Italy advocate of integration of Western Balkans

Being a strong supporter of the EU's enlargement policy and a convinced advocate of the European integration of the Western Balkans, Italy attaches a great importance to its relations with candidate countries in the region.[1] For the Italian government, it is essential that the Balkan region will be integrated into Europe, as it believes “the anchorage to Europe” is the only way to permanently stabilise this area and to make it more prosperous.
Italy supports EU's opening to Croatia, just as it supported the accession of Slovenia to the EU. However, Italy – together with Slovenia – is part to a dispute with Croatia over the Croatian contiguous zone of the Adriatic Sea: Zagreb’s plan to establish a restricted fishery zone has raised the anger of Italian and Slovenian fishermen. The EU, and especially Italy and Slovenia, are opposed to Zagreb’s unilateral decision. Should Croatia go on with its plans to close a huge Adriatic fishing zone, its chances of gaining entry into the EU by 2010 could be undermined. The Italian government considers this no more a bilateral problem, but a Communitarian issue that needs to be solved through a collaboration among all the Adriatic Sea states.[2]

Strong will to continue the European integration process

Immediately after the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, the majority of the Italian political class expressed its disappointment for what is considered another failure in the European integration process. In a declaration made on June 13th the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, affirmed that it is inconceivable that “the decision of not much more than half the voters of a country that represents less than 1 percent of the Union’s population can stop the necessary and urgent reform process.” This is the reason why Napolitano thinks that “the ratification process should go on” in order to obtain the 4/5 threshold required for the European Council to make its decisions.[1] Other representatives of the Italian political elite share Napolitano’s view. Among them, Giuliano Amato, former Prime Minister, said that it is not possible to renounce ratification of the treaty because “a very small minority cannot be allowed to decide against the overwhelming majority of European citizens”[2].

After ratification – More competition among member states

Italy will seek ratification of the EU's new reform treaty by a parliamentary vote rather than through a referendum, working rapidly in order for the new treaty to be ratified and enter into force in time for the European Parliament elections of June 2009. As a matter of fact, in order to start the process leading to the ratification and implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, a bill was approved by the Council of Ministers on December 21st 2007.  The majority of Italian political parties are expected to support the new agreement, which, being largely similar to the text of the draft Constitution, is not expected to face any major political opposition.

Discourse on the preparation of ratification

Miscellaneous current issues in Italy

Jacopo Leone
Immigration: At the beginning of 2010, an impressive social uprising took place in southern Italy, involving numerous African crop-pickers and the Italian police. Clashes lasted several days, and the news was reported on all national media.[1] This is just one episode which well describes the Italian concern over illegal immigration and its connection with crime. Public opinion seems increasingly worried about the lack of public order, sometimes even in big cities, where closed racial neighbourhoods have emerged in the last decade.
Corruption: The past six months have seen a series of political scandals, connected in various ways to corruption and the illegal use of public money.[2] Both sides of the Italian political establishment seem to be involved in the events, leaving a deep sense of dissatisfaction in the national public opinion towards politicians in general.
Afghanistan: Following the arrest in Afghanistan of three Italian aid workers of Emergency, a charity organisation funded by Gino Strada, accused of supporting a plot to assassinate the Governor of the Helmand province, a tense debate emerged in the Italian press and political establishment.[3] The episode obtained large coverage in TV shows and parliamentary auditions, even after the release of the three prisoners.[4]

Europe’s voice was no source of influence in Copenhagen

Jacopo Leone
In Italy, as in most European countries, the meagre results achieved during the Copenhagen Summit have produced a palpable frustration. In this regard, the words of the Italian Minister for Environment Stefania Prestigiacomo sharply highlighted this feeling, noting that the conference has been a substantial political failure and a deeply disappointing experience.[1] However, while still discouraged by the summit’s results, Carlo Carraro, an Italian member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been more cautious. In his view, although insufficient, such a weak outcome was indeed the only possible. The EU appears to be the real loser, since it had considerable ambitions which had not been met during the conference.[2]
This EU failure has also been revealed by the Italian press and the research community. In particular, it has been noted that the EU is once again incapable of speaking with one strong voice which is the real reason at the base of its marginalisation.[3] Moreover, such an alarming development is well represented by the new cooperation between the US and emergent economies, from which the final political decision emerged at the last minute of the conference.[4]

