Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2008

Fifteen Proposal for Italy's European Policy

Ettore Greco, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Stefano Silvestri

January 2006

Istituto Affari Internazionali


Despite the important achievements of the past years (the Euro, enlargement, the drafting of the Constitutional Treaty, interventions in the Balkans and the growing diplomatic role in the Middle East), Europe is at a standstill and experiencing scepticism which, combined with prolonged economic stagnation, could deteriorate into a serious crisis. In this difficult situation, Italy could suffer particularly negative consequences. At the same time, however, it could -- as in the past -- play a prominent role in providing the Union with new dynamism.

Italy's economic and political position and role in the twenty-first century will depend on the outcome of the European crisis in the coming years. With respect to the economy, our country has a structural weakness that will require whoever takes over the government in the next five years to take decisions to address the central problems of its development model and strenghten its position within the global system. In international politics, Italy has lost or is losing its competitive advantage and will have to re­examine its strategies to avoid being seriously marginalised in a world no longer divided between two blocs and in which large new actors (China, India, Brazil, Russia and Mexico) are coming onto the scene and pushing countries of medium importance such as ours aside.

Europe will inevitably be the framework for decisions on economic and international policy.

Italy is confronted with this delicate situation at a time when its political system is still searching for a balanced approach to the question of what should be 'partisan' and what should be 'bi­partisan' in a regime of alternating governments. When a democracy shifts from no alternation (or a single party: think of Japan, Mexico, India, France 1958­-1981, Germany 1949­-67, etc.) to alternating governments, the question of continuity or change in its policies -- above all foreign policy -- becomes acute. European policy is not only foreign policy; it is to a large extent domestic policy. But it is always conducted in an institutional framework in which ''external'' governments and institutions are present and in which sudden changes in direction can be particularly costly.

It is clear that we are referring to continuity or change in the base­line policy positions, not the whole range of issues on which a government is called upon to decide. Some changes are in fact dictated by events or transformations beyond a government's control.

For a long time, the bi­partisan base of the European agenda in Italy was very broad. In some respects it was even too broad, with the result that automatic support for any proposed integration project in some cases impeded serious debate on the implications of such choices for the Italian economy and economic policy. The pendulum changed direction at the beginning of the last legislature and, as frequently occurs, has perhaps swung too far the other way.

On the eve of an election campaign that is predicted to be among the hotttest in recent years, the International Affairs Institute would like to draw the attention of Italian political parties and leaders to a map that it has prepared of the principal issues on the European agenda likely to be debated during the coming campaign: a survey of the various options and positions and a proposal for some stable positions in our European policy.