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By Piero Ignazi (for Safe Democracy)

Piero Ignazi analyzes Italy’s foreign policy and says that –since the end of Second World War- Italy has been anchored by two forces: loyalty to its NATO membership and to the United States on one side, and an active and willing participation in the process of European integration on the other side. Ignazi states that the Italian political elite followed such a double path without advocating any preference or primacy for one over the other. Nevertheless, the present centre-right government, led by Mr. Silvio Berlusconi (since 2001), has been under scrutiny for its supposedly new direction in foreign policy. What is going to happen now after elections?

Piero Ignazi is Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Bologna. He is graduated at the University of Bologna and attended graduated studies at the European University Institute in Florence, and at the MIT. He is the Director of the Master in International Relations, University of Bologna. His field of research concerns mainly the party and party system all over Europe with particular emphasis on the right-extremist parties.

piero ignazi.JPG THE GUIDELINES OF ITALIAN FOREIGN POLICY SINCE the end of Second World War has been anchored to a double stream: loyalty to the NATO membership and, more specifically, to the United States on one side, and active and willing participation in the process of European integration on the other side.

The Italian political elite followed such double path without advocating any preference or primacy for one or the other. On the contrary, the two guidelines were seen as mutually reinforcing: the more the Atlantic linkage kept firmly tied, the more the European integration would have progressed, and viceversa.

Up to recent times, all the (frequent) changes in the government coalition, starting with the most relevant one, that is the entry into government of the Socialist party in the early Sixties, did not change such pattern. Not even the breakdown of the party system in 1994 and the coming of new parties and new coalitions did alter that frame.

The present centre-right government, led by Mr. Silvio Berlusconi since 2001, has been under scrutiny for its supposedly new address in foreign policy. Actually, the Foreign Ministry did change four times in the first four years of government, a rather unusual turnover in that Ministry. However, with the exception of the short-lived (June 2001-Jaunuary 2002) first Foreign Minister, Renato Ruggiero, the further three Foreign Ministers –Silvio Berlusconi, Franco Frattini and Gianfranco Fini– followed the same “new” policy.

While Mr. Ruggiero, (former WTO president) was a well known euro-phile, the following Foreign Ministers, to a different extent, depressed this sentiment. Not by chance Mr. Ruggiero resigned because of the chilly reception of the Euro by the government and by the Prime Minister himself.

The take-over of the position of Foreign Minister by Mr Berlusconi himself was not presented as a change of policy: on the contrary, Mr. Berlusconi in his first address to the Parliament stressed the continuity in the European and Atlantic policy, pointing rather at strengthening the relationship with both sides.

The only forecast change concerned a more “assertive” international presence, flanked by a “new modus operandi” centred on personal and direct contacts. Actually, Berlusconi’s long interim at the head of Italian diplomacy aimed precisely at developing a large network of relationship in the international arena in order to assess the international status of the prime minister himself and accomplish that legitimisation-recognition by the international community that was considered somewhat incomplete: the famous cover of the Economist at the eve of the general election of 2001, whose headline defined Mr Berlusconi “Unfit to govern”, offers the crudest example of the feelings circulating in sections of the international establishment at the time.


However, beyond the official declarations of continuity, Mr. Berlusconi took a precise step: under his premiership, the transatlantic relations acquired a primacy in the Italian foreign policy. The numerous and repeated statements in support to the US foreign policy intended to prefigure a sort of special relationship with the United States.

In fact, when the war in Iraq broke out and created a cleavage between the United States and France and Germany, the Italian government chose the former front. Even if the government did not enter the “coalition of the willings” because of the hostility to the war by large part of the public opinion and by influential pressure groups such as the Catholic Church, as soon as the war was formally declared over, the government sent military troops, even if they were wrapped in a humanitarian fashion.


The national interest was therefore identified with a stricter loyalty with the Atlantic hyperpower (rather than with the maintaining of a “preferential channel” with Arab countries, or with the emphasis on multilateral approach).
In conclusion, Italian foreign policy has been moulded by the direct intervention of Mr. Berlusconi, both as Foreign Minister (2002-2003) and as head of the government.

In those years up to the beginning of 2005, Italy’s focus shifted from the traditional twofold path of Atlantic and European loyalty to a greater emphasis on the transatlantic relationship.

This choice, while denied in official statements, could be assessed not only by the Italian Army’s participation in the Iraqi theatre, while by the continuous and repeated criticism and distancing vis-Ã -vis the European Union, and the relative discarding of multilateralism. The coming of a leader Gianfranco Fini to the Foreign Ministry since December 2004 somewhat redressed the government’s action toward a more traditional equilibrium; but the activism of Mr. Berlusconi in the international arena tended to obfuscate Mr. Fini efforts and to insist on the pro-American line.