ‘cornerstone’ of her new government.
This statement, among others, shows that Giorgia Meloni thinks leaving the EU would be ‘crazy’ and that she has no intention to do so. Instead, as she went on to say, her main ambition is to protect the national interests of Italy. So it is more likely that she will use the leverage of her recent success in the elections to seek extra benefits from the EU, such as lower taxes or higher rates of investment.
Should Italy Leave The EU? On balance, when the huge benefits that EU membership has brought to Italy and the rest of the European continent are considered, it’s unlikely that leaving the union would help Italy and its people in the short term. In the long term, Italy has to start thinking about it’s own best interests.