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Cash-strapped Italy was one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic and was enraged by what is saw as a lack of support from Brussels. Even pro-EU politicians were left questioning their country’s future within the bloc amid growing calls from nationalist parties to quit.
We must face the reconstruction of Europe in a sustainable way or we risk another Brexit in Italy
Markus Söder, president of Germany’s Christian Socialist Union and leader of Bavaria, acknowledged the EU’s failings and said things had to change.
He said: “We must face the reconstruction of Europe in a sustainable way or we risk another Brexit in Italy.
“The EU is the best idea that has ever emerged on the European continent but now we have to reinvent it and adapt it to the challenges of our time.
“Not only the coronavirus crisis, but also nationalism is spreading. We therefore need a new spirit of cohesion in Europe.”
He continued: “We must tackle the reconstruction of Europe quickly and sustainably.
“We shouldn’t fall back into old patterns of behaviour and reflexes. Europe needs a new big momentum.”
Mr Soder warned the EU would eventually collapse if richer states failed to help countries particularly affected by the coronavirus.
He said: “When Germany helps Italy and Spain, we help ourselves – not only economically, but also politically and culturally. Because we are all over Europe.
“The disintegration of Europe and therefore of the internal market would be the greatest risk.
“We can already see what economic loss we have because of the coronavirus, just because the logistical chains of southern Europe are not working.
“If we hesitate now or underestimate the psychological impact, there is a risk of a second Brexit in Italy.
“A Europe without Italy or Spain is no longer a Europe as we know it. So the EU would no longer make sense.
“Many did not think Britain was serious but Brexit is now underway.
“I still can’t imagine a strong Europe without Britain. But without Italy, little remains of the original idea.
“The Treaty of Rome was the basis of the EU. Italy is the cultural and historical heart of Europe.”
Mr Soder acknowledged Italy had been deeply affected by the coronavirus crisis.
He said: “We cannot simply leave the country to populists like Matteo Salvini.
“What happens in Italy affects all of us. Therefore, it is better to help them than to walk away and end up contemplating the pieces of Europe.
“Europe faces an important historic crossroads. Therefore, we cannot fail.”
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His comments echo those of billionaire financier George Soros who also warned the future of the EU was in jeopardy.
He said: “I am particularly concerned about Italy. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega party, is agitating for the country to leave the euro and the EU.
“Fortunately, his personal popularity has declined since he left the government, but his advocacy is gaining momentum.
“What would be left of Europe without Italy? Italy used to be the most pro-European country.”
He said splits began to appear when Brussels failed to offer adequate support to Rome at the height of the Meditrannean migrant crisis and then gave it a slap in the face by relaxing state aid rules to the benefit of richer nations such as Germany.
The EU response to the coronavirus pandemic has been the final straw for many Italian voters who see their country being punished by Brussels for a crisis that was not its fault.
Mr Soros said: “Italians trusted Europe more than their own governments, and with good reason.
“But they were badly treated during the refugee crisis of 2015. The EU enforced the so-called Dublin Regulations that put all the burden on the countries where refugees first landed and did not offer any financial burden sharing.
“That is when Italians decide to vote for Salvini’s Lega and the Five Star Movement in a landslide.
“More recently, the relaxation of state aid rules, which favour Germany, has been particularly unfair to Italy, which was already the sick man of Europe and then the hardest hit by COVID-19.”
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