Newspaper article International New York Times

For Italians, Complex Ties to the E.U

Newspaper article International New York Times

For Italians, Complex Ties to the E.U

Article excerpt

While disaffection with Europe and its sprawling bureaucracy grows elsewhere, many Italians see the union as crucial to their national destiny.

Even here in one of the most European of cities, reputed home to the world's oldest university, the appeal of Europe -- both as an idea and as an institution -- has lost its glow.

A few weeks before voters in 28 countries elect a new European Parliament, expectations here are low, and not just for the turnout, which is predicted to fall well below the 2009 levels of 43 percent across Europe and 65 percent in Italy.

If the European Union itself were a candidate in these elections, which run from May 22 to 25, it would have a hard time winning -- even in Italy, once a fervently pro-union country. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed do not feel like European Union citizens, according to a Eurobarometer poll published last February.

"There is a feeling that Europe has become more demanding, that they keep telling us we're not good enough," said Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor at the Bologna Center of Johns Hopkins University and co-editor of the forthcoming edition of the Oxford Handbook of the European Union. "Italians resent this."

But the disaffection with Europe and its sprawling bureaucracy here is ambiguous, compared with that of some of Italy's neighbors. People talk about being disappointed; homemakers complain that the adoption of the euro led to higher prices; students question the efficiency of new banking rules; workers challenge austerity measures imposed by the European Union. According to recent polls, 53 percent of Italians support the euro today -- a far cry from the 73 percent level recorded in the mid-1990s.

But Italians still feel the pull of Europe, which many see as crucial to their national destiny. Mr. Pasquino likes to cite the case of a student who, when asked to identify himself, said he was "a European, born in Turin."

Marco Piana, 27, who works in the university's admissions office, sees Europe as a work in progress. "It just needs time," he said. "The next generation will see another Europe."

There will be support for euroskeptics when Italy votes, but it won't match the support for the National Front, France's far-right party, or the U. …

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