It may seem that an eternity has passed since the United Kingdom officially left the European Union only a month and a half ago. What was once the issue that dominated British and also European politics for the last four years now seems rather trivial as the continent has become the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. As the latest crisis mounts, the European Union has appeared woefully irrelevant, closing its Schengen borders well after several individual nations such as Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic took it upon themselves to close their own national borders.
When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016 and when it legally left at the end of January this year, some wondered which nation would be next to leave the bloc. The domestic political turmoil within the United Kingdom, which had certainly cooled Eurosceptic sentiment in other nations, had ultimately resulted in a decisive victory for the Tory Party. That final victory may soon persuade other Eurosceptic groups to pick up the mantle again in pushing for an exit.
In particular, Italy has consistently been a leading suspect in who would be the next nation to leave the European Union. Along with Greece, the country bore the brunt of the migrant crisis, and it also has experienced high youth unemployment and a sluggish economy under the Euro. When respondents to our poll in Italy this weekend were asked whether they would favour a vote to leave or stay in the European Union if a referendum were to take place, a sizable 35% said they would vote to leave. A narrow majority of 52% said they would stay.
If there was a referendum on Italy’s membership in the European Union sometime in the near future, how do you think you would you vote?
The same breakdown could be seen on membership of the Euro currency.
If there was a referendum in the future on whether Italy should leave the eurozone and stop using the Euro as its national currency, how do you think you would you vote?
Altogether, we therefore see an overall support for remain in Italy, but a substantial block of supporters for leaving. Let us not forget that initial polling on the EU Referendum in the United Kingdom showed similar numbers of support for each side.
Who are those Italians who support leaving the EU and/or the Eurozone? What can we say about them?
They are far more likely to think the Italian government’s reaction to the coronavirus has fallen far short.
Which of the following statements is closest to your view of the Italian Government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak so far?
They are more likely to say that they will be negatively impacted financially by the measures taken to combat the coronavirus and somewhat more likely to work in a profession in which they are not able to work from home.
On a scale of 1-5 how much of a financial impact do you expect coronavirus to have on your personal financial position?
They are more likely to support Matteo Salvini than the rest of Italians, but they are also still split on their opinion of him.
On a scale of 1-5, what is your opinion of Matteo Salvini?
And they are more likely to distrust the news, although even a majority of Italians distrust the news.
In general, do you trust and have confidence in the press and the media when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly?
After the coronavirus crisis ends, Italians may have little appetite for a divisive, politically polarising referendum on European membership. Citizens may yearn for stability and smoother sailing. Questions on remaining or leaving the European Union may as a consequence subside into the background.
At the same time, the public may be extremely angry at their country’s late response to the crisis, at the European Union’s general unhelpfulness at their hour of need, at their vulnerable exposure to China, and at the general lack of readiness of their healthcare system to serious strain. If that happens, then a Eurosceptic movement may frame themselves as an opportunity to ‘reset’ and strengthen their country’s vulnerabilities at a time when Italians will yearn for security.
With such a substantial minority of Italians opposing EU membership, this issue is unlikely to disappear just yet, even at this moment of crisis.