Italexit: Italy may be 'better off without EU's dynamic' says expert

Clamour for the Italian version of Brexit has been ramped up amid disputes over debts, high financial contributions and the desire to regain sovereignty. Key Italian figures, including Gianluigi Paragone – leader of the Italexit Party, have demanded Italy be “free from the cage of the European Union and the single currency”. This view was echoed by prominent politician Matteo Salvini, who leads eurosceptic anger toward the bloc, and once declared the euro currency a “crime against humanity”.

Many critics argue that since Italy adopted the euro in 1999, restraints from the bloc have crippled the eurozone’s third largest economy.

Rates of growth have been minimal, economic expert Larry Elliott argued, which has led to outrage among some towards the EU.

Lynda Telford, author of Women in the Vatican – Female Power in a Male World, argued that such was the increasing levels of poor people in the country, even Pope Francis himself could accept an Italexit vote – as long as it meant the country became richer.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Ms Telford said: “I think Francis’ view on Italy is certainly important, and he is concerned for poor people.

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“And Italy has got poorer since it’s been in the EU.

“I’d imagine that Francis, who is a very sensible person, just wants to see his people, able to lead a decent life again, have work and just lead a normal life.”

After the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, the rise of anti-Brussels sentiment grew in Italy, and Mr Elliott detailed how the country had “become the sick man of Europe” after less than 20 years inside the bloc.

Writing for The Guardian after the referendum, he explained that any hope Italy had regarding its inclusion into the euro was “misplaced”.

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Since the eurozone began in 2002, “the growth performance of those inside the bloc as a whole was poor”, Mr Elliott wrote, “but Italy’s was dismal”.

He revealed that Italy’s economy was smaller in 2016 than it had been in 2008, while 2014’s birthrate was the lowest since Italy became a state in 1861.

He added: “If there was a contest for the unwanted title of the sick man of Europe in the 21st century, Italy would walk it.”

This rhetoric, and desire to quit the EU, began to grow in the aftermath of Brexit, and is now championed across most parts of the EU.

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Italy’s frustrations grew even further last year, after it became Europe’s hot-spot for the initial coronavirus outbreak, which decimated an already economically struggling country.

Along with Spain, Italy called on the EU for support, yet the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden – dubbed the “Frugal Four” – initially blocked the move for a coronavirus package of support.

The “Frugal Four” backed the concept of a “one-off emergency fund” but were against debt sharing, or a significant increase in the EU budget.

The countries see mutual debt as a grave concern, as it could bring about Eurobonds, which would see the likes of the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden pick up the bill for other countries’ debt.

Writing a London School of Economics blog at the time, Andrew Watt, head of the unit for European economic policy at the Hans-Böckler Foundation, said: “The Frugals, on paper, have a fairly strong position in the sense that this whole thing is located within the European Union budget.

“In practice, though, none of them want to go down in the history books as the country that, faced with a pandemic, after all these countries have gone through, let them starve.”

A coronavirus package would later be agreed to help the countries most struggling in the pandemic.

These incidents only fuelled the likes of Mr Paragone to ensure the topic of Italexit is properly considered in government, and believes “Italians are starting to reawaken”.

He told Financial Review last year: “They’re starting to remember what they had forgotten as a result of these 20 years of austerity and de-industrialisation.

“Italians are starting to realise what their country is truly capable of. But also that this can be achieved only outside the financial and economic cage that is the EU, and especially the euro.”

Opinion polls have also seen a shift in pro-Italexit desire, after a 2020 Tecne poll of 1,000 people in Italy found 49 percent would vote to leave – up from 29 percent at the end of 2018.

A Termometro poll, at the same time, saw 2,200 Italians interviewed, with 39 percent voicing their wish to quit the bloc, against 41 percent to remain, and 15 percent undecided.

Previously, Pope Francis has discussed Europe and what can be achieved with the union, when he made an address to mark the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration last year.

The declaration came as part of a speech made by Robert Schuman in 1950, then a French Minister in the foreign office, who proposed putting France and Germany under a single authority for the production of steel and coal.

This agreement would later be opened to other European countries.

Francis, speaking at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, said the Schuman Declaration “inspired the process of European integration, enabling the reconciliation of the peoples of the continent after World War 2, and the long period of stability and peace from which we benefit today”.

He also called for those inside the bloc to face the economic consequences of the pandemic “in a spirit of harmony and collaboration”.

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