Italy in the Mediterranean: Between Rhetoric and Continuity

Italy in the Mediterranean: Between Rhetoric and Continuity

In terms of foreign policy rhetoric, the Mediterranean has always represented a "special" interest for Italy, in part due to its geographical location. But the amount of resources and commitment Rome has mobilized for its Mediterranean foreign policy has never been commensurate with its declared ambitions. In practice, Italy's Mediterranean policy since the end of the Cold War has been a function of its bipolar domestic political system, and largely linked to the role Rome has tried to play in the other two, fundamental pillars of Italian interests: the transatlantic partnership and the process of European integration.

Although far from a rigid rule, the general pattern has been for center-left governments to be more focused on and committed to European integration, with their Mediterranean policies characterized by a more-responsive stance toward Arab countries. By contrast, center-right governments have placed the transatlantic partnership at the very core of their foreign policy efforts, and their Mediterranean policies have moved Italy closer to Israel, while reducing -- in terms of rhetoric, at least -- Italy's commitment to defending the interests of the Arab world.

Of course, geopolitical and economic constraints at times forced particular Italian governments to pursue policies that sometimes collided with their rhetorical commitments and declared ambitions. For instance, the need to secure energy supplies -- a field in which ENI (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi) plays a fundamental and, to some degree, autonomous role -- or the need to promote Italian commercial interests in the southern rim of the Mediterranean represent two areas in which Italian governments have shown continuity, regardless of their political and ideological orientation.

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