Registration regulations are defined by national laws and enforced by the judiciary. The bureaucratic requirements for validating voter signatures, required in order to present party lists and candidacies, are fair and nondiscriminatory but are rather burdensome, and may in some cases make this presentation difficult (particularly for smaller groups). In fact, in the recent regional elections of March 2010, some of the local lists of one of the major parties (Popolo della Libertà) were rejected, largely as a result of human error on the part of the person in charge of delivering the list. However, in spite of some minor barriers, the procedures have regularly enabled even very small parties to participate in elections.
Access to television by parties and candidates is regulated by a law (Law 28/2000) that provides for equal time for each party during electoral campaigns. An independent oversight authority (Autorità per le garanzie nelle comunicazioni, AGCOM) ensures that the rules are followed and has the power to sanction violations. This power is effectively used. The fact that major private television companies (Mediaset) are controlled by the current prime minister and leader of the largest party enables the parties of the center-right to enjoy somewhat more favorable treatment in the news services. Public television is controlled by a parliamentary committee which reflects the composition of the whole parliament. Although the government in office typically attracts more air time than the opposition, the treatment of the different parties by the public broadcaster is overall fairly balanced. In the print sector, the large variety of newspapers both with and without a clear political orientation provides a sufficiently balanced coverage of all positions. However, parliamentary outsiders (such as new parties) have virtually no access to the media. This was evident in the regional elections in March 2010, when Beppo Grillo’s Movement 5 Stars entered the political scene. A good example of media politicization is the way that RAI TG1 (the main evening TV news program on the first public channel) director Minzolini politicized this news program.
All citizens are automatically registered, notified at home of their voting rights and supplied with the relevant information. Citizens are entitled to appeal to independent judicial bodies if they are mistakenly excluded from registration. Citizens living abroad are also entitled to vote. There are no significant complaints about the working of the process.
In the 2008 general elections, there was some discussion about Italians abroad who had trouble getting on the electoral rolls.
The financing of parties is to a large extent public. State financing is regulated by a 1993 law (Legge del 10 dicembre 1993 n. 515, e successive modificazioni recante norme sulla “disciplina delle campagne elettorali per l’elezione alla Camera dei deputati e al Senato della Repubblica”), and is monitored by an independent judiciary organ, the Court of Accounts (Corte dei Conti), which checks the accounts provided by parties and can sanction infringements. Private financing must be declared by candidates and parties, and is controlled by regional judicial bodies.
In any examination of the media system in Italy, a distinction must be made between printed media and television. Printed media (newspapers and weekly publications) are quite pluralistic both in terms of ownership and of ideological orientation, and the influence of the government is limited. More relevant in this domain is the influence of economic groups.
The influence of the government is more keenly felt in the television sector. The state-owned broadcast system has traditionally been organized along a “consociational model,” which provides for representation of all major political positions. The influence of the government is in part counterbalanced by the role of the parliamentary committee (“Commissione parlamentare per l’indirizzo generale e la vigilanza dei servizi radiotelevisivi,” established by law in 1975) tasked with overseeing radio and television, which is always chaired by a member of the opposition party. The serving government typically has the strongest influence on the news services of the first channel (and its director is typically a person “friendly” to the government). Other channels are closer to the opposition.
All in all, there is strong evidence that Italy media independence is being damaged. Its rank in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index has continued to fall, reaching 49th place (worst of the six European Community/European Union founding countries) in 2009. Since 2008, Freedom House has listed Italy as the only “partly free” country in Western Europe, with all others receiving the “free” rating. Mafia actions against journalists, the government’s draft wiretap and “gag” law, and agitation and legal action by Berlusconi against journalists and their media employers have all strongly interfered with the independence of the media.
The printed media (daily newspapers and weekly publications) show a significant level of pluralism both in terms of ownership (three to four major groups, and a number of additional minor ones) and of ideological orientation. They provide a large variety of opinions. Even when the analysis is restricted to the newspapers with the largest circulation, it can be seen that the pluralism of political and cultural positions is significant.
