With Italy’s Latest Elections, the European Union Hangs by a Thread

As Italy falls prey to the wave of nationalism sweeping across Europe, it is apparent that the European Union is now in danger. Now more than ever, Europeans need to believe in the Union, moving away from individualist rhetoric to an ideology of collectivism, one that unites everyone.


Gusts of wind blow through the streets as a busker plays the saxophone. The cold air accompanies the unknown faces hurrying to the train station. From the crowded coffee shops come the smell of freshly baked croissants and sweet lemon tea that is ready to warm up whoever is reading the newspaper. The city is waking up. I am not in Italy but many believe I should consider this place “home.” As I look back, my eyes catch the flag with a blue background that stands out against the gray buildings. Is this the heart of the European Union? Is this my Europe? Mine, ours.

In 1950, Robert Schuman was the first to speak publicly about a “United Europe.” As the Prime Minister of France, he supported Jean Monnet, the creator of a European Community based on a plan to merge the coal and steel productions of France and West Germany. The intent was to prevent further political conflicts by building economic cooperation. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was born under the Treaty of Paris, comprised of France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In the powerful French palaces where the Treaty was signed, there were trepidations about the Community being the beginning of hegemony for the old continent; the first step to an ambitious project that we is now known as the European Union. But sixty-seven years later those fears and doubts are confirmed with the Union experiencing its most uncertain phase.

The EU today moves like an acrobat hanging by a thread, waiting to understand what will be its fate. The voices of the Euro-sceptics fill the squares finding the necessary support across the continent from Berlin to Rome, from London to Paris, and to Warsaw. The simmering discontent from different member states amounts to a guessing-game. There is fear that sooner or later, one by one, these member states will follow the lead of the United Kingdom, reviving their national sovereignty and abandoning the Union along with the rules it dictates.

On March 4th, the Italian people were called to the polls to choose representatives that will lead the country. The major parties that opposed the Democratic Party (PD), led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, included the Five Star Movement and the right coalition. Within the right coalition is Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, and the Northern League, led by Matteo Salvini.

From the beginning, surveys showed a reverse trend in the choices of voters who identify with anti-establishment parties. In particular, the Northern League had a clear increase in support despite timid percentages recorded in previous elections when they drew criticisms for their tackling of immigration issues. The party expressed evident confusion over Union policies and their repercussions on national borders. Matteo Salvini, like Marine Le Pen did in France, preferred to adopt a stance based on the protection of Italy’s interests regardless of what the European bodies impose. The Five Star Movement has been on the same populist track. It gained a wide consensus in the South of the country where it emerged as a surprise in the general election.

The EU has made a number of undeniable mistakes: the uncontrolled migratory flows, failure to deter terrorist attacks, austere policies that led to a “multi-speed Europe,” incomplete integration of the political and fiscal systems of its members, failure to set provisions for the European Constitution, and lack of serious roadmaps for economic recovery. These are just some of the factors that in recent years fueled the mistrust of the European Dream.

Beyond the technicalities relating to the problems above, it is possible to propose a different interpretation of these issues to gain an understanding of the inadequacies in European integration. The key lies in the analysis of the organizational design carried out by Geert Hofstede. The Dutch researcher analyzed the behavior of over 100,000 IBM employees to understand how they could collaborate despite different backgrounds. The principle underlying the work is that culture is essential in guiding behaviors, decisions, and opinions. Using this concept, Hofstede created a model characterized by different “dimensions.” Here, the focus was on the contrast between individualism and collectivism. Individualism is an orientation that emphasizes personal pursuits over those of the group, which, on the other hand, become priorities in collectivism. If one follows the individualistic logic, the change from collectivism to individualism happens when a subject is within a context that is not cohesive and in which trust is not relevant.

As reported by the data in Linghui Tang and Peter E. Koveos’s paper, Italy, UK, France, Germany, Austria, Ireland, and Spain are positioned as countries that follow individualistic logics. If in 2018, European integration is still far from complete, policymakers cannot ignore the individualistic behaviors that drive these countries’ decision making. Identifying the tools that can move consciousness towards constructing a common destiny is an inescapable notion – it is even more so when nationalism fails to be an adequate solution in the new global context.

A country that demonstrated how collectivism could be decisive for success is China. The Asian giant in the course of its troubled history brought together different ethnic groups to move toward a common goal. The Chinese people integrated despite their diversity in tradition, religion, and dialect with 56 ethnic groups in the 1.4 billion population. It is easy to see the pride the Chinese have for their country. Their belief in being stronger together is infectious. From the streets of Beijing where a girl happily talked about China’s tumultuous past that saw many divisive moments throughout history to a woman in Xi’an whose answer to the question “do you believe in destiny?” was “we believe in ourselves!”

Europe needs its own sign of recognition even when people are far away, a symbol that unites everyone under the banner of “citizens of Europe.” In a world where connections are necessary to survive in the sea of globalization, the answer is not “less Europe” but rather “a different Europe”- one that is not just mine, but ours.

Federica Russo is an Italian student of Business Administration with a focus on Organization Design, Statistics, Corporate Management, and International Economy. With five years of experience in writing articles on world affairs, she is a contributor for the Asian section of “Il Caffè Geopolitico” where she covers articles on Chinese issues. At the moment she is working on her final dissertation analyzing the impact of the BOD composition in the multinational Oil Companies.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.



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