In the run-up to the elections in the European Parliament scheduled for May 2019, the bloc’s major political parties have already started their campaigns to win the battle for the votes, if not the hearts and minds, of European citizens.
The upcoming elections may, however, turn into a referendum on the future of the European project itself as the main contest will be between pro-European parties and right-wing, anti-establishment populists who already in power in Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
New Europe’s Violetta Rusheva talked to Francesco Galtieri, a co-founder of the Italian Pro-European political party Movimenta to better understand the roots of Italians’ dissatisfaction with the EU and the ways to overcome this trend.
New Europe (NE): In the course of the last two years, we can observe that there is a widespread crisis for the ‘European identity’. There is a common feeling that ordinary Europeans are fed up with the concept of “more Europe”, and nationalistic parties across the Member States actively play on these sentiments. Do you think that the EU should rebrand itself or it is a problem of the national governments to convince their citizens about the benefits of an integrated Europe?
Francesco Galtieri (FG): First of all, I think that we have to redefine what matters to Europeans today. The system of voting is still being designed around the national constituencies and we need to pay attention to what we design and portray as the European vision in our home countries. There are definitely things from the past decades that made the EU as it is now, and they are still relevant today. However, those concepts are no longer enough to keep people believing in the EU. I know for sure that the anti-European Lega (League) and 5-Star Movement (in Italy) built their constituencies by having been active within their communities, whereas the major parties that led the government coalitions stopped investing in the structure of the party to keep up a two-way communication with their voters. Today we are European citizens only because we can move freely, and that is all. Europe does not provide us with any direct service except educational programmes like Erasmus.
NE: How could you explain the coming to power of anti-European parties in Italy, a Member State that was one of the principal founders of the EU project?
There are three main reasons why Euroscepticism prevails today among Italians. First, is the necessity to follow the rules of the European Stability Mechanism, which limits investments into social policy and infrastructure projects by up to 3%. We have a paradoxical situation where local municipalities have money on their accounts but they can’t use it for social services or road maintenance because the directives from Brussels do not allow it. Financial rules and regulations of the EU Stability pact are used as the main argument for not investing in the future.
The second factor is the poor handling of the migration crisis. Italians are very dissatisfied with the way Brussels left them alone to tackle this problem. French President Emmanuel Macron can say whatever he wants about “more Europe” or “bigger Europe”, but when France rejects people at Ventimiglia, on the Franco-Italian border, without respecting any allocated quotas and international law, there is no point in talking about the feeling of “EU solidarity and community”.
And here, I do not mention €3 billion given to Turkey to curb migration and payments to the militias in Libya to encourage them to control their borders more effectively.
Finally, it is a mismatch between our socio-economic system, which still relies a lot on the manufacturing and media enterprises and our education system. We received 35,000 migrants through the North African route just last year, but at the same time. around 130,000 Italians left our country for the US or other parts of the EU – mostly Germany and the UK. Unfortunately, our economic system does not offer a job that you would expect after spending a few years in the university and graduating in engineering or any other science.
Our agricultural sector, for instance, does not need young people who can master technologies and help to digitalise the process, but it does need people who would pick cherry tomatoes for €12 per day.
There is no doubt that our young talented people will opt to go to the US and Germany, whereas migrants from Africa would be happy picking tomatoes.
The lack of opportunities that force people to leave Italy makes many families feel that they are losing their brightest minds. They partly blamed the EU for not being able to create opportunities for the young generation. They think, “Why should we welcome migrants when our young people choose to leave Italy?” This narrative is actively used by the populists.