With regard to television the system is dominated by a duopoly formed by the state-owned broadcaster and Mediaset, but with other actors (in particular News Corp. and its Sky TV) slowly growing in importance in the cable and satellite sector. The Mediaset group is owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the main center-right party (Popolo della Libertà) and the serving prime minister during the period of under review. Some degree of pluralism of political positions exists between in the different channels of Mediaset, but the breadth is limited. Other TV channels (Sky TV and TV 7) cover a larger spectrum of opinions, but are not equally important. There are also programs which are highly critical of the government’s positions. Some of these are seen in prime time and have a large audience. Once again, due to the dominance and the importance of television as the nation’s and Italians’ main information medium, a wide diversity of opinions is not immediately available. Only by consulting electronic media and newspapers, as only a minority do, can media users, consumers and citizens produce for themselves a certain pluralism.
The first freedom of information act was introduced by Law No. 241 in 1990. Its provisions were amended and made less restrictive by Law No. 15 of 2005. Disclosure can be denied only under specific circumstances (such as national security reasons, protection of privacy, etc.) which must be explicitly identified by administrative offices. Special offices (Uffici Relazioni con il Pubblico, URP) dealing with requests for access to information have been established in all administrative offices, both nationally and locally. Access has become increasingly easy and effective. Both judicial and nonjudicial mechanisms of appeal exist, and are increasingly used. Among these should be mentioned the Commission for Access to Public Documents (Commissione per l’accesso ai documenti amministrativi) of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which receives appeals in cases of information-disclosure denials, and can public administrative bodies to reconsider their decisions. The commission, which is composed both of parliamentarians and of technical officers, transmits an annual report to the parliament. Regional administrative tribunals can judicially enforce the disclosure of documents.
Civil rights are legally protected by detailed constitutional provisions and ordinary laws. Independent courts serve to guarantee their implementation. However, inefficiencies in the judicial administration and the heavy work backload of many courts can make the protection of civil rights (such as property rights) less effective. The legal protection of the rights of immigrants, especially if illegal, is far from satisfactory. Cases of police violence are reported with some frequency. Actions by the security agents of the various authorities (including the state police) sometimes seem to contradict the principles of the rule of law. Forms of racist discrimination against immigrants, foreigners and gays are also not uncommon.
Politicians from the Northern League, a member of the governing coalition, have at times shown particular hostility to ethnic minorities and Islam. Despite growing awareness among society at large, racism against immigrants, Sinti and Romany individuals is quite common. Illegal immigrants (mostly of African origin) in southern Italy suffer from exploitation. The dominant position of the Catholic Church, the Italian Bishops’ Conference, the nearby Vatican City as the seat of the pope, and the strong representation of Catholic pressure groups in nearly all political parties give little space to other religious groups, or to secular and nonreligious groups within Italian society.
Political liberties are guaranteed and effectively protected by the constitution and by an independent judiciary. Individuals of different political, religious and cultural positions enjoy substantial freedom of expression. The ability to assemble, organize and demonstrate for political purposes is largely used without major limitations.
Legal rules aimed at preventing discrimination both in general and on the basis of specific individual characteristics are well developed. However, their practical implementation is often much less satisfactory, and cases of discrimination on the basis of gender, physical ability and ethnic origin are significant. In the public administration there is an increasing effort to monitor the impact of gender discrimination on a regular basis. The 2009 report of the Department for Equal Opportunities, containing data for 2008, indicates a persistent and significant imbalance in gender representation in the higher levels of the state administration, as well as the limited extent of affirmative action programs aiming to change this state of affairs.
Discrimination against Muslims has been given rhetorical support by the Northern League. A lack of effective welfare state elements such as sufficient child care in practice results in discrimination against women and mothers. The presence of women in the higher ranks of the public administration and of private businesses remains an exception.
