Thank EU, Next? Assessing the Impact of Covid-19 on Italian Parties’ Attitudes Towards European Integration
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The Covid-19 pandemic profoundly disrupted the economic, political, and social foundations of countries worldwide. In light of this, it inevitably prompted the academic interest of scholars across different disciplines in the social sciences. Existing political science works have mainly focused on three aspects related to the outbreak. First, several analyses have investigated the impact of Covid-19 on the practices of public expenditure by governments across the continent and beyond, highlighting the possibility of a return to increased economic intervention. Second, other efforts have focussed on how government approval amongst European mass publics changed, with preliminary evidence pointing towards a ‘rally around the flag’ effect during the first Covid-19 wave. Third, contributions have also re-engaged in the long-lasting debate on the direction of European integration, with the pandemic underlining the need for the establishment of a European Union (EU) strategic autonomy at the supranational level. So far, however, less attention has been dedicated to how Covid-19 affected pro- and anti-integrationist party positions vis-à-vis the EU. This paper addresses the research question as to whether the Covid-19 pandemic reshapes the attitudes of Italian political parties towards European integration. To do so, we rely on a critical juncture framework as posited by Hogan, whereby a critical juncture requires an exogenous shock to be followed by significant, swift, and encompassing change on an analysed outcome. On this basis, we expect the exogenous shock of the Covid-19 pandemic and the change in orientations of Italian political parties on European integration to constitute a critical juncture. We adopt a cleavage approach to party attitudes towards European integration, which hypothesises that political formations shape their stance on supranational integration according to enduring commitments on key domestic issues. Moreover, drawing on rational choice institutionalism, we assume that parties are strategic actors, who are able to adapt to changing institutional circumstances. To this effect, we see the Covid-19 pandemic as a ‘window of opportunity’ for parties to strategically re-adjust their stances on European integration. Following from our analytical framework we expect that, after the Covid-19 outbreak, political formations belonging to the social democratic, liberal, and Christian democratic party families increase their support for European integration. Conversely, we expect far-left, conservative and far-right parties to exacerbate their opposition to European integration. Operating under the press release assumption, we test these hypotheses through an original dataset based on Facebook posts, retrieved via the CrowdTangle platform. We code such data to develop an index of Italian political parties’ support for European integration, which will be the dependent variable of our statistical analyses. We include around 24000 Facebook posts from the official pages of 14 Italian parties between February and June 2020. With this paper, we aim to contribute to the debate on party orientations on European integration, whilst also providing fresh insights into the impact of Covid-19 on party politics and political representation.