Italy’s foreign policy has been traditionally characterized by a high degree of continuity based on three main pillars: the European choice, the transatlantic partnership and the focus on the areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This continuity has resisted the high volatility of the Italian politics and the many changes of government, but it seems it will not resist the “government of change”.
“Government of change”, this is the name – which is also a promise – of the executive created after a painful political and institutional bargaining between the Five Star Movement and the League, respectively the first and third political forces at the latest 4 March elections. Some affinities between the two parties in foreign and international policies emerged quite clearly during the electoral campaigns and in the first phase of the newborn government. The leaders of both have raised a very critical voice against the rules and mechanisms of the Eurozone and questioned the well-established partnerships with its founding countries, particularly Germany and France. The sympathy for the style and approach of the US president Donald Trump – displayed also by the new Prime Minister at the latest G7 in Canada – has not cleared off Italian criticisms against NATO and the Italian engagement in many international scenarios through military missions. Moreover, both parties have more or less strong connections (some of them not fully transparent or investigated) with Putin’s entourage: the government agreement between them explicitly refer to the need to revise the current EU sanctions policy against Russia. Finally, the recent affair involving the migrant ship Aquarius is a sign of a mutated stance of the Italian government regarding its involvement in the Mediterranean.
In the medium terms, there are some concrete risks, linked to potentially disruptive decisions like the announce of a referendum on the Euro, the veto against a renewal of restrictive measures imposed by the European Union against Russia, the blocking of boats carrying migrants from landing at Italian ports, the withdrawal of Italian troops from missions in Lebanon or Afghanistan.
There are also marked differences though, in particular on the attitude towards the institutions and politics of the European Union and the management of the migration phenomenon, with a more accommodating Five Star Movement and a more muscular League. For the time being, it seems that League has taken the lion’s share of the coalition government and is imposing its views and initiatives. But the situation might change, leading to a rebalance between the two forces, or to a irreconciliable fracture before the next European Parliament elections. This will also have an impact on Italy’s European and foreign policy. In the medium terms, there are some concrete risks, linked to potentially disruptive decisions like the announce of a referendum on the Euro, the veto against a renewal of restrictive measures imposed by the European Union against Russia, the blocking of boats carrying migrants from landing at Italian ports, the withdrawal of Italian troops from missions in Lebanon or Afghanistan. In the immediate future, Italy runs against a much more concrete risk of marginalization and irrelevance in European and international community. It would be the byproduct of a change of alliances in the European Union leaning away from the Franco-German engine and towards countries like Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands. These actors do not share Italy’s interests – from the stabilization of the southern neighborhood to migration – and cannot be reliable partners for Rome in many negotiations and battles in Brussels and in other international fora. Marginalization is a concrete risk also in connection with the unpredictability of the new government: if “change at any cost” seems to be the only polar star for the political discourse of both forces, it is incredibly difficult to anticipate the political choices that will be made by their representatives. And it is not sure if and to what extent the technical figures chosen for leading key ministries such those of economy and finance and foreign affairs will be able to influence the future path or even maintain their positions. Whatever happens to the agreement between the two shareholders of the “government of change”, Italy seems destined to a rough ride.