Presidenza del Consiglio. Dicastero delle Pari Opportunità (2009). Misure per attuare parità e pari opportunità tra uomini e donne nelle pubbliche amministrazioni. Rapporto di sintesi per l’anno 2008 (Measures for implementing parity and equal opportunities between men and women in public administrations. Synthesis report for the year 2008) (http://www.pariopportunita.gov.it/ images/stories/documenti_vari/UserF iles/DOSSIER/diretti_destinatari_20 09.pdf)
The actions of the government and administration are systematically guided by detailed legal regulations. Multiple levels of oversight – from a powerful Constitutional Court to a system of local and national administrative courts – exist to enforce the rule of law. To some extent, however, the bulk and complexity of legal regulations can produce the paradoxical effect of reducing rather than increasing the certainty of the legal framework. Moreover, the length of judicial procedures can undermine the implementation of legal rules.
The Italian constitution provides for a strong and independent system of judicial controls. At the highest level, the Constitutional Court ensures the conformity of laws with the national constitution. It has often rejected laws promoted by the current and past governments. Access to the Constitutional Court is reserved to courts and regional authorities. Citizens can raise appeals on individual complaints only within the context of a judicial proceeding, and these appeals must be assessed by a judge as “not manifestly unfounded and irrelevant.” Ordinary courts are independent from the government, and are able to effectively review and sanction government actions. The recruitment and careers of judges are overseen by the Superior Council of the Judiciary (Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura), a representative body elected by the members of the judiciary without significant influence by the government. However, the action of the judiciary is undermined by the fact that courts are often overloaded, and judicial procedures are lengthy and cumbersome as a result. The role of the judiciary has been also weakened by the climate of extreme conflict with the Berlusconi government, leading to reciprocal accusations of politically biased prosecutions, and creating obstacles to the functioning of the justice system.
Members of the Constitutional Court are appointed from three different sources: the head of state, the parliament (with special majority requirements) and the top ranks of the judiciary. This appointment system has ensured a high degree of political independence, and the Constitutional Court has frequently rejected laws that were promoted by the current or past governments and approved by the parliament. In fact, the current prime minister has more than once complained that the Constitutional Court is politically prejudiced against the government. The court’s most politically relevant decisions are widely publicized and discussed by the media.
At the close of the period under review, the serving government was preparing a revision of the judiciary system which could result in less independence and stronger political alignment on the part of justices.
A variety of mechanisms aimed at corruption prevention exist in Italy. These include systematic auditing of administrative spending, regulations concerning party financing, mandatory asset declarations for office holders, codes of conduct, and more. However, evaluating and measuring their ability to effectively prevent the misuse of public resources with any degree of certainty is not easy. The number of cases of corruption of public officials reported by the press suggests that the extent of corruption is high, and is particularly prevalent in the areas of public works, procurement, and local building permits. Evaluations based on different measures of perception also indicate high levels of corruption compared to other OECD countries. Attempts to measure the extent of real corruption were initiated by the Anticorruption and Transparency Service ( Servizio Anticorruzione e Trasparenza, SAeT) of the Ministry for Public Administration in its first report to the parliament of 2009. This report is based on the number of reported cases of corruption; however, it obviously cannot report on cases that have not been reported, which are presumably numerous but the quantity of which is difficult to estimate with precision.
In addition, prosecution of corruption remains quite ineffective because Italian officeholders do not meet the integrity criteria maintained in other OECD countries. Thus, politicians and members of parliament only rarely resign after being convicted in the first instance of a law suit, instead continuing their political career. Members of the government revised the “Bribesville” (Tangentopoli) scandal of the early 1990s, trying to rehabilitate protagonist and former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, who had escaped trial in Italy. There are many voices who speak today about a second and new “Bribesville” existing in Italy.
Some Italian public officeholders seem to be quite happy to abuse their positions for private interest. Indeed, a part of the government’s legislative projects matches perfectly the personal interests of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. His personal conflicts of interest as an indirect owner of the Mediaset Group (and other companies) are still far from resolved. Berlusconi has also called people (crime suspects) whose phone lines had been tapped by the police. According to many observers, it was this fact that gave rise to the wiretapping draft law. This proposal would restrict wiretaps and media use of wiretap transcripts so completely that police unions, judges, the OSCE and the United States all have expressed opposition to the draft law. Berlusconi’s government serves as a good example of how Italy’s public administration uses power and influence for personal and private benefit. The government during the period under review has faced substantial accusations of corruption or of benefiting illegally from officeholders’ positions. Minister for Economic Development Claudio Scajola had to step down shortly after the close of the period under review. Guido Bertolaso, powerful head of the Civil Protection Agency, is under investigation.
