Italy's Foreign and European Policy - International Reports
Italy's Foreign and European Policy
It appears that the policy followed by the Italian foreign ministry, the ‘Farnesina’ in Rome, has been characterized by contradictions and unpredictability for along time. The domestic-policy situation, which has been volatile for decades, as well as the Italians’ pervasive anxiety not to be forgotten by the big fellows, may serve to explain a foreign-policy course whose only mainstay may well be support for Europe, for NATO, and for partnership with the USA. Italy suffers from a foreign-policy trauma which originated in August 1943. After the overthrow of the Duce, the country, unable to save itself by embracing neutrality, was constrained to go on participating in the war on the British and American side. This inability to follow an independent policy after the defeat was an experience that left a permanent mark on the country’s foreign policy. It was an experience of humiliation for a country that had felt itself at the zenith of its power under Mussolini but was constrained to side with the Western allies afterwards. Mr de Gasperi, who directed Italy’s foreign policy from 1944 to 1946, felt that the Americans and the British saw Italy not as an ally but as a vanquished nation. The path towards Europe offered an escape from this difficult situation. Italy became a founding member of the Council of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community, the WEU, and the EEC, joining in every major step towards European integration from then on. While a Catholic model of solidarity in European unification dominated under Mr de Gasperi for a long time, the name of Carlo Sforza stands for avision of a secular Europe of nations, a vision apparently shared by the current government and its foreign secretary, Mr Fini. However, Italy’s foreign policy suffered from the country’s latent domestic instability. As the communist party grew in strength, the Western bloc increasingly saw the country as an unpredictable partner. What is more, the Americans felt irritated by President Gronchi’s capricious political escapades, and the social unrest that swept Italy in the late sixties weakened its policy and nourished the suspicions of its allies. While foreign-policy pressure on Italy slackened somewhat when the Vietnam War ended and Charles de Gaulle stepped down, domestic instability in the country was exacerbated when social upheavals persisted and eight governments followed one another in swift succession between 1975 and 1979. To be sure, the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) kept a firm hold on the reins of power, but the need to maintain social peace forced it to make concessions to the opposition, which blurred the contours even of the foreign policy of the country. As it appeared at the time, the ‘Farnesina’ was a place of permanent or temporary retirement for great domestic politicians, but it did not symbolize a coherent, long-term foreign policy directed by a powerful personality. Nor did the country appear to be able to find its own foreign-policy line during the oil crisis. On the one hand, it could not muster the strength to free itself from the embrace of the US, while on the other, it wooed states like Algeria, Libya, and the USSR to ensure its own independent oil supply.A hiatus came in 1989 when the framework conditions of Italy’s foreign policy changed from the ground up, initiating its gravest crisis so far. The DC disintegrated, the political system of the country fragmented, and Italy disappeared from the international stage for years after 1992. Mr Prodi as well as the left-wing cabinets that followed his government prescribed a programme of rigid austerity to lead the country out of its dilemma and enable it at least to comply with the Maastricht criteria, so that it would be one of the first countries to introduce the Euro. The centre-right government headed by Silvio Berlusconi was eyed with suspicion abroad ever since its inauguration in 2001. To avoid making enemies inside or outside the country, the head of government formulated his goals in foreign and European policy in rather vague terms, handing over the foreign office to Renato Ruggiero, a widely respected personage. However, Ruggiero’s withdrawal in 2002 forced Mr Berlusconi to take over the office himself. The current foreign secretary, Mr Fini, did earn some respect for himself, although there is still no coherence in the country’s foreign policy under his leadership. Cases in point include the Italian campaign against a seat for Germany on the UN Security Council and the half-hearted involvement of the country in the Iraq war. Even Mr Berlusconi helps to create a bad impression by trying to present himself as open towards the Atlantic Alliance, Russia, and Europe, all at the same time. Italy’s image also suffered from the dispute between the head of government and Mr Prodi, the President of the EU Commission, as well as from the country’s relative lack of success during its presidency of the EU Council. To make matters worse, a member of the European Parliament was insulted by the head of the Italian government, diplomatic relations with Germany suffered when Mr Berlusconi verbally attacked German tourists in Italy, and the intergovernmental conference on the EU constitution treaty was badly prepared to boot. A number of further examples might be quoted. There are indeed questions that remain open, some of them relating to European policy: What exactly is the position of Italy in Europe? Does it share the vision of European integration, or does it merely support the process of unification to avoid becoming isolated? Another question relates to Italy’s faithfulness as an ally. Is the country firmly standing side by side with the USA? After all, Mr Berlusconi was walking a political tight rope even before the war in Iraq entered its active phase: While backing up Mr Bush and Mr Blair on the one hand, he acted at the same time to keep Italy’s good relations with the Arab states from deteriorating. Another question that must be asked is about Italy’s position within the region. Does the country have a stringent Mediterranean policy, or does it only show interest in its southern neighbours when it is interested? And what is its attitude towards the Middle East crisis? In this regard, Italy has always been vacillating between traditional, leftist-Catholic sympathy with the Palestinians, good relations with the Arabs, and near-unpredictable relations with the Israelis. It is indeed remarkable that the foreign office should now be headed by Mr Fini, the chairman of the post-fascist AN party that is particularly critical towards Israel. Thus, the crucial question is this: What is Italy’s position in foreign policy? It is anything but easy to find an answer. At times, it appears as if the policy of the ‘Farnesina’ in Rome was guided by reflexes. What is more important than anything else is this: Italy must not be forgotten, for it is the country’s presence that counts.