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‘We’re scared of immigration, not Europe,’ say Italian voters

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‘We’re scared of immigration, not Europe,’ say Italian voters
The head of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, leads a rally against Italy's proposed citizenship law. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
17:18 CET+01:00
Fear over migrants, not euro-scepticism, is fuelling populism in Italy ahead of next year’s general election, according to a survey by La Stampa and the Financial Times.

The two centrist newspapers last month asked their readers to share their concerns ahead of the spring vote, and those who did put multiculturalism high on the list.

Of the more than 1,100 people who responded, fewer than half said that they believed in a multiethnic Italy. Most rejected the idea or said they had grave doubts about it.

The findings are not necessarily representative, given that the sample was self-selecting. According to La Stampa, respondents mainly came from the north of Italy, the country’s wealthy industrial heartland and home of the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU Northern League.

Nationwide opinion polls show the governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) losing ground to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which like the Northern League has long criticized the European Union and the single currency – though it has recently begun to soften its opposition.

The snapshot of voters’ views provided by La Stampa and the Financial Times indicate that their readers aren’t looking to take Italy out of Europe or the eurozone.

“More than two-thirds of our readers believe that the EU has helped the country, and they are largely opposed to leaving it,” La Stampa said – even those who planned to vote for M5S or the League.

More likely to motivate them to vote outside the mainstream was immigration. One pensioner from the province of Brescia in northern Italy, for instance, told the paper that he – a longtime Democrat – was considering voting for the Northern League for the first time in his life “to send a signal”.

“Immigration can be a necessity and a resource, but Italy is not capable of governing it effectively,” he said.

As that case illustrates, concerns about immigration aren’t limited to the far-right. Supporters of the PD show “considerable unease” too, La Stampa said, quoting some of its Democrat readers’ fears about Italy’s immigration policies, about Islam and about the examples of other countries in Europe that have also taken in immigrants.

Its readers nonetheless remained mostly favourable towards Angela Merkel, the chancellor who has overseen mass immigration to Germany, and negative towards the election of President Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.  

A poll shortly after the Brexit referendum found that, unlike most Europeans, Italians had an increasingly unfavourable perception of the EU, with one in three saying that Italy should leave the bloc.

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