Unanimity rule paralysing European economic policy

Jacopo Leone
Since the emergence of the Greek financial and economic crisis, Italy has always approved and encouraged an European coordinated action to resolve the situation. As Prime Minister Berlusconi maintained, if the EU is not willing to help a member of the Euro area afflicted by a severe economic crisis full of perilous potentials, then the EU has no reason to exist.[1] On the same line, the Italian Minister for Finance and Economy Giulio Tremonti, commented that the finance package to support Greece was the right thing to do.[2] More sceptical, however, was the opposition leader Enrico Letta, highlighting how the decision to involve the International Monetary Fund (IMF) undeniably discards the idea of a possible European Monetary Fund (EMF).

Inclusive attitude towards possible new members

Jacopo Leone
In the Italian debate, it is common opinion that Croatia and Macedonia are the best candidates to enter the EU in the next enlargement round. In this regard, comments are usually positive. Indeed, the national political establishment has traditionally supported the access of the Balkan countries to the EU. In the words of Italian Foreign Minister Frattini, Croatia and Macedonia have both overcome several obstacles, and it seems legitimate to imagine Zagreb in the EU in the course of 2011.[1] The same opinion is expressed by the research community, which noticed how the recent election of Ivo Josipović as Croatian President substantially increased the odds of the country joining the EU.[2]
The case of Macedonia appears more problematic. The Italian government is striving to push Brussels to open negotiations as soon as possible, leaving aside the thorny debate with Greece over the name of the former Yugoslav Republic.[3]
The forthcoming European membership of both Croatia and Macedonia are thus considered with favour by the Italian political parties and public opinion. As reported in the National Strategic Concept of the Ministry of Defense, the reason is manly geostrategic.[4] This approach is therefore likely to remain consistent in the near future, concerning the whole Balkan area.

Divergent views over Van Rompuy and Ashton seem largely negative in Italy

Jacopo Leone
Since his appointment as the new President of the European Council in November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy has inspired sceptical comments and pessimistic analyses, both at the political level as well as in the Italian media coverage. Indeed only few voices, although highly respected, have appeared to reject this general negative opinion.
The Italian political leaders expressed common frustration on the appointment of Van Rompuy. Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the main opposition party, has spoken of a “low profile” personality, which symbolises a bad start for the EU after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.[1] More prudent in his statement has been the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who described the decision as “the only possible compromise.”[2]
Moreover, a deep scepticism over the political figure of Van Rompuy also characterises the comments in the Italian press and research community. The ‘opaque Flemish leader’ has often been judged as a minimalist choice, lacking the strong personal authority which is deemed necessary to effectively operate in a fragmented and confused EU.[3] Van Rompuy’s nomination seemed, therefore, to suggest a lack of political ambition, the loss of a truly pro-European sentiment among national leaders, and the demise of any aspiration of global leadership by the EU.[4]

Concerns about public order and illegal immigration

Istituto Affari Internazionali
·         Rise in prices: In the last year the prices of basic goods, such as food, oil and energy, have increased considerably. This issue has been the centre of press articles and interventions by politicians.
·         Security and crime: Italian public opinion is getting increasingly worried about the lack of public order in some areas of Italy. Episodes of violence are given a lot of space in Italian press and TV shows.
·         Immigration: This issue is partly connected to the previous one, because in the last months there has been an increase in illegal immigration. This had led to some episodes of tension in the so-called “Centri di Prima Accoglienza” – the temporary shelters in which the illegal immigrants are hosted until they are repatriated to their country of origin – and sometimes to racist reactions by the Italian public opinion.