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  • What Brexit Means for Italy

    Learn about the history of the European Union and whether the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU means Italy is next
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Will the Boot be the next country to give the European Union the boot? For years, I have listened to Italian friends and family question, complain, and debate the problems with the EU – immigration, the failing euro, different cultures and lifestyles being boxed in. But I never thought I would see the day anyone's desire to leave the EU would become a realistic goal.

    I went to bed on the night of June 23, 2016, believing that the United Kingdom's referendum on leaving the EU would have the country staying in. But overnight, everything changed and the world came crashing down – or at least the stock market and the British pound did. That's when Italy and many of its neighbors started wondering out loud if it would be a good idea for them to get out, too.

    "Hurrah for the courage of free citizens! Heart, brain and pride defeated lies, threats and blackmail. THANK YOU UK, now it's our turn," read a tweet by Mateo Salvini, the leader of Italy's anti-immigration Northern League, according to BBC.com.

    These comments come on the heels of a political shift in Italy – and really the entire world. Nationalistic sentiments – or some would argue neo-Fascist ones – are usurping attention. In fact, in Italy, the 5 Stelle Movement, which is run by comedian Beppe Grillo, won mayoral races in major cities, including Torino and Roma. You can read all about it on BBC.com. The conclusion is that anti-globalization, anti-immigration, and anti-establishment candidates are capturing votes and winning. All this seems to be in direct opposition of an organization, such as the European Union, which seeks to unite a large chunk of the global community.

    Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is seeking to find the positive in the Brexit vote, and he even referred to the decision as a "great opportunity" for others to make necessary reform to the EU. He also called for help to shore up Italy's ailing banks. His proposals had been rejected by the EU before, but now he feels things could go his way. Even before the vote, Renzi was clear that if Britain wanted to exit, he would show it the door – and not let it back in.

    "We are a big family and we need to reassure the members of the family. But there is also a great need to remodel the European project in the coming years...Things need to move forward," said Renzi, after the Brexit vote, according to Yahoo! Not so surprisingly, as Italy's economy continues to fall, Renzi is proposing a bank bailout that would take advantage of the fallout from Brexit, according to Financial Times.

    But Renzi is still trying to work within the system to help Italy, and Italians, who are tired of waiting around for the EU to help lift them up financially and often feel their own country isn't yet united, might not want that. So, should Italy stay or go?

    To truly make a knowledgeable decision, you have to understand a bit of history. The EU is a result of civilization's attempts to find peace. World War I and World War II had European neighbors fighting each other. It's messy when you don't get along with the neighbors, so people started to try and find common ground. Six countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy – founded the EU in the hopes that integrated economies and diplomatic ties would foster a united front. In other words, they wouldn't battle each other for domination; instead, they would work together and make themselves better equipped to compete with countries with larger populations, such as the United States.

    There were skeptics from the beginning, who thought the different cultures would ultimately clash and nationalism would win the day. In fact, the United Kingdom has always been a reluctant partner, and even bowed out of participating in the euro and instead kept its pound for currency. The intentions of the EU have always been good, but there has been in fighting and a sense that there was never any unity in the European Union.

    Fast forward to the last few years when things became more challenging. For starters, weaker economies, known as the PIIGS nations for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, needed financial help. Greece was in dire straights and had to be lifted up by the rest of the EU to avoid complete collapse. It's never good when the neighbors start borrowing money. As if that wasn't enough, the whole EU faced a refugee crisis of epic proportions as people from Syria fled the war and destruction brought on by the ISIL terrorist organization. Worst of all, a very small minority of refugees weren't refugees at all, but terrorists trying to infiltrate Europe to attack innocent people on their own turf. The tragic terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium put a spotlight on the problem and incited fear even though the terrorists in those cases were native sons, who for the most part had been born and raised in Europe.

    All this fear and anxiety about finances and safety got the best of the United Kingdom. It voted to leave the EU. What happens next in Italy and the world over is anybody's guess.

    You can read more about all things Italian and living the dolce vita on the Italian Mamma blog, and you can follow Di Meglio at Italian Mamma on Facebook or on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.


    Article Published 6/30/16

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