Brexit and Italexit? The Fate of the European Union

With the fall of Prime Minister Conte of Italy, Italians appear to be inching closer towards the ultimate goal of Italian nationalists: the Italian withdrawal from the European Union (EU).  Across the pond, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom has aggressively steered the nation towards a similar path’s end. Eschewing the cooperativism of former Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson now has set a hard deadline of October 31st to end the Brexit impasse and conclusively “crash out” of the EU through hell or high water (or Halloween).

For both Italy and the UK, nativism embodied in the fear of “hordes” of immigrants arriving has haunted the national zeitgeist. As the number of migrants from North Africa has increased, resulting gestures of welcome from figures such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have exacerbated existing tensions between the Mediterranean states, such as Italy, that have to deal with the first migrant arrivals, and the northern European states that were not the first points of entry. As the northern states dragged their feet on accepting more migrants, resentment built, ultimately leading to rising xenophobia and greater scepticism concerning the European project as a whole.

The recent public displays of racism and Euro-scepticism has led to soul searching not only for the UK and Italy, but for the EU too; to weather this current anti-immigration storm, the EU itself may need to compromise and allow member states to have greater autonomy when it comes to their immigration policy if it wants to survive this period of European history intact. Brexit could be labeled a fluke; if Italy leaves too, other wavering member states may be less inclined to fear the economic consequences of exiting the European Union.

The fundamental question is this: has anti-immigation and Europeanism crested, or will more EU member states take a serious look at secession from the Union in exchange for greater immigration and economic-policy autonomy? Brussels, London, and Rome have, up to this point, made radically different assumptions about which way Europe is headed. If Britain leaves the EU and its economy does not “tank”, might other countries such as Italy conclude that the temporary economic pain caused by leaving the European Union is worth the ultimate restoration of sovereign power?

There is a third end to this story: the truncification of the Union, whereby outlying states such as Great Britain and Italy leave the Union, while the European core (France, Germany, the Low Countries, etc.) choose to remain. As the debate between pro-and anti-Eurocentrism rages, this “middle path” may become the de facto reality of Europe in the early 21st century. One of the wildcard variables remains the volume of North African immigrants who continue to attempt the Mediterranean crossing. If volume keeps up, it’s expected that more European states will move towards secession from the European Union; if the volume abates, wavering states could decide to remain.

Ultimately, this debate hinges on whether white Europeans continue to perceive themselves as “under seige” from non-white, majority-Muslim immigrants. If the majority of white Europeans feel like their way of life is under threat from immigration, expect more political room for devolution across Europe. If the fear of migrants abates, so too will the call for a restoration of national sovereignty. The economic question, e.g. the German bailout of Greece, matters to the European brain, but it is immigration that matters to the European heart.