What are Italians tired of explaining

Italy: Little interest in the European elections

Eva Clausen

Eva Clausen has lived in Rome since 1980. Studied English and art history in Rome, since then has worked in the field of literary agency, film, theater, and publisher. Mainly active as a journalist since 1995, including for RAI in Italy, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Handelsblatt, Der Standard, Die Zeit - with a focus on art and culture, society and travel.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is Italy's fourth Prime Minister in three years. He wants to bring the country's economy back into shape with rapid reforms. Italy's populists want to benefit from the misery in the European elections. The crisis-ridden and Europe-weary Italians, however, only met with little interest in the choice.

An Italian flag and the European flag hang in front of a palazzo in Rome. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

In Italy legislative periods are currently short-lived. After just ten months, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta submitted his resignation in mid-February after his social democratic Partito Democratico (PD) had withdrawn its trust. Party leader Matteo Renzi, who took over Letta's office, was in charge. Renzi is the fourth prime minister in just under three years. "Again, it is difficult to explain to the world what is going on in our political maze," commented the liberal daily La Stampa.

Many observers associate the hope of reforms with the rapid change at the top of the government. Renzi has already announced billions in tax cuts, which are to be financed by new debt, as well as a reform of the electoral law. With the Renzi government, Italy also has better chances that the EU will correct its policies, commented the left-liberal Southgerman newspaper from Germany: "If Renzi rehabilitates and reforms his country, Brussels should help more than before to modernize Italy's infrastructure and give young Italians work."

Relationship to the EU clouded

Europe in general is currently attracting little interest in Italy. The country is one of the founding states of the EU, but the EU is portrayed rather negatively in talk shows as well as in editorials of various political stripes. According to surveys by the Demos Institute, only 29 percent of the population still trust the EU, while 44 percent see the euro as a "necessary evil".

During the euro crisis, concerns about the spread, a foreign word that Italians learned in the crisis year 2011, became widespread. Because the spread, i.e. the difference between the yields on German and Italian government bonds with a ten-year term, became the sword of Damocles. The higher risk premiums Italy had to pay to finance itself in the market and the loss of credit and credibility made the third largest economy in the EU the euro zone's problem child.

When the spread climbed to a record 552 points in the summer of 2011, Mario Monti's technocratic government came into office. Even if many Italians approved of the move, some commentators criticized Europe being patronizing Italy: "If a German Chancellor wants to control the budgetary policy of other countries without promising the least consideration, then Europe is in bad shape," complained the liberal daily Il Sole 24 Ore for Monti's inaugural visit to Berlin.

The crisis has permanently clouded the relationship between Italians and the EU. However, the media at home and abroad warn against viewing austerity programs and structural reforms merely as EU dictates. They never tire of explaining to the Italians that reforms would primarily remove the damage caused by 20 years of mismanagement. "The country postponed necessary but politically unpopular reforms for far too long," criticized the liberal Finnish daily Aamulehti.

Anti-Europeans: EU to blame for unemployment

According to the Italian statistics agency (Istat), the country's total debt is now 2.1 trillion euros. According to forecasts, it will continue to rise in 2014, while the country's economy is only likely to grow by around 0.6 percent this year. Unemployment climbed to a record 13 percent in March 2014. Youth unemployment is 42 percent, the highest it has been since 1977.

Anti-European forces blame the EU for the high unemployment. Their argumentation: The draconian measures to comply with the Stability Pact would have plunged the country deeper into recession and worsened the misery of jobs. The country's hands are tied because it not only ratified the fiscal pact, but also incorporated the debt brake into the constitution in 2012 under the Monti government.

In the run-up to the European elections at the end of May, right-wing conservative and populist opposition parties are calling for a withdrawal from the monetary union. "No Euro" is the motto of the Lega Nord election campaign. The regional party, which is almost five percent in surveys, is aiming for cooperation in the European Parliament with the right-wing populist and anti-European parties Front National, PVV, FPÖ, Vlaams Belang and the Sweden Democrats.

The Movimento 5 Stelle protest movement, roughly on par with Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in polls, is, like the Lega Nord, skeptical of the EU. Party leader Beppe Grillo wants to win the European elections to prove that the government rules without the legitimacy of the people. Because Matteo Renzi is the third prime minister in a row who was not elected by the people. Under the catchphrase "tutti a casa" ("Everyone goes home"), Grillo is continuing his campaign against the established parties in Germany in his EU election campaign. Unlike the majority of his party, he advocates maintaining the criminal offense of illegal immigration and rejects automatic citizenship for children of migrants born in Italy.

Berlusconi criticizes Germany

Ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is now campaigning for the opposition with his conservative Forza Italia party, which was revived in November 2013. In order to do well in the European elections, Berlusconi shot himself in on Germany - although Forza Italia, like the CDU, belongs to the European People's Party. Berlusconi railed against "Germanized Europe" and used the anti-German mood in the country. According to surveys, his party could reach 24 percent in the European elections.

In view of the electoral fatigue of the Italians and the general disenchantment with politics, the turnout could be low: five years ago, 65 percent of the electorate cast their vote; according to a survey by the Ixé Institute in February, only every second Italian would vote at the end of May.