Young Italians Blame EU, But Their Problems Are Homegrown

It’s little wonder young Italians are disappointed, but the problem is their own politics, not the EU.

View of the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, November 24, 2009
View of the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, November 24, 2009 (Bjørn Giesenbauer)

In most European countries, young people are more supportive of the EU than their elders.

In Italy, Politico reports, the trend is reversed.

If the country were to hold a referendum on EU membership, one in two Italians under the age of 45 would vote to leave. Only a quarter of those over 45 would do the same.

Younger voters’ unhappiness with the EU came from a sense that what’s good for the bloc comes at Italy’s expense. Strong majorities among the young said that the migrant crisis showed the EU could not be counted on to help Italy with its biggest challenges.

Hence support for the Euroskeptic Five Star Movement and Northern League, which are polling at a combined 40 percent.

Homegrown

Italy has received little help to cope with an influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. But it cannot blame the EU for the problem its young people face. Those are homegrown.

  • Italy has the EU’s highest percentage of young people not in education, training or work: almost a third.
  • Youth unemployment is the highest in the bloc after Greece and Spain.
  • For those with jobs, conditions are lopsided: a young army of precarious workers can only dream of one day being granted the ironclad contracts, pensions and protections of their older colleagues.
  • Eight in ten Italians under the age of thirty believe their generation has been excluded from a good economic and social life.

These conditions have accelerated Italy’s brain drain. The country’s most talented and cosmopolitan youngsters seek better prospects abroad (and thanks to the EU, they can), further shrinking the group that could introduce generational change.

Pointing the finger

The ruling Democratic Party has tried to close the gap between young workers without job security and older workers who are almost impossible to fire, but pressure from the trade unions forced it to apply the changes only to new hires. It will take years before the reforms start to pay off.

The Democrats are the most pro-European party in the country, yet even they routinely point the finger at Brussels, arguing that inflexible budget rules (which have actually been relaxed for Italy time and again) make it impossible to invest more in the economy.

At the same time, all major parties in Italy have consistently ignored advice from Brussels. The European Commission has for years urged the country to liberalize excessive licensing requirements and lower the cost of starting a business in order to get more young people in work and encourage job creation. Those recommendations have fallen on deaf ears.