Ministero per la Pubblica Amminsitrazione e l’Innovazione. SAeT. Rapporto al Parlamento (2009) http://www.innovazionepa.gov.it/med ia/203644/primo_rapporto_parlamento _saet.pdf
The economic policy of the government in the period under review was guided mainly by the need to respond to problems generated by the global financial crisis. The government has concentrated its activity on several goals: assuring the ability of the banking sector to survive the shock, providing credit to the market and guaranteeing the sustainability of the large existing public debt. Both goals have been achieved; no bank default has taken place, and the state’s conditions for access to international credit in order to refinance its debt have not worsened. To attain these goals, the government has in general tried to keep the expansion of public spending under control, and has provided only limited stimulus to the economy (mainly targeted at the car industry and at domestic appliances during 2009). It has also expanded the amount of resources devoted to sustaining employment levels through the use of salary integration programs (cassa integrazione). Overall, these policies have succeeded in containing the worst effects of the crisis, but the economic policies have not introduced any significant innovations that might make the economy more competitive.
Generally, Italian economic policy is not exactly strategic or forward-directed. Only in the two years of the Prodi II government were incentives introduced that gave a stimulus not only to the consumption but also to new businesses such as green energy and high technology. Italy’s economy, as well as the government serving during the review period, are still benefitting from these provisions, but also from an opening of Italy’s markets to more competition. This too helped to attract foreign companies to Italy. However, the arrival and presence of foreign investors is not so much the result of wise economic or regulatory policy, but is rather attributable to the bad quality and the low level of competition of the country’s essential and general services, which has left big gaps to be filled by foreign companies (e.g., the German company Lufthansa Italia, German energy supplier e.on, the German insurance Allianz, and others).
The center-right government has promoted some policies that increase the flexibility of labor contracts. In addition, in agreement with two of the three largest trade unions (CISL and UIL) and with the employers’ association, it has encouraged the introduction of less rigid contractual agreements that would give greater freedom to local enterprises in setting salaries. In combating the effects of the crisis, the government has also increased the resources devoted to salary integration programs (the so-called cassa integrazione), which temporarily partially or fully subsidize the salaries of workers kept idle by private companies, thus encouraging firms to avoid dismissing employees. Overall, these various mechanisms have enabled Italy to contain increases in unemployment during the crisis. However, labor policies have on the contrary had little success in significantly changing the overall conditions of the labor market, and in particular in increasing the relatively low proportion of people actually at work.
It is doubtful whether it is the government’s labor market policy which brought down unemployment. As there are only minimal welfare state benefits, there is no choice for most Italians: Either they work or they do not have resources to survive. In recent years, the labor market became much more flexible with new forms of employment (short-term employees) or self-employment (partita IVA) becoming more common. Italians are well used to mobility: Immigration abroad or to Northern Italy is a strong phenomenon. But it reflects not just a highly mobile workforce, but also – even after 150 years of national unity – the failure of economic, structural and labor market policy to create enough jobs in southern Italy.
Protection against dismissal is very strong in Italy, but is of course active only for the old, classic and “typical” forms of employment. Collective agreements persist, but in a very fragmented landscape of trade unions and small industrial sectors.
The Berlusconi government’s 2008 program listed the creation of a more favorable environment for enterprises as one of its main goals. However, action in this direction has been limited. There have been a number of fiscal and regulatory provisions aimed at enabling greater flexibility in wages and overtime work, favoring new technological investments, and making bureaucratic requirements for opening new businesses somewhat less burdensome. The government has also decided to implement a new nuclear energy policy, with the goal of reducing energy costs and diversifying sources of generation. But in spite of some positive elements, enterprise policies introduced to date have not represented major improvements in several areas of significant weakness. Some of these areas of particular importance include: (1) the burdens created by the inefficiency of the public administration and by cumbersome and complicated regulations; (2) the excessive tax burden; (3) the economic environment’s low degree of competitiveness; (4) infrastructural backwardness, and the limited public resources devoted to research and the promotion of advanced investments; and (5) the high costs of energy.
