In 2014, Italy experienced its third change of government in three years, with Matteo Renzi being sworn in as prime minister on 25 February. Moreover, within just one year, three different ministers guided the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This governmental upheaval worked against Italy taking a leadership role in foreign policy, as explained in ECFR’s European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2015.
Furthermore, in 2014 the Italian government mainly focused on domestic issues. The Democratic Party won 41 percent of Italian votes at May’s European elections. This success greatly increased Prime Minister Renzi’s visibility in Europe and gave him a unique opportunity to push for Italian interests in talks with his European partners. Renzi used this influence to focus on the economic crisis and on ways to relaunch the European economy, stressing the need to give up austerity policies in favour of growth policies. Indeed, during 2014, Renzi’s name was frequently coupled with the word “flexibility”.
Italy held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2014 at a particularly sensitive time for European politics: the May elections resulted in the most Eurosceptic European Parliament ever, the economic recovery was still uncertain, and European politics had to cope with the transition to the new institutions, including the European Commission.
The southern neighbourhood remained a core priority of Italian foreign policy. In 2014, engagement in Libya was a top priority and Italy was ranked a leader on Libya in the ECFR Scorecard. The Italian commitment is linked to political, economic, security, and migration issues, and Italy’s objectives were to avoid a permanent territorial and political division of the country and to maximise the international community’s involvement. In 2014, Italy was the only heavyweight EU member state that still maintained an embassy in Tripoli.
Italy and Libya are tied by very strong historical and cultural relations, which date back centuries, and Italy has developed a widespread economic and cultural presence in the country over the years. Italy also managed to keep a balanced approach, unlike the positions of other member states such as France and the United Kingdom.
Another tangible example of Italian involvement in the southern neighbourhood region was Italy’s engagement in Afghanistan, where it worked to support the future security and development of the country. Italy has been in Afghanistan since 2001 and has confirmed, along with Germany, that it will remain engaged in post-2014 Afghanistan.
In 2014, Italy also actively promoted its vision of the transatlantic relationship. Italy has been one the most active supporters of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which has been seen and promoted domestically as a great opportunity for Europe and European citizens. However, Italy also worked to align its stance with the EU’s official position and supported European policy on privacy and intelligence practices. The Snowden case, while not having great resonance at the governmental level, changed public opinion on the relationship between security and privacy. The Italian parliament took account of public concerns and drafted an Internet Bill of Rights, aimed at spurring a debate about online civil liberties and fundamental freedoms. Even though the declaration is only a draft, it is a good starting point and demonstrates Italy’s activism in the development of a European policy on privacy and data protection.