Italy and the EU: A Relationship with Uncertain Outcomes
Italy has moved from being one of the most pro-European countries to one of the most Eurosceptic. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty opened a new era in Italy-EU relations. The Treaty introduced new, radical macro-economic criteria for entering the newly instituted Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) that asked for a substantial overhaul of the Italian budgetary process. The Italian negotiators of the Treaty accepted them on the assumption that Italy needed an “external constraint” for introducing domestic reforms. Their strategy worked successfully but it was also costly. Indeed, after the sacrifices of the late 1990s, the 2000s were a decade of postponed reforms of both economic and administrative structures. When the financial crisis exploded in 2008-2009, its consequences struck a powerful blow to the unreformed Italian system. The following decade constituted the most dramatic period in the economic life of the country, as the financial crisis’ harsh social repercussions were comparable only to wartimes. Constrained by EMU decisions and approved intergovernmental treaties, Italy had to introduce reforms that not only, after long last, called into question vested corporate interests, but also generated dramatic social problems. Not surprisingly, a Eurobarometer survey released in August 2017 reported that a total of 86% of Italians considered their economic situation as “rather” or “very” bad (compared to an average of 51% in the EU28), or only 36% of Italians said that they trust the EU (compared to an average of 42% in the EU28). The same Eurobarometer recorded that, for the Italians, unemployment and immigration constituted the most pressing issues the country faces, issues where the role of the EU was either complicit or marginal. Finally, the elections of March 4, 2018 showed the dramatic impact of those issues on the political behaviour of the voters. The elections led to the spectacular success of the 5Stars Movement in the south, which proposed a guaranteed basic income for the unemployed, and of the League in the north, which called for the expulsion of 600,000 illegal immigrants.