The event took place on Wednesday 13 May from 11:00 to 12:30 (Brussels time) via Zoom. The aim of the debate was to shed light on the state of play of Euroscepticism in Italy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to understand how Eurosceptic parties in the country have confronted this crisis to further delegitimize the EU in Italy.
In the aftermath of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy, the need to find urgent economic and social responses has resulted in an unprecedented centralisation of power by the Italian Government. The nature of the current Italian Government is unprecedented too. The latter was formed in September 2019 upon an unusual coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Democratic Party (PD), after a failing attempt by the former Minister of Interior and leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, to take over the power. Paradoxically enough, with the Parliament playing a very little role in determining the urgent plans needed, Prime Minister Conte has been assuming almost absolute power, the same one that Salvini once wished to obtain.
Against this backdrop, Italian sovereignism is not over; it has simply changed its connotations. Matteo Salvini’s League and Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy are unexpectedly becoming frontrunners in the defence of democracy and freedom. They criticise the Government for not consulting the Parliament enough and, by often minimising the risk of the pandemic, they support the opening up of all social and economic activities as soon as possible to allow citizens to go back to their “normal lives”. At the regional level, local governments, led by the League and the centre rights coalition, are often using the central government as a scapegoat when it comes to respond to citizens’ fears.
Leaving aside some aesthetic changes in their political discourses, Italian sovereigntist parties are not abandoning their usual anti-European stances. Building on the initial poor reactions of many member states and European institutions vis à vis the urgent needs of Italy, the League and Brothers of Italy attempted to delegitimise any pro-European initiative took by the Government. Certainly, the European dispute about Eurobonds did help them in that. While Conte was busy in negotiating the Recovery plan, Salvini and Meloni were completely discrediting his actions by campaigning against the European Stability Mechanisms, even the one with little conditionality agreed by the European Council.
To sum up, the COVID-19 crisis is building a solid terrain for sovereigntist parties to gain more power in Italy. Although Italian Prime Minister Conte and his government are still enjoying around 64% approval, their enduringness will depend on the capacity to make the country overcoming the pandemic and lead it throughout the deep recession ahead.
The discussion was moderated by Ilke Toygür, Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute (Spain) and member of the TEPSA Board, and featured presentations by:
- Eleonora Poli, Researcher at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) (Italy).
- Nicoletta Pirozzi, Head of the EU program and Institutional Relations at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) (Italy) and member of the TEPSA Board.
- Carolina Plescia, Assistant Professor at the University of Bologna (Italy).
Overall, through this debate TEPSA contributed to an improved understanding of Euroscepticism in Italy, the future of its political actors and governability in the country. At the same time, the discussion helped with forward-looking reflections on what can the European Union do to change this trend and persuade the Italian citizenry about the European project.
This discussion took place in the framework of the presentation of the TEPSA book “Euroscepticism and the Future of Europe: Views from the Capitals”, edited by Michael Kaeding, Johannes Pollak and Paul Schmidt. This book sheds light on how the increasing prominence of Eurosceptic and nationalist parties is having an impact on the thinking of mainstream parties, their representatives in the European Parliament, and the future of Europe. The book provides perspectives on the future of the European project from authors in all the EU Member States, as well as neighboring European countries and potential applicant nations.