Italy: With Grillo also the euro. No problem

According to this poll a large majority of Italians are in favor of staying in the Eurozone they do not even want a formal referendum on staying in the Eurozone. But on the other hand lot of Italians voted for Grillo, Berlusconi, for politicians critical towards the EU, Eurozone. Would you say it is a contradiction or not, and why?

Erik JonesProfessor of European Studies, Director, Bologna Institute for Policy Research, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Bologna Center, The Johns Hopkins University

I wouldn’t read too much into the anti-euro rhetoric of either Berlusconi or Grillo at this point. Both have said things against the euro and popular support for participation in the euro is generally weak in Italy (whatever the polling data may say at the moment). But he euro itself is not the most salient issue for Italian voters. Instead, they are focused on three things:

First and foremost, they want a new ruling class. The corruption and privileges of the existing gerontocracy have alienated one out of every two voters below the age of 25. Older voters hold their noses at the polls. The spate of scandals and court cases roiling around Berlusconi at the moment are only a contributing factor. Each of the main political parties is involved in some unpleasantry or another. Each has conflicts of interest. And the mafia is omnipresent. Within that context, it is small wonder that they have empowered Grillo to reject any possible coalition apart from one that his people dominate directly.

The very close second concern is unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment. This is obviously important for Grillo’s constituency because they are the most directly affected. It explains his desire to lighten the burden of austerity as well.

The third concern is the terrible state of public services. You will not hear much about this in the conversation, but it is there nonetheless. It affects primary and secondary education in terms of very basic facilities; the university sector is approaching a state of crisis. Successive educational reforms have not improved the situation. If anything, they have made it worse. This creates the impression that the government is incapable of doing anything or offering any meaningful public service.

So what do they want? They want a new political class with more responsive institutions. They want jobs and career prospects. And they want better education and health provision (but since they are rather young, education ranks slightly higher).

Europe and the euro only tangentially related to these concerns. Nevertheless, to the extent to which either Europe or the euro insulate the existing ruling classes, worsen the labor market situation, or enforce cuts in public services like education or health care, both Europe and the euro are likely to lose popular support and either may become a target for public anger. So far that has not happened. Both Grillo and Berlusconi have tried to light the spark and the kindling is all there. Nevertheless, the issue has not caught fire.

Alessandra MignolliRicercatrice di Diritto internazionale, Dipartimento di Scienze Giuridiche, Sapienza Università di Roma

I have to tell you right away that I am strongly convinced that for Italy to get out of the Eurozone would be a disaster, from a political as well as economical point of view. On the other hand, I think that the EU institutions and Member States should be more determined on the road of mutual solidarity in time of crisis, and I think that the Member governments are slowly starting to take that road. What is happening in Italy during the economic crisis is that people perceives the Eurozone institutions and States, first of all Germany, as the main source of Italy’s financial problems, as the authority that is asking for so many sacrifices giving so little in return. This may well be one of the reasons why political forces that are critical towards the EU had so great a success in the recent elections. At the same time, though, Italians are deeply in favor of the European integration, at least from an emotional and also cultural point of view: don’t forget, in fact, that Italy is a founding Member of the Union, and that Italians during 60 years have been accustomed to thinking in terms of European belonging. Add that the Italians in this moment are scared of the future, that is appearing more and more uncertain, and you have the probable motive for this apparent contradiction. Rage against traditional politics and old fashion politicians, distrust towards the Eurozone, but at the same time the persisting willingness to belong to a united Europe, to not feel isolated, more so in times of crisis, I think this are the major elements to take into account in this particular moment.

Diego GarziaJean Monnet Post-doctoral Fellow, European University Institute

Preliminary evidence seems to suggest that the reasons of both Berlusconi’s and Grillo’s voters to support them in the last election had not much to do with the parties’ position towards the EU and the Euro. Berlusconi’s voters voted out of their long-term ideological predispositions (Berlusconi was the only political player in the centre-right side of the political spectrum) as well as Berlusconi’s “offer” to lower taxes and even pay back the 2012 property tax to all citizens. As to the Movimento 5 Stelle, voters would seem to have simply voted for them out of the growing rage towards established political parties – regardless of the concrete issues proposed by the M5S. Moreover, the referendum on the Euro must be considered as only ONE among the many provocative issues advocated in the M5S.

On a more general note, I would say that Europe did not play (quite unexpectedly) such a great role in the campaign. As such, it’s not a big surprise to me the occurrence of many votes to Berlusconi/Grillo by pro-European voters.

Mauro Barisione, Associate professor, Department of Social and Political Sciences – SPS, Università degli studi di Milano

In theory, yes, you are pointing out a contradiction within part of Italian public opinion. In practice, however, the anti-euro discourse wasn’t central in Grillo’s political message, which has been focused since the beginning against traditional party politics and the privileges of political establishment (“la casta”). The same discourse was quite new also in Berlusconi’s lips, and not very credible. It looked rather like a strategic reaction to Mont’s refusal to form an electoral coalition with him, a few months ago.

More importantly, from the voters’ viewpoint, voting M5S doesn’t necessarily involve sharing its policy proposals or political manifesto. For most of its voters, it was essentially a protest vote, a sanction against both the centre-left and centre-right traditional establishment, as well as against Monti’s austerity policies.

Carlo BastasinVisiting Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution, Editorialist, Il Sole-24 Ore

Grillo’s supporters are mainly rebelling against privileges of politicians in the past. The euro-skepticism responds to the fact that in the past two decades Europe has dictated the political economy of all governments. Once those electors look ahead, instead of behind, they still remain pro-Europeans. Nationalism is retrograde for young voters.

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