It now seems that the Italian political class is no longer ashamed to describe the European elections as a minor issue. While electoral rolls are half-heartedly emerging, nobody talks of any vision of Europe: we can only hope that strong, committed and European subject matter will take over with the official launch of the campaign. Yet we are sceptical, and wonder if there is not a passive and even growing anti-European sentiment coming from a society that is gradually losing its reference points. The political, economic and social development context gives us some answers. First, the Italian party system has undergone several changes. On the right, Gianfranco Fini’s now-defunct Alleanza Nazionale (AN, 'national alliance') merged with the party of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to create the great Popolo delle Libertà (PdL, 'people of liberty'). On the left, with a new secretary, Partito Democratico (PD, 'democratic party') is looking for content and men to be in charge.
We seem to be far from those Italian personalities of the past who have conceived Europe and helped build it
These changes do not contribute fully to a political awakening of the Italian population (a true work of challenge and participation) but do contribute to redrawing the European parliamentary landscape. Indeed, the PdL, led by Berlusconi, will become the largest party in the European people's party (EPP), while the democratic party will have to find its exact position. Confronted with this new situation, what vision of Europe will the parties stand up for? Increasingly, the voice of Italy seems to fade in comparison to that of other member states. We seem to be far from those Italian personalities of the past who have conceived Europe and helped build it. If the EU as a whole is guilty of this loss of enthusiasm, the Italian economic and social context offers more line for thought.
What’s Europe doing for me?
The economic crisis has had an effect on a social level. Above all, the climate of uncertainty that characterises today's households, as well as businesses, helps to strengthen a sense of separation from the outside world, a willingness to 'stay at home and mind one’s own business'. More worrying, however, is the feeling of a growing lack of social cohesion and an increase in xenophobic sentiments. The state of frustration and difficulties facing people only increase the fear of 'the other' that some political groups exploit all too readily.
There is a feeling of a growing lack of social cohesion and an increase in xenophobic sentiments
In this context, Europe is not perceived as a body capable of providing answers. On the contrary, the question 'what’s Europe done for me?' is more pertinent than ever and it seems that hardly any politician can give a satisfactory answer. In such circumstances, we certainly cannot expect a large turnout in the June elections.
To ensure greater participation of the Italian population, we need a revival of discussions on EU policies and not on its detailed organisation, or its means of intervention. It is a challenge that lies ahead of European parliament elections and which, if won, will show a vivid interest in Italy’s role in the future of European integration. It would be a rejection of the state’s image as becoming withdrawn from others.