Newly launched Italexit party seeks to solidify Eurosceptic sentiment as the country struggles to revive its coronavirus-hit economy.

Italian Senator Gianluigi Paragone speaks to media outside the Italian Senate in this still image taken from video, in Rome, Italy March 24, 2018. Video taken March 24, 2018.
Italian Senator Gianluigi Paragone speaks to media outside the Italian Senate in this still image taken from video, in Rome, Italy March 24, 2018. Video taken March 24, 2018. (Reuters)

Populist Italian senator, Gianluigi Paragone, announced the formal birth of “Italexit” on Thursday, two days after meeting with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, a man who played a key role in facilitating the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Paragone, who is also a former TV journalist, said: “We can no longer be blackmailed by countries that offend the great prestige of Italy.”

His political movement is seeking to capitalise on anti-Brussels sentiment, which was on the rise as the EU dithered in helping Rome grapple with the coronavirus crisis at the beginning of the pandemic. 

But with Italy and the EU reaching a deal on Tuesday in order to launch an economic recovery fund worth 750 billion euros, the bloc's supporters felt encouraged to vouch for renewed Eurocentric cohesion and vision. 

Paragone however stressed that just only a “really sovereign state”, like the UK, could address the economic crisis amidst the ongoing pandemic.

How will Italexit come about?

Paragone was serving as Senator from within the 5-Star Movement in 2018, but was expelled soon after his party formed an alliance with the pro-European Democratic Party (PD) last year. Paragone left it due to his fierce opposition to the political pact, and his critical attitude towards Brussels institutions. 

Despite populist Lega Nord’s leader Matteo Salvini softening his hard-line against the EU, the timing of Paragone’s move looks questionable, coming as the EU reached a deal on Tuesday to launch the economic recovery fund.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said 28 percent of the fund would be for Italy in a mix of grants and loans and that it could “change the face of the country”. 

“The others want to change Europe, we want to quit,” Paragone said after the EU deal was struck. 

Eurosceptics, like Paragone, have been blaming the EU for the country’s chronic economic stagnation and its difficulties in handling migrant arrivals from Africa.

What the Italian public think about leaving the EU

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

However, a survey by pollster SWG at the end of May, showed just 39 percent of Italians said they trusted the EU.

According to another survey conducted by Tecne in April, 42 percent of respondents said they would leave the EU - that had jumped from 26 percent in November 2018.

One in four Italians said they would stay in the union if the EU allocates concrete measures for Italy.