Italexit: Will Italy be next to leave the EU?

Italexit: Will Italy be next to leave the EU?

"Italy got drunk on the idea of the European project and fell in love. But now people understand that we were better off before."

That's what Gianluigi Paragone, former journalist and senator of Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said in a recent interview, outlining why he's forming the rebellious Italexit party, hoping to revive the dormant debate over Italy's possible withdrawal from the European Union. Will the Italexit movement gain steam?


Italy's pain. Italy's pandemic experience has been a horror story. An early COVID-19 epicenter, it has now recorded more than 35,000 deaths, mostly in the northern Lombardy region where hospitals were overrun and doctors were forced to make gut-wrenching decisions about who lives and dies.

The economic pain has also been acute. Italy's economy, which has the second-highest public debt-to-GDP ratio in the EU, is set to shrink by at least 11.2 percent this year, according to the European Commission, the worst projection among all 27 EU member states. Its tourism-dependent economy is reeling as foreign travel has ground to a halt. (Tourism accounts for about 13 percent of Italy's GDP, while some 4 million jobs in Italy are attributable to tourism, the highest number of any country that Eurostat has collected data for.)

Making matters worse, poverty and inequality have long been surging in Italy, while upward mobility has sagged. Meanwhile, a fractious coalition government has failed to improve the lives of Italy's shrinking middle class. It's no surprise then that millions of Italians are frustrated, insecure, and worried about their futures.

This pessimism has helped far-right firebrand Matteo Salvini cut a dominant figure in Italian politics in recent years. Though his nationalist Lega party leads the polls, Salvini himself has moderated his views on the European project in recent months, creating a policy vacuum that Italexit advocates may seek to fill.

A populist's dream. Gianluigi Paragone was recently in London, meeting with Brexit mastermind Nigel Farage for some pointers on how to whip up support in Italy for a Brexit-style referendum. And he's not the only Italian trying to take up the Eurosceptic mantle. A mayor in the northern city of Verona has kick-started a petition for Italy to leave the EU, the first step in the complex referendum process, while Vittorio Sgarbi, an art critic and libertarian politician who served in former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, is also pushing for a vote on Italy's withdrawal from the Union in the near term.

Seizing the moment. These anti-establishment office-seekers are capitalizing on a growing sentiment among Italians that the EU abandoned them at their darkest hour. When Italy's outbreak was surging in late March — hospitals were inundated and protective gear was scarce — Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte turned to Russia and China for medical supplies (though many turned out to be unusable) as the European bloc deadlocked over how to collectively respond to Italy's woes.

Europe's slow response riled an Italian electorate that has harbored resentment towards the European project for years because of the stagnation of living standards in that country. A poll conducted in April found that 70 percent of Italians have little or no trust in the EU, while 50 percent of respondents in a different survey said they favored leaving the bloc altogether.

The referendum process is complex. International treaties cannot be ratified (or nullified) by referendum in Italy. Euroscpetics, therefore, seem to be proposing a popular initiative bill to hold a referendum, which requires at least 500,000 signatures and approval by the Supreme Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeal) to be voted on by parliament. It's a convoluted procedure made more complicated by Italy's deepening political polarization, but the process could still empower Italy's populists whether a referendum is actually held or not.

The timing of the Italexit push is curious. Last week, the European Union reached a deal on a massive economic recovery plan, acquiescing to Rome's demand that its reeling economy get the lion's share of the relief funds, alongside Spain.

While this may have placated some Italians' concerns, disbursement of the funds could take up to two years, giving the Italexit camp more time to tap into mounting dissatisfaction with the EU. (One Italian poll already has the yet-to-be-launched party polling at a staggering 7 percent.)

The bottom line. An Italexit referendum will be hard to pull off anytime soon, but ardent Eurosceptics will try to use this anti-EU momentum to make a play for power.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

More Show less

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

More Show less

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

More Show less

In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

More Show less

Nasal sprays, oral vaccines, and other new types of COVID-19 vaccines may be ready soon, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. She previews some of these needle-less vaccines and notes that the possibility of being able to store vaccines at room temperature could be a game-changer for vaccinating poorer nations. The advantage of nasal sprays, she explains, is that they "would generate local mucosal immunity in addition to systemic immunity." Dr. Swaminathan's conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 9. Check local listings.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal