Is Italy’s exit from the European Union a possibility?

Francesca Astorri

Published: Updated:

Almost three months after the national elections, Italy still has no government, nor a Minister of Foreign Affairs, but many are already voicing fears of Italy’s exit from the European Union - a potential Italexit.

The heads of the two leading parties, Matteo Salvini (Lega) and Luigi Di Maio (Movimento 5 Stelle), have been calling for a referendum on Italy’s place in the European Union, despite these calls being dismissed as propaganda tools.

Right after the elections, Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) even changed its foreign policy program and released an official statement that showed its own confusion on the subject.

None of the two political leaders managed to get a college degree, and calling for Italexit shows also their little knowledge of Italian Public Law that rules out a potential referendum on international treaties, unlike the British legal system.

Italy's entrance into the EU

Ultimately, Italy’s membership of the EU was established through an international treaty that cannot be subject to a referendum.

According to Article 75 of the Italian Constitution, “it’s not allowed a referendum on tax laws and budget laws, on amnesty or pardon, on authorization to ratify international treaties”.

Changing the constitution in Italy is not an easy process, surely not accessible to Salvini or Di Maio, considering the number of seats they hold in the Parliament which is far from representing a strong majority.

If the constitutional guarantees are not reinsuring enough for those who fear to see Italy turning from a founding member of the EU to an outsider, let’s look at the country from a little closer.

Italians complain a lot regarding the EU’s management since Italy has no allies, hence doesn’t count in the bloc as much as it wishes. The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, and the High-Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, are both Italian, but this doesn’t give Italy the credit or merit the country would like to have.

Despite this frustration, Italians are also pragmatic people. Italy’s GDP will grow by 1.5% in 2018 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and no one wants to see the country turning from the third economy in Europe to the Argentina of Europe.

Italy is the country of small- and medium-sized companies, with industries and voters that have a lot to lose from leaving the Eurozone and going back to the useless Lira.

The fight to keep Italy in the EU

Even ignoring the Italian social and economic dimension, it is evident that there are powerful forces put in place to avoid an anti-EU Italy. The idea of an anti-Euro minister of the economy as Paolo Savona pushed President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella to give no green light to this government, raising again the option of new national elections in September.

This is maybe what other political forces want too.

Lega believes it could gain more votes, hence a stronger political position from the one it holds now. Silvio Berlusconi can run for public office now, which he couldn’t during the March national elections.

Movimento 5 Stelle went through a sort of mania of omnipotence, since it went from being just a movement led by a comedian and a guy distributing drinks at the stadium to the most voted political party in Italy. They all could have an interest in rolling the dice again.

The question at this point is if this year Italy will manage to put in place a government or if it will go through elections again, but with what electoral law we still do not know. In any case, Italexit is not an option: again, Italy is not the UK.