On Saturday, 25 March 2017, the European Union celebrated 60 years of existence. Leaders of the 27 member states gathered at the Piazza del Campidogli in Rome to commemorate the promulgation of the Treaty of Rome. The Treaty established the European Economic Community (EEC), which was later absorbed into the EU’s wider framework. Italian signatories included Antonio Segni of Democrazia Cristiana and Gaetano Martino of Partito Liberale Italiano. One cannot speak about Italy’s role in the EU without mentioning the influence of Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi and Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza who represented a nascent Italian democracy after decades of war, social troubles, and mass emigration.
In the decades of the 1950s and 60s, the process of European integration had provided post-war Italy with a particular political and economic context. As one of six founding members, Italy was strongly in favor of integration and economic modernization. However, devaluation as an economic tool to achieve competitiveness brought challenges to Italy’s fragile economy in later decades. In addition, the move towards a single European market required significant adaptation which Italy’s chronic political instability made especially difficult. And remember that just over half the population thought the euro was a good idea.
Nevertheless, Italy has always been one of the most pro-European countries in the Union since its foundation and has contributed much to its policies throughout its six-decade history. Influential members of the EU today include Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, and Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament. Thus, Italy continues to remain in the forefront of participation in a common European experiment.
So, what’s next for Italy in the EU? Will this leadership and pro-European public consensus continue?
Today, Italy is the world’s ninth largest economy yet excessive macroeconomic imbalances continue to plague Italy’s financial well-being. A medium-sized power such as Italy most certainly does not have the influence of France or Germany in policymaking yet the pro-European country continues to have some bearing as a leading EU policymaker. It seems that Italy will continue to be a leader if there is a political culture which fosters the promotion of national interests in EU decision-making procedures. While a further Europeanization of the Italian system is imminent, it appears that Italy will continue to struggle with its aim to bring about economic convergence to its own nation. Solidarity not only with the rest of Europe but with non-EU nations cannot continue if a democratized Italy still cannot handle its own unification which took place back in the 19th century. Italy’s problem was never the euro, it was always the lira which had pieced together a north and mezzogiorno which were worlds apart economically. 60 years after the Treaty of Rome, it seems that Italy has moved forward at an alarmingly slow pace.
Nonetheless, as the EU proclaimed in its Rome Declaration on March 25th, “Unity is both a necessity and our free choice.” If that is the case, if unity and diversity is indeed the EU’s motto, Rome is where change needs to happen first if Italy wants to continue its leadership role in EU governance.