Policymakers have also discussed the introduction of single points of contact (sportelli unici), where business founders can perform all the operations necessary in setting up a company in a short time. Italy lags behind many other countries in terms of the days consumed in the process of opening a business. Another problem and obstacle to new enterprises in the manufacturing and trade sectors is the difficult geography of the Italian peninsula (mostly mountainous areas, only a few plains, large North-South split), exacerbated by the old and limited road and rail transportation system. A further obstacle to foreign enterprise investment is the relatively weak command of foreign languages on the part of potential employees.
The Italian tax system has been characterized on the one hand by the need to sustain the burden of rising public expenditures, which governments have proved unable to reduce, while continuing to repay very high levels of public debt accumulated over the past decades; and on the other hand by its inability to significantly reduce the very high levels of tax evasion or the size of the black economy. As a result of this situation, levels of fiscal pressure have increased over the years, and the tax burden has become far from equitable. The fiscal pressure is very high on those households or companies that do regularly pay taxes, and is on the contrary very low for all those who want to and can evade taxation (for instance many enterprises, and large shares of independent workers and professionals). This results in significant competitive distortions acting to the advantage of the noncompliant earners.
One of the first measures of the current government was to eliminate a local tax on houses (ICI), but this has not affected the level of fiscal pressure, which has continued to rise. The government was forced to shelve a more significant reform of the tax system, envisioned as part of its incoming program, due to the more pressing concerns associated with the economic crisis and the need to ensure the sustainability of the public debt.
Overall, the system is able to generate sufficient public revenues but does not ensure satisfactory levels of equity and competitiveness. The level of fiscal pressure is not balanced by the quality and effectiveness of the public services provided for citizens and enterprises.
With the onset of global financial crisis, Italy’s negative budgetary situation, with high public debt and endemic difficulties in controlling the rise in public expenditures, has further worsened. The state deficit has risen to 5.5% of GDP, and the public debt to 123.6% of GDP. However, on a comparative basis it can be said that the government has been able to contain the negative effects of the crisis and that the sustainability of its debt is for the time being assured. Whether avoiding the worst crisis outcomes in the short term will also nurture a willingness and capacity to put budgetary policies on a more virtuous track in the medium term is a question which cannot be answered yet. However, this must be done if Italian public budgets are to preserve solvency, support economic growth more effectively than in the past, and start redressing the serious deficits in intergenerational fairness which currently have a very negative impact on younger generations.
At the beginning of 2010, and throughout the spring of that year, Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance struggled to convince credit rating agencies, markets, media and the public of the sustainability of Italy’s public debt. At least through the end of the review period, Minister Giulio Tremonti and his staff proved successful in this goal. The spread between Italian government bonds and German bonds did not get out of control. However, in the crisis year of 2009, the government was not able to implement a significant stimulus package, as other European governments did. This is evidence that there is no longer any margin for discretionary action in the Italian budget. But as Italian banks were not deeply exposed to the financial crisis, sovereign debt remained – on a high level – more or less stable. Nevertheless there is need of additional money to modernize the public administration and the country’s transport and communication networks, which can not be done solely with private money, as well as to reduce the public debt.
Italy’s national health system provides universal comprehensive coverage for the entire population. It is funded predominantly by the national budget, but is administered by regional authorities. Overall, it provides almost completely free, medium- to high-quality health care for the whole population. However, due to significant differences in local infrastructures, cultural factors, and the political and managerial proficiency of local administrations, the quality of public health care is not nationally uniform. In spite of similar levels of per capita expenditure, services are generally better in northern and central Italy as compared to those of southern Italy. In these latter regions, due to lower quality levels and typically longer waiting lists, wealthier individuals will often turn to private sector medical care. Regional disparities also lead to a significant amount of “health tourism” heading north. Early moves in the direction of fiscal federalism are now stimulating efforts to change this situation through the introduction of a system of national quality standards (correlated with resources), which should be implemented across regions.
