20,000 Italians say no to EMU

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The Independent Online
"Maastricht is going to create a Europe for the bosses, not for ordinary workers like us. Yet we are the ones being asked to make the sacrifices. We're not prepared to go any further." Familiar words, perhaps, in France or Germany or Denmark, where dissent is an inevitable accompaniment to belt-tightening in the run-up to European monetary union.

But this time the complaints came from a young woman trade unionist in Italy, a country that up to now has had nothing but good things to say about European integration and has thrown its political energies unambiguously into the struggle to meet the Maastricht economic criteria on time.

The tide, it seems, is beginning to turn. A clutch of small, independent trade unions rallied their faithful - transport workers, firemen, builders, students, teachers and government workers - to an anti-Maastricht march in Rome on Saturday night, and to the astonishment of the organisers there was a remarkably high turnout of more than 20,000 people. "Die for Maastricht? No thanks," read one of the banners.

The protest was sparked by the massive budget-slashing package, made up largely of tax increases, presented by the Italian government last month which is now about to enter the parliamentary committee stage.

For years Italy regarded Europe as a goldmine and a source of responsible government, unlike the home-grown variety. By and large, it bluffed its way through its own commitments towards Brussels, creating the illusion that European integration was all gain and no pain.

The perception already began to shift with the passing of an initial austerity budget last year, and has slid further in the wake of a massive budget-trimming package now proposed by the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, and his centre-left coalition.

If the strong feelings voiced in Rome this weekend are any guide a tide of Euro-scepticism in Italy is on the way.

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