If Senator Gianluigi Paragone had his way, Italy would pull out of the European Union and free itself of the euro.
Paragone, who cut his teeth in politics as a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, told Bloomberg in an interview Monday that he’ll launch his new, upstart party in mid-July — and that the word “Italexit” may figure prominently in the new group’s logo.
“The EU and the euro were imposed from on high,” Paragone said. “They’ve hurt the real economy, families and workers and small and medium-sized businesses.”
While economic arguments make up a big part of the new party’s possible appeal, sovereignty is a theme that strikes a cord with Italian voters today as well, particularly in the wake of a sluggish European response to the country’s appeals for help at the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
“The euro was tailor-made for Germany,” Paragone said. “Today we express political choice in elections but governments have to submit to policies ordered by the EU. We need full control.”
Some officials in Rome have said they’re concerned that traditional euroskeptic forces have been buoyed by an unprecedented wave of post-outbreak anger toward the EU, and that that could sow the seeds for an Italian-led breakup of the bloc.
After the confused early days of the crisis, the EU has scrambled to offer help to Italy, but the perception of a lack of solidarity will be hard to erase for many who were on the fence about the bloc to start with.
‘Lack of Democracy’
For Paragone, that means now is the time to strike. The endgame for his as-yet-unnamed party would be to build consensus for pulling Italy out of the EU, since exiting the single currency alone appears impossible. “There isn’t a rule that allows us to leave the euro area, that’s a lack of democracy,” he said. “We have to leave the EU first.”
That doesn’t look easy. By and large, Italians still back the euro. A survey by Euromedia Research last week showed that 58.2% support the single currency, with just 33.8% opposing it. A separate SWG poll published early this month showed that 39% of Italians trust the EU, compared with 27% in April.
The longer view may offer some hope for Paragone’s group. Euroskepticism has been rising over the past two decades. Since 2000, the share of Italians with little or no trust in the EU has soared from 43% to 70%, according to a Demos & Pi survey published in newspaper la Repubblica on April 6. Still, about two-thirds would nonetheless vote to stick with the euro and the EU.
An ex-newspaper and television journalist first elected to the Senate in 2018, the 48-year-old Paragone hails from the city of Varese at the foot of the Alps. He was kicked out of Five Star in January after opposing the government in a confidence vote on the budget. “I wasn’t elected to keep Italians caged into a budget imposed by Europe,” he said at the time.
Paragone sees his new group as part of a potential European movement, perhaps in a network of like-minded parties in various EU countries. He also said he’s seeking a meeting with Brexiteer Nigel Farage.
The new party plans to field candidates in the next general election, which will take place in 2023 at the latest, and in next year’s contest for Rome’s city hall, Paragone said. The target is to initially score more votes than ex-premier Matteo Renzi, whose new Italy Alive party polls at around 4%.
Paragone’s group will be Italy’s only single-issue party focused on exiting the EU, giving him a clear shot at the third of voters in the country who qualify as euroskeptics, said Lorenzo Pregliasco, director of polling and analysis firm YouTrend.
While Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League, Italy’s biggest opposition force, has threatened to leave the EU, he hasn’t made that position part of the party’s platform.
Paragone has no time frame for his goals — “it’s not a milk carton, there’s no expiration date” — but he says his aim would be to put Italy on equal footing with its former EU partners. He also lacks a clear policy for trade relations with the bloc, saying only that World Trade Organization rules would be an option. Once outside the EU, Italy could look more to the U.S. for trade opportunities, he said.
In Paragone’s vision Italy wouldn’t get a new currency if it pulled out of the euro, but would instead return to its old one, the lira. “The issue isn’t what the currency is called, he said. “It’s who owns it.”
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