Especially in the south, health care is affected by corruption, inefficiency and high prices. For example, in the autonomous region of Sicily it is reported that mafia activity has entered the public health care system. All across Italy (but again, more often in southern Italy) authorities often shut down hospitals or wards in hospitals because of sanitary deficiencies. Costs for health care in some regions are definitely out of control.
Preventive health programs are virtually nonexistent or are not well publicized, at least for the average health care user.
The impact of policies aimed at preventing economic disparities have been seriously weakened by the increasing ineffectiveness of the main instruments used. The progressive tax system and a series of deductions and benefits for low-income individuals, which should have accomplished redistributive functions, have largely ceased to work in this direction. The rise in tax rates and the erosion of benefits and deductions due to inflation, as well as the prevalence of tax evasion among certain parts of the population, have curtailed the system’s redistributive effects. Moreover, the system’s redistributive effects fail to reach that part of the population which earns less than the minimum taxable income. Provisions for sustaining the monetary income of the extremely poor are thus very limited. In general, allowances for families with children are rather small, and do not compensate for the costs of raising a large family. The problem of poverty is thus particularly serious for young families, especially where only one adult is employed. Some of the pensions of the elderly are also extremely low. During the crisis, the government introduced a social card applicable to private consumption (worth €40 per month) for the poorest sectors of the population, and moderately increased some of the lowest-level pensions. An effective poverty reduction policy would require larger and more effective instruments.
Italian society has traditionally relied very much upon its very strong family institutions. The family (often in its extended version) today remains a major provider of welfare for its weakest components (children, young couples with precarious jobs and elders). Within the family, significant amounts of monetary redistribution take place, and important services are provided (see for instance the role of grandparents in the care of preschool age children). Partly because of this reliance, family support policies have been generally weak. Apart from relatively generous rules on maternity leave (paid for by social insurance) and limited tax deductions for children, the state has not offered much. Public day care facilities for preschool children are available on a limited scale (and vary significantly across regions); and private firms and public offices have only recently started offering similar services, with some support from the state.
The lack of more significant policies has contributed on one hand to the limited participation of women in the workforce, and on the other to very low birth rate (except in the immigrant population).
In its 2008 program, the Berlusconi government proposed to introduce important changes in the tax treatment of families (the “quoziente familiare”), but these ideas were put aside during the crisis, and the government has to date introduced only limited subsidies for families and children in the lowest income brackets.
New and innovative Scandinavian-style concepts which go beyond maternity allowance (such as parental leave) are not widely used. The whole child care sector, and indeed the state of the public debate over the ability of women to combine work and children, lags behind that of the wealthier European countries.
In recent years, Italy’s pension policy has undergone partial reforms that have somewhat improved its sustainability by slowly and gradually increasing the age of retirement, and by reducing benefit levels. To the end of further strengthening sustainability, the current government has introduced a mechanism linking the rise in the official retirement age to the aging of the population.
Given the imbalance between an increasingly elderly population and the relatively smaller size of the younger generations, further reforms to the pension programs will probably be needed in the future. The current situation guarantees only limited intergenerational fairness, as the younger generations contribute to the pensions of today’s retirees, but will receive smaller amounts themselves upon retirement. Already, today’s pensions are unable to prevent old-age poverty fully for a significant share of the population.
More broadly, the central problem of pension policy in Italy is that pensions absorb the largest share of the welfare state’s financial resources. This fact helps stabilize and benefit the elderly, but punishes younger generations who are paying for the system today, in such a way as to contribute to the low birth rate that will ultimately make the pension system itself less sustainable, by ensuring a shrinking of the working age cohort.
Immigration on a large scale is a relatively new issue in Italy as compared to other countries in Europe. In recent years, the number of legal (mainly from new EU member countries) and illegal immigrants has increased significantly, making immigration one of the hottest political issues. Issues associated with immigration have been cast in negative rhetoric by some parties (especially the Lega) during electoral campaigns, with immigrants portrayed as dangerous social elements.
Policies dealing with the topic have concentrated more on controlling illegal immigration than on matters of integration. However, given the failure of measures designed to prevent illegal immigration, successive governments have adopted provisions for the large-scale regularization of immigrants, especially those working for and within families. In spite of these measures, a large number of immigrants are still involved in the black economy and are thus subject to economic exploitation, dangerous working conditions and a lack of respect for their rights. The school system has proved to be a positive factor in the process of integration, but schools have not received sufficient resources for achieving the best results in this field. In many cities there are ghetto-like areas where immigrants live in extremely poor housing conditions.
