Guest Post. Italian Foreign Policy: To Take Arms against a Sea of Troubles?

We’ve already talked about the special issue on Italian foreign policy recently published by the Italian Political Science Review / Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica.

Here below we present two very interesting papers published in the special issue.  We would like to thank the authors for the summary of their papers.


  • Italy and the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Playing the two-level game

By Andrea Cofelice*

“The Human Rights Council is built on the same foundations of our Constitution: human rights and international peace, to be sought through dialogue among peoples of different cultures”. This brief excerpt from a speech delivered by the former President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano in 2011, singles out a relevant component of Italy’s foreign policy, namely the promotion of human rights, multilateralism, and the international system governed by the rule of law. This “national role conception”, which is constantly reaffirmed by Italian highest-level political representatives and diplomats in multilateral contexts, does not denote a legitimization of an intransigent pacifism, but rather epitomizes a concrete political choice dictated by the realism suited to a middle-sized power, indicating the community of nations as the frame of reference for Italy’s place in the world.

Due to the relevance of human rights and multilateralism for Italy’s foreign policy, this article aims to assess Italy’s actual behaviour in the framework of the United Nations Human Rights Council, that is the main multilateral forum dealing with human rights at the global level. The focus, in particular, is on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), i.e. a peer review mechanism launched in 2008, through which all UN member states can make recommendations to each other regarding human rights practices. Since it represents a new global approach in the promotion of human rights, how it performs and how credibly its work is viewed will considerably impact on the perceptions of the Human Rights Council more broadly.

Drawing on role theory, liberal and constructivist institutionalism, and the two-level game approach, the analysis reveals that Italian decision-makers played parallel games at the domestic and international tables of the UPR, and managed to adapt country’s human rights foreign policy goals according to the different social contexts where they operated. Indeed, while in the review phase in Geneva, Italy sought legitimacy for both its policies and its status as an international ‘human rights friendly’ actor, at domestic level a policy of inactivity was chosen, in order to minimize the impact of the most costly UPR recommendations, and protect the dynamics of domestic politics. These findings concur to convey the idea that, in its foreign policy, Italy tends to adopt an instrumental approach towards human rights promotion in order to gain international reputation.


  • Italy and the Fiscal Compact: Why does a country commit to permanent austerity?

By Manuela Moschella**

The paper sheds light on the factors that led the Italian government to accede to the Fiscal Compact – an international Treaty whose implementation is, at least, problematic for a country with high debt and low growth as Italy is. Specifically, the paper investigates Italian policymakers’ preferences during the negotiations.

Based on a systematic examination of the public pronouncements of the key government officials that led the Italian negotiating team, the article found only limited support for the propositions according to which the government used the Fiscal Compact to led a dysfunctional political system to adopt sound macroeconomic policies. Likewise, the analysis does not support the conclusion that the Italian government supported the Compact out of a profound belief about the benefits of the enhanced fiscal discipline that the Treaty stipulates. Government members did not reject the principle of fiscal discipline as a good practice to be followed. However, they were not significantly persuaded that this was the best strategy to follow in the period under investigation. In short, the analysis thus not lend support to the basic propositions that underpin the logic of the ‘external constraint’ as articulated in most of the scholarship that examined the Italian stance in the negotiations for the Maastricht Treaty.

If the logic of the ‘external constraint’ is not substantially supported by the documentary evidence, the logic of punishment was key in inducing the government to support the Treaty. In particular, Italian government officials were deeply convinced that the country was in no position to articulate a serious criticism to the edifice of the Treaty because doing otherwise would have led to adverse market reaction. Interestingly, this conclusion was reinforced by the fact that, at the time the Fiscal Compact was negotiated, the Eurozone had still not developed its crisis management framework. Such an institutional gap in the EMU governance exposed Italy to the risk of entering into a financial crisis without a serious insurance from other Eurozone members. Furthermore, the fact that the Fiscal Compact was embedded in a larger set of fiscal rules that would remain in place, even if the Treaty were to be rejected, contributed weakening opposition to the new provisions.

In addition to the institutional set up, the documentary evidence reveals that the weight attributed to market instability was amplified by the pro-European attitude of key government officials. Specifically, the strong pro-European orientations of Monti and Moavero contributed to the conclusion that Italy had to remain at the negotiating table – its costs notwithstanding.


Here you’ll find the link to the whole Special Issue.


We would like to thank again the authors.

*ANDREA COFELICE Centre for Studies on Federalism, Turin.

** MANUELA MOSCHELLA Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa-Florence.

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