How has the UK’s decision to leave the EU been received in Italy?
Italy is characterized by its highly fragmented political reality. The public debate is dominated by similar divisions that are in some way even more accentuated than those featured within parliament. From an international perspective, particularly concerning the European Union, the ongoing tension is merely represented by Eurosceptics vs Europeanists.
Brexit has definitely cemented the Eurosceptic position. Leaving EU is possible, with potential negative repercussions on the unity of the Europeanist front.
How concerned are you about the impact on Italian citizens living in the UK?
About 300 thousand Italians live in London and are employed in various fields, particularly in the financial sector.
Naturally, especially those that are directly implicated, fear the consequences of a “Hard Brexit”, the most severe option consisting of a clear break with the EU and one that is strongly favoured by Theresa May.
At the moment, while we wait for the British Government to trigger Article 50 there are no certainties. In fact, the Supreme Court ruling that is expected by the end of January could enable Parliament to make the final decision concerning the future of the UK (and doing so, also that of our fellow citizens that live across the channel).
We will have a more precise idea regarding the process of the UK’s departure from the EU once the Court ruling has been decided and following the triggering of Article 50.
Do you think Italy will change its position on the free movement of people and access to the Single Market once negotiations begin?
The new Gentiloni Government – like the preceding Renzi Government – while retaining a critical standpoint on the Union’s political-economic asset, strongly favours progressive European integration, particularly concerning the development of the Single Market. The Government has therefore demonstrated particular caution when giving indications with regards to the London-Brussels break.
Should an increase in Eurosceptic sentiment be strong enough to result in the victory of the principal anti-establishment party, the Five Star Movement, in the next elections (in Spring 2017 or more likely following the natural expiration of the current legislature, in Spring 2018), the Executive may change perspective, with a new Government that will not only merely favour a “Hard Brexit”, but also an overall rethinking of European policies.
Such an eventuality could be made more difficult by the new electoral laws that are currently under scrutiny in Parliament.
Do you think growing Euroscepticism across Europe will play a part in the elections early next year?
Euroscepticism is a growing sentiment that incarnates different notable European political parties: in the Italian case there are two Eurosceptic political parties that exceed 10% at the polls (Five Star Movement, around 27-28% and Northern League, around 15%). In the eventuality of a call for early elections, a “QuItaly” perspective could be utilized as a high-impact political marketing strategy.
In Holland, Geert Wilders, leader of the party that is drafting “Nexit” (Netherlands’ leaving the EU), with respect to the other candidates, seems to have an advantage for the political elections that will take place in March.
France, will head to the polls on April 23rd representing yet another interesting case: Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, seems to be a plausible candidate for President.
Autumn 2017 will be Berlin Bundestag’s turn; Angela Merkel could experience difficulties in competing against the leader of the extreme right movement (Afd), Frauke Petry.
The Italian referendum in December was named as the most dangerous moment for Europe since Brexit. Do you agree? It an Italian exit from the EU a possibility?
Up until now, from a parliamentary majority perspective, the Italian referendum did not cause upset, resulting in a certain stability within the country. Besides the departure of a restricted group of centre-right senators, which was compensated for by the entry of so called “responsible senators”, the balance of the two Chambers remains undistorted.
Following Renzi’s resignation, the Democratic Party (Italy’s leading political party), is now dominated by strong internal dynamics. The party’s frictions have been momentarily frozen by the formation of an Executive aimed at preserving institutional continuity: Gentiloni’s Cabinet (former Minister for Foreign Affairs).
One of the main pillars of Gentiloni’s political agenda is the reform of current electoral law. Political forces within the majority might decide to draft a bill that could represent a serious obstacle for an eventual victory of Eurosceptic forces.