It is a fact that the European Union failed one of its most populous member states, Italy with about 60 million people, when it did not urgently assist the country with the corona pandemic, which struck the country particularly hard. EU in Brussels has apologised, but it looks to be too late. Hence, Italy’s politicians have been hesitant to accept the apology. The damage had been done. Can EU’s failure to help Italy in the time of need, and the general lack of solidarity within the EU, lead to Italy’s ‘Italexit’ in the future?

The deadly corona pandemic started in Wuhan, China, and by now it has reached almost every corner of the world. After China, the virus’ next targets were Italy and Iran. Until now, Italy is the European country and EU member state that is the worst-affected by the pandemic. Every day, many hundreds die, having reached a total of well over 28,000 deaths and 207,000 infected at the time of writing of this article.

There are several reasons for the tragic developments, yet, one reason could be that the EU did not provide assistance initially although the situation was known to be dramatic. Recently, the EU gave a “heartfelt apology” to the government of Italy for not helping them fast enough. However, the Italian government politicians have been reluctant to accept the apology. The country has closed down all its productive and service sectors in the worst-affected areas, with very serious restrictions on people’s movements. After several weeks, it seems that the pandemic’s curve is flattening out.

Italy, a large and populous country situated in southern Europe, was already in a financial situation before the pandemic struck, with high foreign debt and a need for structural changes. The Italian Prime Minister asked the EU to use its Rescue Fund to reduce the economic impact of the corona pandemic. Alas, the EU declined. Italy’s drastic measure of a complete lockdown was the only choice, but that also has a severe negative impact on the economy alongside the human costs. If the EU, indeed France and Germany, had assisted Italy quickly with medical equipment and personnel, the healthcare sector would have been able to cope much better. Also, the negative impact on the economy would have been less severe. In many ways, Italy was treated as a step child by fellow EU member states; the organisation did not follow its own rules to help a fellow member state at the time of crisis. As a matter of fact, China, situated far away in Asia, was quicker in assisting Italy, providing medical equipment, testing kits, and nine doctors. The US has also come up with assistance, but the EU failed. Spain, another EU member state is also badly hit by the corona pandemic, needing EU assistance.

In an interview, Maurizio Brucchi, a renowned Italian doctor and mayor of the badly affected city of Teramo, Maurizio Brucchi, said that the opposition to the EU was already at its peak, but would now rise fast after EU’s inaction and negligence to help Italy. “We, Italians, do not feel European at the moment”, said the Teramo mayor.

In the recent past, we have witnessed ‘Brexit’ as UK decided to leave the EU. Also, some years ago, Greece’s difficult financial situation was a very serious challenge for the EU. ‘Grexit’ was discussed as a possibility and a better option than EU’s questionable assistance. Those who advocated for ‘Grexit’, argued that the country could do better outside EU and the Euro currency union, and could, among other things, be allowed to freely devalue its currency to boost export and other activities, including the important tourist sector. The EU cooperation and the Euro currency union were by many seen as more negative than positive to Greece. Yet, as we know, Greece remained in the EU and the Euro currency union, at least for the time being.

This time around, the EU might face another major challenge, notably a massive debate and opposition to EU in Italy, with a possible ‘Italexit’, indeed fuelled by the lack of prompt assistance as Italy was so hard-hit by the Corona pandemic on top of its financial difficulties. After the pandemic, it will be challenging for Italy to build back its economy and social sectors, if it will ever be possible, some pessimistic observers warn. Italy may have better opportunities outside the EU and the Euro currency union, many say.

Even if there will be no ‘Italexit’, there will be debate, and that alone will be very damaging for the EU. It is likely that there will also be debates about the EU membership of other countries. If Italy should leave EU, it would re-gain more national independence and control over its economy. If it were not an EU member state, Italy could make its own rules for entry and deportations more restrictive.

Solidarity within EU is currently at stake. Italy’s experience in connection with the corona pandemic shows a lack of solidarity. When a crisis strikes harder in one country than the others, help would be expected from the EU in Brussels, and directly from wealthier member states.