The Mediterranean’s unpredictable euroscepticism


Picture of Giampiero Gramaglia
Giampiero Gramaglia

Giampiero Gramaglia is Former Editor-in-Chief of the Italian news agency ANSA

In Italy, as in most of Europe’s Mediterranean countries, the victory for Brexit has strengthened eurosceptic movements, but there is still no secessionist groundswell. While France is looking towards its Presidential elections next May, Spain has already emerged from two back-to-back elections without a stable government. Italy, meanwhile, is focused on a constitutional referendum, scheduled for the Autumn, to reorganise the Senate into a ‘Senate of Regions’. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has tied his future to this referendum, and will resign as head of the government and of his party should he lose it.

It’s clear, though, that if EU countries and the institutions will not give an answer to Brexit with strong initiatives to mitigate fears and anxieties about unemployment and immigration, the eurosceptic populists, who make extensive use of xenophobia and Islamophobia, may get stronger. The recent terrorist attacks in France and Germany add yet more fuel to the fire of tensions, suspicion and hostility towards refugees, especially Muslims. And the combustive messages coming from the election campaign of Donald Trump in the US fosters a kind of messianic expectation of an anti-politics policymaker.

Rome is experiencing a deep crisis, and organised crime is penetrating the Municipal Administration, where basic services are failing to function

In the European Union, especially along the Mediterranean, the situation is different country-by-country. In Spain, as in Greece, euroscepticism is remarkably on the political left, and is driven more by socio-economic factors than xenophobia (but the far-right Golden Dawn has a considerable presence in the Greek Parliament). In France, the Front National of Marine Le Pen presents euroscepticism that’s nationalist and xenophobic, and claims around a third of declared voting intentions. Fortunately, the French electoral two-round system is restricting the impact of this movement, and may keep Le Pen from the Élysée Palace.

In Italy, the situation is uncertain, especially after the municipal elections this spring in Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin. Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD), which governed three of the four cities, just held on to Milan but has lost Rome – as expected from the polls – and, surprisingly, Turin. Luigi De Magistris, an independent former magistrate who is theatrical and populist but nonpartisan, won in Naples for the second time. In Rome and Turin, two young women have imposed themselves, and both are members of the Five Star Movement, a new political force unsure of its place on the traditional chessboard. The party, however, is already the second-strongest in the parliament, after the PD.

The Five Star Movement has increased its national appeal, but its European stance is very much unknown

The situation is very different in the two cities. Rome is experiencing a deep crisis, and organised crime is penetrating the Municipal Administration, where basic services such as transport, rubbish collection and waste management are failing to function. Turin, by contrast, is a well-managed and efficient city still relishing the urban renewal of the 2006 Winter Olympics. In both cases, voters preferred young and inexperienced candidates to the established PD. Virginia Raggi, Rome’s new mayor, is a lawyer specialising in civil, judicial and extrajudicial law. Her only previous political experience is serving in the City Council of Rome from 2013 until the resignation of then mayor Ignazio Marino in 2015. Chiara Appendino, mayor of Turin, is an economist who studied at the prestigious Bocconi University. She was an activist of the left political party Verdi (Federation of the Greens), before entering in the Five Star Movement, for which she was a Turin councillor for the past five years.

These local successes of the Five Star Movement have increased its national appeal, but arouse questions about its European stance, which at present is very much unknown. In fact, the Movement is collecting more votes out of protest than for its proposals, and is thus amassing support from the traditional right as well as the left. The party’s apparent contradictions are numerous. In the European Parliament, its members play for the same team as the United Kingdom Independence Party of Nigel Farage, but they don’t often vote the same way as UKIP. They are not in favour of the Italy’s exit from the EU, but would like to submit a referendum on eurozone membership. They are also fighting for a national basic income that could well be applied at European level. The two young mayors now have to show that the Five Star Movement can not only to criticise and lead a protest, but coherently lead an administration too.

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