Alessandro Del Ponte, a political science graduate student, delivered a lecture on the economic state of Italy and the European Union on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at Harriman Hall.
His lecture, titled “The Challenges of the Economic Crisis in Italy and the EU: The Role of European Identity,” discussed a project he began in April, which studies “European identity and its effects on people’s policy attitudes in Italian politics.”
World War II left many Europeans poor and destitute, but there was a dream to rebuild, Del Ponte said. Europeans envisioned a “United States of Europe” and formed the European Union, a political and economic alliance, in 1958.
The eurozone, a monetary union established in 1999 that uses the euro as currency, brought certain nations of the EU even closer together economically, Del Ponte said. But lately, the European nations have been drifting apart.
There is a conflict going on in the eurozone between the north and south. Northern countries are prospering and southern countries, like Italy, are experiencing a recession, or economic downturn.
“When there is a recession, you can jumpstart the economy again by printing money,” Del Ponte said.
However, this only works for nations that use their own currency, like the United States, Del Ponte said. EU countries can not do this because some countries are growing and others are not. If EU countries print more money, the worth in prospering countries decreases. If they do not, nations experiencing a recession suffer.
To combat such concerns, the EU employs austerity, a series of policies designed to reduce debt and deficits, Del Ponte said. But even with austerity in place, problems persist.
The “increasing north-south economic imbalance” has given rise to Eurosceptic parties throughout Europe, such as the Five Star Movement in Italy, Del Ponte said. Euroscepticism is a movement that condemns the EU in favor of individual nations.
“The EU identity is pitted against the national one in the public discourse,” Del Ponte said.
When the EU was formed, Europe became wealthy, Del Ponte said.
“The strategy worked economically,” Del Ponte said. “People saw there were benefits from the EU, so they liked EU.”
But in times of trouble today, the new generation does not like the EU, Del Ponte said.
“The EU project is at risk,” Del Ponte said. “Trust in the EU is plummeting.”
Italy’s economic crisis has accelerated this process of distrust in EU, as 69 percent of Italians don’t trust the EU, Del Ponte said.
Italy blames the EU for poorly handling the crisis, while the EU holds Italy and the rest of the south responsible for the crisis, Del Ponte said.
Del Ponte said the best way to solve the divide is not through economic policy, but through European identity.
“There is not much room to change the economics, but there is room to change symbols,” Del Ponte said. “Symbolic considerations can play a role in affecting people’s attitudes and can play a role in getting people closer to EU, as much as economic considerations do sometimes.”
He said Europe is in need of a massive communications effort that pushes symbols of commonality. Only then could the EU nations reconcile and thrive.
“If you induce a stronger salience of European identity, your support for EU policies increases,” Del Ponte said.
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