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“The anti-Dutch sentiment in Italy will fade again”

“The anti-Dutch sentiment in Italy will fade again”

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“’Not a penny is to go to Italy’, the Dutch minister said. And now I have to talk to you? You’ve got to be joking!”, shouts a restaurant owner in the north Italian Vittorio Veneto to the Dutch journalist from Nieuwsuur. A number of business owners are protesting for solidarity and support from the Italian government, but also from Europe. There are no funds to be had from the treasury; Italy is up to its eyes in debt. Borrowing more is too expensive. The Italians are looking towards Europe, but they feel that the EU doesn’t want to help. In particular the Dutch are keeping a tight hold on the purse strings. That country is unarguably against European bonds – the so-called Eurobonds – and sets strict requirements for emergency loans. Observant spoke to a number of Italian employees and a student at Maastricht University about the growing anti-EU and anti-Dutch sentiments in their country.

New adjectives
That statement by the minister. “That was not great PR for the Netherlands,” says Elia Formisano, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience. He understands the anger of his fellow countrymen, although he immediately adds that of course this does not mean that the Italians now hate the Dutch. “If you attend a demonstration by angry and desperate business owners, then chances are that you will get such a response.” Research master’s student of European Studies Chiara Russo has noticed that she now doesn’t dare to speak as enthusiastically about her new homeland as before. Until now, her friends had always been jealous, but “these days, the Netherlands has suddenly acquired a number of new adjectives: selfish, disloyal, et cetera.” Matteo Bonelli, assistant professor of European Law, also feels that anti-Dutch sentiment has arisen among his fellow countrymen the past few weeks, “but this shouldn’t be made to be more than it is. It will most likely fade away again.” He does, however, have serious worries about the EU. “The lack of European solidarity is an open wound for Italy.”

Refugee crisis
Luana Russo, assistant professor of Quantitative Methods and chairperson of the Faculty Council at Arts and Social Sciences, describes this pain aptly: “In order to really understand this anti-EU sentiment, you have to go back to the migration crisis of the past few years.” More than a million refugees first set foot on European soil in Italy, because of its location. “Many EU member states hid behind the Dublin Regulation – which states that the country of entry of the ‘alien’ is responsible for handling the asylum claim – and left Italy to pick up the pieces. Italy mainly paid for this with its own money. If one is then hit brutally hard by COVID-19 and the rich Northern Europeans initially say: ‘This is not our problem, it is Italy’s problem’, then that doesn’t go down very well. Italians are now thinking: ‘If we have to solve everything ourselves, then what is the point of being in the EU for us?’”

Structural solution
What also plays a part, feel both Formisano and Luana Russo, is the coverage in the Italian media. Luana Russo: “If the Dutch minister says something like that, it is prominent news for two or three days in a row. The image is created that the North doesn’t want to help at all. That is incorrect, because eventually help came, but it was too little, too late. Not the Eurobonds or the loans that can be spent freely. Eurobonds would have been the better option because it offers a structural solution. Italy then wouldn’t have to lobby for money with every crisis.”

Social media
Another point of contention for Chiara Russo is social media. “It worries me that people who are my age accept tweets – two lines of text – blindly as the truth. If Matteo Salvini [the political leader of right-wing populist Lega Nord] puts something on Facebook, then it is shared superfast.”

Populism
Formisano: “The financial details of the crisis are extremely complicated, but populists take off with simplistic images of ‘North against South’ and use it as an argument to win votes and leave the EU. Eurosceptical parties are rising in the Italian polls.” All Italians at the UM feel that this is a worrying development. What’s more, they see the solution for the matter in a stronger EU. Formisano: “I would prefer to see a United States of Europe. It would be good if the EU were to carry out active campaigns to show what the positive effects are.”
Luana Russo supports the latter. “I believe in the EU, but it is way too shy at the moment. Most Europeans don’t know what the EU does for them and how they daily benefit from it. This doesn’t promote a European identity or something to be proud of.”

Short term
Bonelli emphasises the importance of a short-term solution. “Agreements need to be reached soon between Italy and the northern countries, so that the Italians see that the EU leads to something. If we cannot show that we are capable of coming up with definite solutions, people will lose faith and the EU will find itself in great trouble.”

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