BY: MARIKA ANNUNZIATA
The election held in Italy on March 4th ended the electoral year, which involved some of the main European actors, ranging from France and Germany to the United Kingdom. After an election campaign based mainly on domestic issues, where anti-immigration rhetoric was highly exploited and Eurosceptic feelings led the foreign policy discussion, Italy now needs to cope with the importance of transnational challenges.
While the fate of the Italian government still appears shaky and uncertain, it may look premature to talk about the future of the Foreign Ministry’s agenda. But the result of the general election dealt a severe blow, aligning with the populist trend that emerged in major European countries over the last two years. The affirmation of the populist Five Star Movement and the anti-immigration League party culminated in a break in continuity within the previous Italian political framework and with the foreign policy choices of the last government. While it is unlikely that Italy’s role in the international system will be jeopardised, there is still uncertainty around what the new government’s priorities will be to address the common interest of Italians.
Three main guidelines pinpoint the testing ground Italy is going to deal with following the election. First, Italy must address is the problem of migration flows in the Mediterranean. There are two sides to this challenge. On the external front, the Italian government needs to confront the primary issue of illegal immigration. On the home front, integration into the social and economic structure and respect of human rights of those who have illegally entered Italian soil remain paramount. It is also in the best interest of Italy to enhance migration partnerships with the countries of origin and transit in order to manage migration flows and border security. Moreover, Italy is highly dedicated to bolstering development aid, which will enable the populations concerned to remain in their geographies when not involved in political crises or civil wars.
Second, the energy security of the region calls for new political and diplomatic initiatives that involve the main actors both at the domestic and transnational level. Libya poses a wide range of challenges which should feature high on the scale of priorities of the Italian foreign agenda. The Italian interests in the region are extensive, and Italy has the essential credentials in Europe, in the Mediterranean and within the United Nations to ensure productive and successful attempts at mediation as well as address the Libyan political deadlock. Italy’s interests are not only a matter of migration flows, but also economic stability and counterterrorism security policies. The close cooperation in the oil field, due to geographical proximity, and strengthened by the presence of private companies, such as Eni which has been able to operate as a local actor to obtain wide concessions in Libya, has long been the decisive pivot to build a relationship.
Nevertheless, the Mediterranean is not a stand-alone reality. The third challenge Italy must come to grips with is illicit trafficking. Throughout the sub-Saharan African and Sahel region, illicit trafficking, as well as regular and irregular migration reach the Mediterranean and the Italian coasts. At the same time, the close financial and commercial connections between the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa highlight the absence of physical borders that divide the Middle East from Africa. Therefore, dealing with Mediterranean issues implies the need to face the challenges that come both from Asia and the southern part of the African continent.
Despite the best efforts made in previous years, Italy alone cannot face the demands posed by a complex and conflicted reality such as the Mediterranean. It is in the best interests of the Italian government to cooperate with the European Union through different models of integration in the crucial areas of security, immigration, and economic stability. While it is highly improbable to reform the Dublin regulations, Italy needs to impose its authority within EU institutions regarding the forthcoming programming period of the EU budget to obtain concessions on the migration front and more cooperation from the east European countries. The contribution of the Italian government is essential to relaunch the future position of the country in Europe and at the international level.
Such contribution, however, needs funds to make a difference. Devoting less than 2 percent of the national GDP to development aid and cooperation, as well as to defence and diplomacy in total, is reductive for a country situated in the middle of the Euro-African region and critically exposed to substantial migration flows.
Moreover, an overall view is imperative to examine the transatlantic diplomatic relations and the Italian NATO membership. Italy is expected to continue to invest in defence and security, while still participating in peacekeeping operations and military missions. The Italian commitment to these missions has contributed significantly to establish the international profile of Italy, and the next government should strongly consider which foreign policy issues take precedence. Italy will also have to balance the inalienable diplomatic relationship with Washington with a clear stance against Trump’s political decisions concerning international trade, climate change, and nuclear proliferation that may affect the fundamental interests of the peninsula. United States global hegemony is slowly declining, and new international players like China hold considerable sway.
Finally, the new government must establish the guidelines of its foreign policy agenda and needs to further develop reliable provisions to implement, within traditional alliances and developing partnerships, Italian political influence. A stable and secure Mediterranean and Middle East, where legitimate governments can exercise the effective control over their territories, are preconditions to ensure democracy, sustainable development, and respect of human rights and the rule of law.
Marika Annunziata holds a Master’s Degree in law from LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome with a main concentration in European and international law. Marika is currently a trainee attorney and is studying to further pursue a diplomatic career in Italy.
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