Italy turning more favorable toward EU, but no “radical change” in the works

Italy turning more favorable toward EU, but no “radical change” in the works

ROME (Rahnuma): A new poll is showing that support for the European Union (EU) among Italians is on the rise, though analysts said it is still far below levels from that before the current economic malaise started to grip the country a decade ago.

In a special survey taken to gauge public opinion across Europe ahead of this week’s meeting of the European Council, polling service Eurobarometer found that after years of generally trending downward, Italy’s views toward the EU were starting to improve.

When it came to whether or not citizens thought membership in the EU was a good thing or not, Italy was still among the lowest among the 28 member states, with just 42 percent stating membership was. But that is a significant turnaround from 36 percent a year ago.

The survey showed 65 percent of Italians were in favor of “a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro.” That represented the first time Italians were more in favor of the euro currency than in the EU as a whole, where 61 percent of the respondents supported the common currency.

Additionally, Italy was near the middle of the pack when it came to supporting a common foreign policy across the 28-nation bloc.

Over the last several weeks, other national polls have shown similar trends, though usually not to the same degree as in the new poll from Eurobarometer.

Italy — one of the six founding members of the alliance that evolved into the EU — was for most of the 61-year history of the group one of the union’s strongest backers.

“For decades, Italy was always at the top of the list when it came to support for the European Union,” Antonello Folco Biagini, a historian focusing on Italy’s foreign relations at Rome’s La Sapienza University, told Xinhua. “But as the European bureaucracy grew, Italy became less and less enamored.”

According to Antonio Villafranca, research coordinator and the head of the European Program with the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, a think tank, Italian sentiment about the EU started to change after the start of the worldwide economic crisis ten years ago.

“Italy is the only European country where the economy is still smaller now than it was in 2008, at the start of the crisis,” Villafranca said in an interview. “It’s no surprise that people start to reassess their opinions when it has an impact on their incomes.”

It is not clear if Italians’ more positive views toward the EU will influence the strength of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the nationalist League, the two parties that support the current Italian government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Both parties have carved out a foothold in part based on euro-skeptic policies.

But Villafranca said that despite the recent trends, Italian support for the EU is likely to remain far below its historical norms.

“These kinds of poll results can be very volatile,” Villafranca said. “But I don’t think we are seeing any kind of radical change. Italians have for the most part fallen out of love with the European Union. I don’t know if that will change again in the future but if it does it will take a long time.”

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