By Piero Ignazi (for Safe Democracy)

Piero Ignazi explains how Italian foreign policy has changed since the election of Romano Prodi as Prime Minister. While Berlusconi was in office, Italy found little support among its European counterparts, and turned to the United States as one of its only allies in the international relations. But now, with a shift in leadership from center-right to center-left, Italy has pulled out of Iraq, criticized Guantanamo, and even begun to question its continuing involvement in Afghanistan. The relationship between Italy and the United States will never be the same.

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.

THE FOREIGN POLICY OF THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT was bound to change sooner or later. While Berlusconi was in office, he confronted a great deal of hostility from European leaders because of his unorthodox behavior in international meetings, and accusations of corruption. Desperate for support, Berlusconi turned to the only nation he could: the United States. In the Bush administration he found a partner and an ally, and pledged his support to follow them wherever they might go. Now, with Berlusconi out of power, Prime Minister Romano Prodi should be a breath of fresh air for the Italian people.

Let us return to a balance between both shores of the Atlantic, to balance in the Middle East, Prodi declared during his campaign. Let us return to multilateralism, and to a united, empowered European Union.

And already relationships are changing. In a recent meeting between Italian foreign minister Massimo d’Alema and Condoleeza Rice, D’Alema openly criticized Guantanamo, questioned the Bush administration, and defended the Italian pullout of Iraq. The only thing the two could agree upon was Italy’s continued presence in Afghanistan.

Apart from the change in government, two important issues have contributed to the growing rupture between the Italian government and the United States. The first is the investigation of the death of Nicola Callipari, the Italian intelligence agent killed by US troops during the rescue of a kidnapped Italian journalist in Iraq. The US has not cooperated with the investigation of the killing, nor responded appropriately to Italian resentment.

The second issue is over the capture by the CIA of an alleged terrorist in Milan without the approval of the Italian government. While some claim that the operation was carried out with the help of Italian intelligence agents, the government continues to deny any involvement and blames the United States for overstepping its bounds.

Italy’s withdrawal from Iraq came as a shock to the Bush administration, which immediately demanded that Italy increase its presence in Afghanistan as compensation for the pullout. The US demand was debated fiercely within the Italian government, where the left, led by the Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Foundation party), the Verdi (Green Party) and the Comunisti Italiani (Italian Communist Party), argued for pulling out of Kabul altogether and discontinuing Italian military activity around the world. In the end, the government sided with the Americans. Italy will remain in Afghanistan.

Yet, the relationship between Italy and the United States will never be the same. Bush no longer has Berlusconi as his puppet to manipulate and control. Prime Minister Prodi appears determined to make his own decisions from now on.

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