Italy would be the most likely of the “big four” member states to consider exiting the European Union if Brexit were to prove beneficial for Britain, according to a poll commissioned by Euronews.
Data from the Redfield and Wilton Strategies survey found that nearly half of Italians would be likely to support their country’s exit from the EU if the UK and its economy were considered healthy five years from now.
In this case, France and Spain both showed moderate support for changing their relations with the bloc, while Germany was the member state least likely of the four main players to consider leaving. The union.
The poll results come just weeks after the founding of a new anti-EU party in Italy.
Former TV journalist Gianluigi Paragone launched his “Italexit” party on July 23, just two days after Italy secured a hefty slice of the EU’s â¬ 750 billion stimulus fund to help stabilize its economy affected by the pandemic.
All eyes on Brexit
The survey assessed the opinions of 1,500 people in each of the four countries – 6,000 people in total – between July 17 and 18.
Among the EU’s ‘big four’, respondents in Italy were most in favor of leaving the EU in five years if Brexit is seen to benefit the UK, with 45% agreeing or all strongly agree with the idea of ââan “Italexit.”
France was the second most favorable country but lagged considerably behind its Mediterranean neighbor at 38 percent, followed closely by Spain with 37 percent.
The Germans were the least likely to consider such a move with only 30 percent in favor.
Following a similar trend, participants surveyed in each country were asked a separate question as to whether they thought the UK would benefit from leaving the EU in the long term, even if there were economic problems in the short term. term.
A significant number of respondents in France (45%) and Italy (43%) all agreed that the UK would thrive outside the bloc.
In Spain, 35% believed Brexit would ultimately be a success for the UK, while only 31% of Germans agreed to some extent, compared to 43% who disagreed.
In light of the historic EU budget of 1.82 trillion euros and the COVID-19 stimulus package, political commentators have questioned the timing of the announcement of a new Eurosceptic party in Italy and its long-term outlook.
Promising to liberate Italy “from the cage of the European Union and the single currency”, the fledgling Italexit party has followed Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the UK and hopes for similar success.
Originally elected in 2018 as a senator for the five-star populist movement (M5S), Italexit founder and leader Paragone, 48, became independent in the Senate earlier this year after being kicked out of his party after opposing its membership of the pro-EU Democratic Party. Party in government.
“It is too early to assess the real electoral potential of the new Italexit party,” Dr Mattia Zulianello, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham, told Euronews.
âThe Italian party system is already overcrowded with the presence of various parties critical of the EU, in various forms and degrees: Salvini’s League, Meloni’s Italian Brothers and the Five Star Movement.
âThese parties enjoy considerable electoral support, and the electoral prospects of the new Italexit party will largely depend on its ability to ‘steal’ voters from these parties.
While a June poll by the Istituto Piepoli suggested that only 7 percent of Italians would vote for a party campaigning to leave the EU, disillusionment with the European project has grown in recent years.
Rise in Euroscepticism
In the Euronews-Redfield and Wilton Strategies survey, when asked if they think EU membership has a positive or negative effect on their country, 32% of Italians agreed that being a state member had a positive or very positive effect. 34 percent believed that being a member of the EU had a somewhat or very negative impact, the highest percentage among participants in the four countries surveyed.
This contrasts with Spain, where 57 percent of those polled believed that EU membership had, overall, a positive effect on the country, compared with only 15 percent who thought it was the opposite. .
47% of Germans and 39% of French people see the effects of EU membership in a largely positive light, compared to 19% and 24% respectively.
“Rather than rejecting the very idea of ââEuropean integration in itself, most Italians are unhappy with the concrete functioning of the EU and the direction it is taking, “Zulianello said.
“In other words, there are many nuances of Euroscepticism, which means that increased dissatisfaction with the way the EU works does not necessarily imply real support for Italexit,” he said. he adds. “Euroscepticism is a polyhedral phenomenon: it is neither black nor white.”
“I fear that discontent with the EU will intensify further in the fall, when the true extent of the economic crisis becomes fully evident.”
Reason to hope
There are some crumbs of good news for the EU in the Euronews poll data. When asked how they would vote in a referendum on their country’s EU membership held in the near future, all four countries showed favorable tendencies to stay in the bloc.
Germany recorded the highest pro-EU sentiment with 67%, followed by Spain with 63% and France with 47%.
The number of Italians who would vote to stay in the EU at the moment was 43 percent, compared to 31 percent who would vote to leave.
“Overall, I am overall negative about Italy’s long-term prospects in the EU,” said Dr Eoin Drea, senior research fellow at the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies in Brussels.
“I think the growing anti-EU sentiment is based on an economic stagnation that started in the early 1990s and was made worse by the Great Recession from 2008 and now the coronavirus epidemic,” he said. added.
“And this is confirmed by the way young Italians are now flocking to the most dissenting political parties. It is the Italian millennials who have been truly sacrificed by successive Italian governments in order to preserve the privileges of the older generations.”
Likewise, when asked how they would vote in a referendum on their membership in the euro area, most of those polled in each country said they thought they would vote to keep their country in the monetary union. 70% of Germans said they would stay in the eurozone compared to 64% in Spain, 47% in France and 41% in Italy.
Besides the creeping Euroscepticism trends in Italy, the responses of respondents in France also presented “a very interesting case”, according to Drea.
“I think the data shows that despite all of his apparent power and ‘successes’ in Brussels, President Macron is on very shaky ground in France ahead of the next presidential elections,” he said.
“It’s ironic because Macron has really succeeded – with COVID-19 – in pushing Germany much closer to the French vision of a much more integrated and bigger Europe. But at home, I think the perception is that he is truly one of the elite.
“I expect to see Marine Le Pen come back strongly on our radar once normality returns, hopefully, in 2021.”