By Filippo Barbagli, our Italian ambassador.
“For things to remain the same, everything must change” says Tancredi, one of the protagonists of the novel The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, set in Sicily during the Risorgimento period. In the last years, in Italy, the necessity of change has become a fundamental goal, debated at the strategic level, but shared rhetorically by all politicians as well as by the public opinion.
The current government, led by the Democratic Party (PD) of Matteo Renzi, seems to have taken a decided path of reforms which, if implemented, will change significantly the social and political life of the Republic for the first time since World War II. Concerning Home Affairs, the government has taken a strong position not inclined to dialogue with the social partners and other political forces, justifying it in the name of the necessary reforms that should allow Italy to exit the economic crisis and to improve its international role. Actually, in foreign policy, the rhetoric of the “rottamazione” (scrapping), Renzi’s political flag, has not found any possibility of development. In this sense, we can apply the famous sentence of The Leopard to the Italian foreign politicy: despite the promises of a radical change, the generational transition that has involved the decision-makers has not resulted in any revolution of Italy’s international behavior. Certainly, restore some dignity after the years of the Berlusconi’s foreign policy was quite an easy job, but the administrative apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as its top jobs, and the advisers to the Prime Minister on those issues, have not substantially changed. Foreign policy has remained anchored to its historical guidelines: Europeanism, Atlanticism, promotion of multilateralism and, especially, good relations with supplier countries for energy resources, from Russia to Libya.
There is a lack of a strategic vision of medium and long term, and it is also shown by the fact that, in just one year in office, the position of Foreign Minister has been entrusted to two people. The current FM, Paolo Gentiloni, a former minister of the telecommunications and representative of the old political class, he has been chosen, surprisingly, without any diplomatic experience. The result is a gap between the political discourse and the day-by-day foreign policy. This contradiction is more evident at the European level. After the European elections in May 2014 , with the historic victory of the Democratic Party at the 41 % of the popular vote, the country had the right stuff to emerge as a leader of a new Europe, against the austerity measures. Furthermore, in July, the Italian presidency of the European Council started with the expectations of changing the European attitude towards economic and migration issues. However, the government, instead of shaping deeply the European politics, has used all its strength just to try to get prestigious positions, and the endgame was concluded with the appointment of the FM Federica Mogherini as High Representative. The consequence is a lack of exploitation of the geopolitical capital by the government as concerns the three main issues involving EU foreign policy. Although it managed to focus on economic growth¹, Rome has been unable to lead a joint position to contain the growing disorderly in Libya, its historical main Mediterranean partner until Qaddafi’s fall. The civil war there has worsened the already very dramatic situation of migrants, and the Italy-promoted Operation Triton has been a failure, considering also the tragic death toll of the shipwrecks in April 2015, which has been only the final, bloody, demonstration. In addition, the important Italian-Russian bilateral partnership would have been able to serve as bridgehead to try not to negatively jeopardize the relationships between the West and Moscow after the Crimean crisis, but the Renzi government has managed only to avoid a second round of sanctions. This pro-Russian attitude has also caused the exclusion of the PM from the talks on Ukraine, led by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Finally, after more than a year in office, the new government has not promoted any revolution or reform of the Italian foreign policy, which has yet little influence on the European Great Game. Rome still has all the credentials to play a leading role in the coming years, but it will first have to find the political foresight to take this path.
1 Six-month Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union Summary Report (IT, EN, FR) http://italia2014.eu/media/4605/risultati-semestre-presidenza_it2014eu.pdf
Image: Presidenza della Repubblica