Italexit! Popular senator launches party to take Italy out of EU

ROME (Reuters) – Well-known Italian senator set to launch political movement with a mission to get Italy out of the European Union, seeking to capitalize on anti-Brussels sentiment as the country struggles to revive its economy affected by coronaviruses.

Italian Senator Gianluigi Paragone speaks to media outside the Italian Senate in this still from a video, in Rome, Italy, March 24, 2018. Reuters TV via REUTERS

Former TV journalist Gianluigi Paragone met Brexit architect Nigel Farage in London on Monday before announcing the official birth of his “Italexit” party later this week.

“We can no longer be blackmailed by countries that offend the great prestige of Italy,” said Paragone, adding that only a “truly sovereign state” like Britain can cope with the economic crisis that the pandemic caused.

It remains to be seen whether Paragone’s movement can tap into the well of anti-EU sentiment that has developed among Italians in recent years but lacks an obvious political focus.

Paragone left the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement shortly after forming a government with the pro-European Democratic Party (PD) last year, moderating his critical attitude towards Brussels institutions.

Even Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League, until recently the main rallying point for Eurosceptics, has softened its line against Brussels and the euro in an attempt to gain respectability.

The timing of Paragone’s move seems questionable, as the EU on Tuesday struck a deal to launch an economic stimulus fund worth € 750 billion, which bloc supporters say shows its cohesion and renewed vision.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said earlier Tuesday that 28% of the fund would go to Italy in the form of a mix of grants and loans that could “change the face of the country”.

“The others want to change Europe, we want to quit,” Paragone said after the agreement with the EU was concluded.

The European question has dominated Italian politics in recent years, with Eurosceptics blaming the EU for the country’s chronic economic stagnation and its difficulties in dealing with arrivals of migrants from Africa.

A Eurobarometer survey in 1998 showed that 69% of Italians supported EU membership, while in 2002, after the introduction of euro banknotes and coins, Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion.

A poll carried out at the end of May by pollster SWG showed that only 39% of Italians said they trusted the EU.

Editing by Gavin Jones and Alison Williams

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