After a period of ambivalence influenced by the Northern League and parts of the People of Freedom (Popolo della Libertà, PDL) party, the national government seems to have developed a more pragmatic approach to integration. A new point system will encourage migrants and their mainly Italy-born children to integrate more closely into Italian society and culture. After a series of spectacular xenophobic incidents, but also revolts by legal and illegal immigrants (Lampedusa in 2009, and Rosarno in 2010), the government has perhaps learned at last to see migrants not only as a burden but as a commodity: Employers of legal (but also illegal) immigrants often make the politicians understand that they are able to continue to operate in Italy only thanks to the high number of migrants available in the workforce. Private-sector elderly care, and often child care and private cleaning services are often dependent on illegally employed immigrants. In upcoming years, Italy’s score in this section is likely to rise.
Italy’s defense and security policy is fundamentally grounded in collective security agreements (NATO in particular), but also in bilateral agreements (among which those with the United States are especially important). Membership in the European Union is the other increasingly important factor in guaranteeing national security and a friendly external environment, even if the EU’s military component is weak. Although its geographical location puts Italy close to the crisis-prone area of the Middle East, effective policies of friendship and cooperation with the states of this area have sheltered Italy from major risks (even of a terrorist nature) on this front.
Italy has been a very active participant in international peacekeeping missions, seeing this as a crucial instrument for the construction of a more peaceful external environment. Due to budgetary restrictions, the financing of the security apparatus is underfunded in comparative perspective, but the recent shift of the country’s armed forces to a professional army model has moved the country in the direction of providing a more effective instrument of national defense and international security cooperation.
Obviously Italy is no global player in security policy, but after facing quite serious challenges in a complex geographic context (sitting on the Cold War front line; being part of the Mediterranean basin, with indirect links to North Africa and the Middle East countries, as well as Turkey, Greece and the Western Balkans; its own long coast line serving as the European Union’s external border), it has used bilateral treaties with potentially disruptive countries and leaders (such as Libya) to transform its environment into a manageable area – at least for the moment. On the issue of the Middle East, the Berlusconi government has pursued a strange strategy evidently seeking to assure both sides that they have Italy’s full support. International commitments such as armed forces military missions (Afghanistan) are surprisingly strongly backed both by politicians and citizens. However, the country has yet to transform its military capabilities and its international commitment into more substantial weight inside the United Nations, NATO and European Union. Indeed, keeping its size in mind, Italy has had an impressive and mostly successful experience in stand-alone military missions abroad (Albania, Lebanon).
The internal security situation in Italy is often portrayed by the Italian media as much more serious than it is in reality. This picture is also reflected in the wider population’s feelings of insecurity, which often emerge in public opinion polls. In reality, crime rates are in many aspects less severe than in other advanced countries, as demonstrated by international statistics. Public perceptions about the police forces are also somewhat ambiguous. For instance, polls indicate a high popular level of trust in the police forces (see the ITANES poll of 2006, with 81% of the population expressing trust, a level reached only by the president of the republic), but also show a lower confidence in their ability to enforce the law (World Economic Forum data). As for many other aspects of Italian life, it is important to make a distinction between regions. It is mainly the southern regions of Campania, Calabria and Sicily where the existence of mafia-like organizations negatively affects the security situation and creates particularly serious problems for businesses. In other parts of the country, the impact of organized crime is more limited. Though the Berlusconi government has been portrayed by the opposition as comparatively uninterested in fighting against the mafias of southern Italy, the police forces have in fact continued to conduct very effective actions against mafia and camorra groups in the region, and have been able to capture some of the leading bosses of these groups.
With regard to terrorism the ability of internal security forces to prevent serious attempts has been notable. The levels of expenditure for police forces have not been increased significantly.
