Across the political spectrum in Italy, Euroskepticism in rising. The leader of the separatist Lega Nord, former right-wing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as well as the leftist Five Star Movement openly contemplate Italy leaving the single currency union.
Lega Nord‘s new leader and former interior minister Roberto Maroni told La Repubblica newspaper in an interview that was published on Wednesday that his party, which seeks autonomy for the north of Italy, will try to attach a referendum to the 2013 general election “in which Italian citizens can have their say on the euro.” Although he believes that “Europe has failed” and the United Kingdom is “so strong outside the euro” (a questionable assertion given the island nation’s economic predicament), Maroni said, “What I would like to see is a new eurozone with northern Italy in the euro.” It wasn’t clear from the interview whether he cared more about northern Italian independence or leaving the currency union.
Echoing Berlusconi’s comments from June, Maroni insisted that leaving the euro “would [not] be a catastrophe” for Italy. The septuagenarian former leader of Italy’s right said that it would “not be the end of the world.”
Activist and comedian Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star Movement has been polling at over 20 percent during the past few months, wrote on his blog on Monday, “A referendum on the euro and the restructuring of [Italy’s] debt is ever more necessary.”
Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà currently supports the technocratic government of Prime Minister Mario Monti but if the former is reelected party leader, it could find an ally in Lega Nord for a Euroskeptic administration. The Lega backed Berlusconi’s previous governments.
Italians are increasingly frustrated with Monti’s austerity efforts, which have included pension and public-sector pay cuts as well as tax increases and an unpopular labor market liberalization, which they see as measures designed merely to appease financial markets and eurozone paymaster Germany. The latter’s insistence that the European Central Bank should not finance Southern European deficit spending by purchasing more sovereign bonds is another source of irritation.
The Italians have one of their own, Mario Draghi, chairing the ECB but he seems to be touting the German line. Northern Europeans, by contrast, worry about Draghi’s willingness to aid profligate eurozone member states by printing money.
Whether there will be a majority for leaving the euro in 2013 depends on the right. If Berlusconi leads Il Popolo della Libertà into the election again and runs on an anti-European platform, he would likely seek a coalition with Lega Nord and could have the Five Star Movement’s support in parliament for giving up the single currency.
However, an Ipsos poll conducted in May found half of Italians in favor of keeping the euro with 38 percent opposed. It is the left of center Democratic Party that appears most likely to win the election. If it manages to put together a coalition that supports eurozone membership, Monti might even be persuaded to stay on.
If political developments in other European countries like the Netherlands are any indication however, that would only strengthen the parties that would rather return to the lire in their resolve and drive more voters to the fringes.