Italians Are Losing Faith in the EU as Allies Remain Deaf to Calls for Help

European Common Market Treaty
Beneath a fresco of The Horatii and Curatii by D'Arpino, statesmen of six European countries sign treaties for a European Common Market and European Atomic Pool. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

International travel is set to resume across Italy early next month. Intraregional and domestic travel restrictions will also be relaxed, hairdressers and swimming pools will open, and restaurants across the country will begin seating customers after more than two months of lockdown, during which time the country lost more than 31,000 citizens to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The use of masks and gloves will continue through summer as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte simultaneously praised continued containment efforts while urging caution.

"We can't wait for the vaccine," Conte said over the weekend, touting a campaign of phased reopening in the weeks ahead.

While the country looks ahead, it suffers through its deepest recession since the Second World War. Tourism, on which the economies of the southern regions heavily rely, will likely struggle. Measures like social distancing, reduced abilities to travel, and public transportation slowdowns meant to contain the virus will also likely slow production in the country's industrialized north as worldwide health officials warn of a resurgence in the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, in the coming months.

Local economic woes were slightly diminished on May 13 when the government approved a $59.6 billion stimulus package. Though the assistance was long sought, despite whistleblower warning about the resurgence of mafia financing during stalled political negotiations, economists say the funds won't be enough to sustain disrupted markets.

And where federal help has arrived, assistance from Italy's European partners has been slow through the pandemic, underscoring a tenuous relationship between one of the pandemic's hardest-hit nations and its neighboring allies.

Italians now largely feel the rest of Europe has abandoned them.

"I have changed my mind a little on Europe," Marco Tondo, 34, a real estate agent in Rome, told the BBC. "We are facing an absolute emergency, and seeing countries turning their backs on each other is really awkward."

In March, Sergio Mattarella, Italy's president, warned that the country could lose its interest in the "European Project" and look further inward as the nation struggles with a rise in populism and far-right rhetoric. "I hope that everyone fully understands, before it is too late, the seriousness of the threat to Europe," Mattarella said in a television speech.

Several recent surveys, conducted by the Tecnè Agency, revealed a 20 percent increase in respondents wishing to withdraw from the European Union while others largely wished to still remain in the eurozone. Some 59 percent said the EU was meaningless, with nearly half of respondents saying Germany was an enemy and China was an ally.

While Italy remains the bloc's third-largest economy, its euroscepticism hinges on its plummeting GDP, worry over economic outlooks in the coming years, and the response of its allies to the pandemic.

When Prime Minister Conte approached the bloc for coronabond bailouts, Germany and the Netherlands all but slammed the door on Italy, shutting out the country and Spain, which had also been hard hit by the pandemic. Meanwhile, Germany and France (the first- and second-largest economies in the bloc) restricted the exportation of face masks and gloves as other Italian neighbors closed land borders.

"Italy was in love with the European project and it has fallen out of love," Marc Lazar, a history professor at Sciences Po University in Paris, told Bloomberg. "I don't know if Europe will be able to regain that trust."

Right-wing movements across the country have sought to capitalize on this sentiment. Matteo Salivini, "Europe's Trump," the former deputy prime minister and the figurehead of the national anti-establishment, far-right movement, has pushed for expediting separatism.

"This isn't a 'union,'" Salvini said on March 27. "This is a nest of snakes and jackals. First we defeat the virus, then we have a rethink about Europe."

He added: "If it helps, we say goodbye. Without even a thank you."