The fragmentation of public security authorities between the national police (Polizia di Stato), the gendarmerie (Carabinieri), the strong and even paramilitary customs and finance police (Guardia di Finanza), and provincial and town police (Polizia Municipale) wastes money and limits efficiency. Among the biggest law-enforcement topics are corruption and white collar crime, which are very common in politics and the broader economy. When politicians and businessmen can and do routinely steal taxpayers’ money, it is certainly a question of internal security.
Italy’s environmental record is mixed. With regards to CO2 emissions in comparison to GDP, and the percentage of renewable sources in its overall energy mix, Italy ranks among the best performers. On other dimensions, such as water efficiency and waste management, it fares less well. In general, environmental policies were not a strong priority for the government during the period of evaluation. However, the government did devote substantial energy to solving the waste emergency that had developed in the region of Campania and in the city of Naples under the previous government. Particularly in the field of waste management, disparities between northern and central Italy on one side and southern Italy on the other remain significant. In the field of renewable energies, where Italy traditionally fares well thanks to its large hydroelectric (and geothermic) plants, promotion of new sources such as solar or eolic energy has been limited. The government has provided some incentives for sustainable house building, and has started to discuss a return to nuclear energy with the purpose of further reducing CO2 emissions. However, this policy remains in the very early stages of implementation.
A highly motorized nation (worldwide, Italy has among the highest numbers of cars per capita) and poor short-, medium- and long-haul public transport make life in Italian cities very difficult, as well as the transport of goods and persons across Italy. Smog, particulate matter, poor air quality, traffic jams and car-crowded city centers undermine the quality of life significantly in Italian towns. In many parts of Italy, waste water flows unfiltered into rivers or the sea. Erosion is even more a danger in many parts of Italy than in the last period under review. Soil sealing continues in an excessive way across the country. Perhaps more so than any other policy area, the environment demands an immediate strategy and corresponding political action.
Italian government research policies in recent years have been weak, without strategic orientation and underfunded. In particular, financial support for basic research has been significantly reduced. The current government has continued along these lines. The only change of potential importance in this field during the period under review is the reform of the university system under discussion in the parliament. This proposal contains some interesting innovations, including a strengthening of university governance systems with the inclusion of external representatives such as enterprises and local authorities, as well as assigning a greater role to a national evaluation system. If approved, this reform could stimulate more research in university settings. Support for applied research has been sporadic, largely in the form of limited tax incentives for enterprises. The government has also discussed a project aimed at speeding the availability of high-speed Internet connections, helping to finance the required infrastructure, but the project has been delayed because of budgetary restrictions.
Research and innovation policy is more effective inside state-owned companies such as Finmeccanica. The air, space and defense industry has created several high-tech clusters in Italy. The automotive and pharmaceutical industries have also contributed to overall research and innovation. However, a strategic concept for the creation of new products and industries is missing. For example, much more could be done in environmental technology. There is a strong brain drain of professionals in high tech fields to other EU countries or elsewhere abroad.
The Italian education system, which is predominantly a national state system with some participation by local authorities, alongside a limited private sector, is in principle open to everybody without discrimination. Students pay limited fees only at the university level. In practice, however, access is seriously limited at the upper secondary and tertiary level by the limited amount of resources devoted to scholarships or similar support mechanisms for financially needy students. As might be expected, the share of individuals who do not complete their studies is very high. The share of education expenditure devoted to the salaries of teachers, professors and technical staff, the number of which is often unnecessarily high, is too large. Selection of school and university personnel is still not sufficiently meritocratic. Although there are significant areas of high-quality education at both the secondary and tertiary levels, the system as a whole does not ensure satisfactory standards of quality.
The current government has produced a reform of the secondary level, which was largely guided by the need to reduce expenditure for personnel. However, it also had the aim of strengthening discipline and the authority of school principals, and supports the development of technical education. A reform of the university system is also under way.
Governments in charge
SGI 2011 review period (May 2008 to April 2010) is outlined. Shown are: Prime minister or president, type of government, and ruling parties. Asterisks indicate national parliamentary or presidential elections.
Country scores and texts were produced by the country coordinator, based on comprehensive assessments by two country experts.
Prof. Cesar Colino Spanish Distance-Learning University, Madrid