Italy’s former prime minister and current leader of opposition, Matteo Salvini has tweeted on 27 March and said: “A far cry from being a ‘union’, this is a den of snakes and jackals. First let’s beat the virus, then think about Europe again. And, if necessary, say goodbye. Without even thanking it”. It was most probably a sensitive reaction from a popular politician arising from the ongoing dramatic situation in Italy caused by corona pandemic. However, at the same time it was actually a political reflection to the huge disappointment about the failure of solidarity between member states of European Union (EU) to develop a collective action against the deadly pandemic. Salvini’s reaction should not be considered as an ordinary sentimental one against selfishness of EU members to take measures for pandemic, but it is also a serious message to the future of European integration. In other words, it is a sign of being the second ring of the disintegration chain of Europe after Brexit.
Brexit has been a strong challenge to the illusion of European integration. Many analysts did not believe in it, even many of them pictured an economic disaster for Britain after it, but still it has been realized by conservative leader of Britain, Boris Johnson. There appears a critical question about Brexit: Has Boris Johnson enforced the process in consideration with the political demands of the majority of British people, or has ‘British Establishment’ already pretended the possible disintegration of EU and unchained Britain from political and economic challenges which might arise from it? The answer to that question is directly related to current corona crisis and Italy’s desperate situation.
When corona epidemic first appeared in China, noone could predict that it would turn to a challenge for European integration after it became a pandemic and opened the path for European disintegration through dramatic losses of lives in Italian peninsula. Many has developed different arguments for Italy’s failure to prevent its people from the pandemic, such as inadequacy of Italian health services, disorganization of Italian state, irresponsibility of Italian people for obeying strict rules of quarantine. However, the trouble which Italy is facing with is rather structural than being individual responsibility. Precisely, Italy is experiencing the dramatic results of neo-liberal implementations of the last 50 years in Europe which are sneakingly causing disintegration of EU. More interestingly, neo-liberal phenomenon which has constructed EU by the last quarter of the 20th century is now itself destroying EU with a boomerang effect.
There are two reasons for that boomerang effect which are digging the pit for EU. First of all, last 50 years of neo-liberalization in European societies had driven a wedge between the state, as social protector, and the citizen, as social beneficiary. Secondly, the state had been destroyed by the developing financial interest groups throughout the second half of the 20th century and, at the end, state authority had been replaced by the different actors of capitalist economic structure. These two causes must carefully be analyzed in order to understand the reasons underlying today’s deadly developments in Italy, as they are directly related with incoming disintegration of Europe.
Many political analysts simply argue that Chinese health authorities have achieved to stop the epidemic because the Chinese state has a totalitarian character. However, this argument itself is not sufficient to explain the Chinese success on fighting the corona. Iranian state can also be categorized under totalitarian model when it is compared with Western liberal regimes. But, Iran, for now seems to fail to stop the epidemic in the country. It is still possible to observe non-observant Iranian citizens gathering together for the funeral ceremonies, despite hundreds of people die of corona every day. On the other hand, both South Korea and Japan, as they are categorized under liberal state model and considered as liberal societies belong to the Western capitalist world have visibly been prosperous to prevent their people from social damages of the corona pandemic when compared with ‘totalitarian Iran’. At this point, we should ask that question: Is the mobilization against the corona something related with the characteristic of state authority, or, is it an essential inter-connection between the citizen and the state which has been structured on a strong traditional trust relationship? The latter seems to be more explanatory to understand the dramatic situation in Italy. Apart from liberal-totalitarian discussion, Far Eastern countries could have taken the epidemic under control with their strong state tradition and citizens’ loyalty to the regulations established by the state authority. This inter-connection is including a trust between the state and the citizen, and, it works quite well under crisis conditions, as it is observed during the corona pandemic process in the Far East. Precisely, state, as social protector, has set up the rules and could have given effective health services during the crisis, and the citizen, as social beneficiary has benefited from the health services expeditiously by obeying to the state authority. This simple equation did not work in Italy. Why? Because, European experience of neo-liberalization has destroyed that trust relation between the citizens and the states in Europe by glorifying individuality and alienating the state authority. It created a deep gap between the state and the citizen, this is especially valid for Italian case, and state organization have been ignored throughout the years. This resulted in a corrosion in state structure which is vitally necessary to manage the crisis and organize the society under such kind of pandemic conditions.
While neo-liberalization in Europe exulcerated the state structure, financial interest groups and large companies, as the core actors of neo-liberal economic model, have replaced the state authority as a result of privatization policies in many sectors, especially in health services and education. In other words, in the case of Italy and in many other member countries of EU, such as Spain, the economic interest groups became the new social protector if the citizen could pay the price, and the citizen has been transformed to a new type of social beneficiary if he could pay the price. But, in such kind of a relation there is a trouble: The citizen is still the social beneficiary who needs the basic things to survive, such as health service. But, the new type of social protector, the capitalist power holders, ie. large companies and financial interest groups, play the social protector role only if there is enough demand from the citizens with a minimum standard of price. Otherwise, they do not provide the necessary services to the citizens. That is what happened in Italy when the corona pandemic arrived to the country.
The current dramatic situation in Italy is in fact the outcome of the chain of neo-liberal integration model of Europe. The deceptive privatization practices of long years during European integration process, as an entailment of neo-liberal dogmatism, have re-structured the relation between the citizen and the authority by replacing the state with economic interest groups. This replacement revealed a new type of relation between economic interest groups and the citizens based on monetary economic relation rather than a social protector-beneficiary inter-connection. Thus, state authority have been diminished with the glorification of ‘free individual’ and the trust relationship between the citizen and the state have been broken. The final result is the lack of state authority to organize the society in crisis conditions. Now, Italian citizens are suffering from that broken trust relationship between themselves and their state and lack of state authority in their country to organize social units to resolve the crisis.
Let’s get back to Salvini’s tweet. His tweet, in fact, is reflecting the orisons for taking back the Italian state authority to re-sctructure the citizen-state relation in order to stop the deaths of Italian citizens. But, Italy has to pay another price for that: European integration, as the responsible of destroying the national state, has to be questioned. More precisely, Italy has to find an answer to dilemma of staying in EU by totally sacrificing the Italian national state and leaving EU for saving the future of Italian citizens by re-organizing the Italian national state. The former brought a disaster to Italy in this pandemic process, and the latter seems to be the savior of Italians’ future. In that case, would ‘It-Exit’ be the next? It seems so.