Over the past few years, the issue of the European Union and the UK’s so-called “Brexit” have made global headlines. Still, Brexit is the act of one country in a coalition of many members. When I traveled to Italy this Summer, I was lucky to meet a multitude of people, each with their own perspectives on the EU and Italian involvement.
What struck me was the diversity of the people working in Italy. The EU’s lax migration policies allow the largely unhindered movement of European citizens throughout the Union’s member countries. This was especially beneficial for the students we met from countries such as Romania and Poland who came to Italy to study and work. As an incoming college student myself, I understand why many European students would be in favor of the European Union.
Migration policies in the EU have also served as a major point of controversy. In the past few years, the world has witnessed major acts of terror in Europe, such as the 2015 attack on the Battaclan Theatre in Paris, France. While speaking to citizens of Rome, I was told they had been lucky enough not to have experienced any major attacks, nor anything on the scale of what has happened elsewhere in the EU. Italy’s emphasis on security was always clear; we often saw armed soldiers in the streets of Rome, or by at-risk areas such as a synagogue in Florence.
Besides public safety, the economy plays an equal role in determining people’s view of the European Union. Since 2002, Italy has used the Euro as its official currency, just like every EU country besides the United Kingdom. Our tour guide expressed how the EU limits Italy’s ability to control its own money supply. Changes in monetary policy are now at the whim of the European Central Bank, and are no longer under full authority of the Italian Central Bank.
According to the Central Bank of Italy, “the primary objective of the Eurosystem (comprising the ECB and the national central banks of the countries that have adopted the euro) is to maintain price stability.”
Price stability is difficult enough to maintain in a single country. But when trying to achieve uniform price stability amongst a collection of unique countries, there will inevitably be winners and losers. As our tour guide sees it, Germany wants to reap economic gains while preventing Italy from reaching its full economic potential. This author is neither aware of Germany’s true intentions nor their influence over the EU Central Bank. However, the discontent some people have with the European Central Bank is clear.
Italy is currently experiencing high unemployment in addition to an outflow of jobs. Car factories have left Italy, instead choosing to operate in Romania. This is one of the effects of globalization; the standard of living increases, while businesses move to where production is least expensive. It is no coincidence that Italy’s current government is a fragile coalition between two populist and anti-establishment parties.
At its core, many Italian people see the European Union as an issue of national identity. That is, “are we willing to cede certain national priorities and powers to the EU in order to promote global interests?” And furthermore, does Italy have more to gain or lose through its membership? The continuation of the EU hinges on trust. For as long as the Italian people feel they are safe from terror, and their economy isn’t too terrible, Italy will remain embedded in the European Union.
The big question is, at what point will Italy’s trust disappear? If it does, will they decide to follow the U.K and stage their own exit? Only time will reveal the long-term stability of the European Union.
Harlan Neiditz is a Lead Contributor at the Daily Lead.