A top official in the Italian anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) is ratcheting up his party’s call for a referendum on the euro, signalling that Italy’s possible exit from the single currency could become a central issue in the next election.
Alessandro Di Battista, 38, who is a prime contender to represent M5S in the next poll, said in an interview with German newspaper Die Welt that he did not support an exit from the EU but did support a referendum on the euro.
“The euro and Europe are not the same thing. We only want for Italians to decide on the currency,” he said.
Asked whether the party had considered the repercussions of leaving the euro, which most economists believe would carry big risks for Italy and the global markets, Di Battista said he “understood well the consequences of the introduction of the euro”. The single currency, he said, had shrunk Italians’ buying power and earnings and caused higher unemployment and “social deprivation”.
“If Europe does not want to implode you must accept that you can not go on like this,” he said.
M5S’s opposition to the euro is not new, but the remarks are important in the wake of the departure of the centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi, who submitted his resignation to Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, on Wednesday evening. Mattarella is meeting the leaders of all the major political parties over the next few days in the hope they can agree on an interim prime minister.
Renzi resigned after he was trounced in a referendum on Sunday, with nearly 60% of Italians opposing constitutional reforms he backed.
Even if the parties agree on the next prime minister – candidates include the finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan and the foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni – an early election is expected to be called in 2017.
Renzi has suggested he would like elections to be called as early as February.
The chances of M5S winning the next election are fairly strong, according to most analysts. But its ability to hold a referendum would depend on whether the party could win strong majorities in both chambers of parliament.
That rests on the fate of a controversial electoral law that is under legal review and will dictate how parliamentary seats will be allocated in the next election. Italy’s constitutional court is due to rule on the electoral law on 24 January.
Even if M5S wins the next election, Italy’s exit from the euro would be complicated. Italy’s constitution sets a high threshold for the country to abandon an international treaty via a popular vote. M5S would have to pass an amendment before calling a referendum, which would then require winning two-thirds majorities in both chambers of parliament. Even if a referendum passed, the issue could come up for review by the constitutional court.
Despite the logistical difficulties of abandoning the euro, M5S seems poised to make Italians’ anger over the currency a campaign issue. While the party has always opposed the euro, it has at times downplayed its position. Weeks before Sunday’s referendum, another official, Luigi Di Maio, said a referendum would be a “last resort” if the party was in power.
Federico Santi, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said the topic – dormant since Renzi took over as prime minister in 2014 – could make a comeback now. The anti-EU and anti-immigrant Northern League, a rightwing party, is also opposed to the euro. Although the M5S and Northern League are not generally aligned, both campaigned vigorously against Renzi’s referendum and won by a wide margin.
“What we have seen lately is a constant focus on the EU and how it limits what Italy can do to handle the banking crisis, which is portrayed as having a negative impact on households,” Santi said.
Di Battista’s comments were interesting in part because he did not explicitly call for an exit from the euro. Instead, he focused only on the need to put the issue to Italian voters.
“This is pure M5S. Being for ‘direct democracy’ … they don’t take a position and call for a referendum. This allows them to be both black and white. In our present political condition, this is pure genius,” said Giovanni Orsina, a professor of Italian politics at LUISS University in Rome.
The migration crisis is also likely to become an issue in the election.
In his interview with Die Welt, Di Battista said migrants who did not have a right to asylum needed to be deported from the country, and that saying so did not make him anti-migrant.
“The term deportation should not be traced to the right, to the left, or to xenophobia,” he said.
The remarks were made on the same day as Grillo’s blog posted an article published by the Hlcarpenter.com last month that said more asylum seekers had reached Italy by boat in 2016 than any other years on record.