Business World

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Upcoming elections in Italy throw up fresh euro doubts

Matteo Salvini is leader of the Northern League party. Photo: Reuters
Matteo Salvini is leader of the Northern League party. Photo: Reuters

Lisa Jucca

Opponents of the euro are rearing their heads again, this time in Italy. Matteo Salvini, leader of the country's anti-immigration Northern League party, has reiterated his opposition to the single currency.

Growing Italian discontent with the European Union could help to make the issue a vote-winner in elections planned for March 4. Despite a widespread economic revival, monetary union remains a political target, rather than a European reality.

Investors thought they had put the threat of a euro break-up to bed after opponents of the currency bloc were trounced in French, Dutch and German elections last year. But they are springing up elsewhere.

The Northern League's Mr Salvini, who has an outside chance of becoming Italy's next prime minister, this week told newspaper 'La Repubblica' that he remained convinced the euro was a mistake and vowed to rectify the error.

In his manifesto, Mr Salvini pledges to renegotiate EU treaties in order to regain political and monetary sovereignty. He has also spoken of a parallel currency.

The tactic is probably designed to steal votes from the 5-Star Movement, which is currently projected to become Italy's largest single party with 28pc of votes.

The anti-establishment group had previously promised a referendum on leaving the single currency. But in a bid to appease moderate voters, leader Luigi Di Maio last year declared that the plan would be a last resort. Relative political calm and resurgent growth in the eurozone's third-largest economy helped propel Milan's FTSE MIB Index to a two-year high in November, making it among Europe's best-performing indices.

Yet bashing Brussels could yield political gains. Once staunchly pro-EU, Italians have become more sceptical.

According to a Eurobarometer poll published in November, only 34pc of Italian respondents said they tended to trust the EU - the lowest level in the bloc outside Greece, Britain and France.

Anti-euro rhetoric can backfire, though. Marine Le Pen's vague plan to pull out of the single currency cost her votes in last year's French presidential election.

If the threat of a return to the lira becomes too real, savers could get cold feet.

Even so, Italy's election is shaping up to be another political test for the euro. (Reuters Breakingviews)

Irish Independent

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