Background Information: ItalyOfficial Name:
Republic of Italy
Area: 301,225 sq. km. (116,303 sq. mi.); about the size of Georgia and
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Italian(s).
Type: Republic since June 2, 1946.
GDP (1998): $1.18 trillion.
Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth- highest population density in Europe--about 200 persons per square kilometer (490/sq. mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around Trieste. Other groups comprise small communities of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Although Roman Catholicism is the majority religion--99% of the people are nominally Catholic--all religious faiths are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution.
Greeks settled in the southern tip of the Italian Peninsula in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.; Etruscans, Romans, and others inhabited the central and northern mainland. The peninsula subsequently was unified under the Roman Republic. The neighboring islands also came under Roman control by the third century B.C.; by the first century A.D., the Roman Empire effectively dominated the Mediterranean world. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west in the fifth century A.D., the peninsula and islands were subjected to a series of invasions, and political unity was lost. Italy became an oft-changing succession of small states, principalities, and kingdoms which fought among themselves and were subject to ambitions of foreign powers. Popes of Rome ruled central Italy; rivalries between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, who claimed Italy as their domain, often made the peninsula a battleground.
The commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, beginning in the 11th century, and the influence of the Renaissance mitigated somewhat the effects of these medieval political rivalries. Although Italy declined after the 16th century, the Renaissance had strengthened the idea of a single Italian nationality. By the early 19th century, a nationalist movement developed and led to the reunification of Italy--except for Rome--in the 1860s. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was proclaimed King of Italy. Rome was incorporated in 1870. From 1870 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament elected under limited suffrage.
During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and, in 1915, entered the war on the side of the Allies. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. In 1922, Benito Mussolini came to power and, over the next few years, eliminated political parties, curtailed personal liberties, and installed a fascist dictatorship termed the Corporate State. The king, with little or no effective power, remained titular head of state.
Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and France in 1940. In 1941, Italy--with the other Axis powers, Germany and Japan--declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union. Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini and appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as premier. The Badoglio government declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country and freed Mussolini, who led a brief-lived regime in the north. An anti-fascist popular resistance movement grew during the last 2 years of the war, harassing German forces before they were driven out in April 1945. The monarchy was ended by a 1946 plebiscite, and a constituent assembly was elected to draw up plans for the republic.
Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France. The eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977 (currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the 1947 peace treaty, Italy also gave up its overseas territories and certain Mediterranean islands.
The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which were confirmed by the present constitution, the state of Vatican City is recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.
Italy's Cultural Contributions
Europe's Renaissance period began in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries. Literary achievements--such as the poetry of Petrarch, Tasso, and Ariosto and the prose of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione--exerted a tremendous and lasting influence on the subsequent development of Western civilization, as did the painting, sculpture, and architecture contributed by giants such as da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo.
The musical influence of Italian composers Monteverdi, Palestrina, and Vivaldi proved epochal; in the 19th century, Italian romantic opera flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, composers, and designers contribute significantly to Western culture.
Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948.
The Italian state is highly centralized. The prefect of each of the provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government. In addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with limited governing powers. Five regions--Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia--function with special autonomy statutes. The other 15 regions were established in 1970 and vote for regional "councils." The establishment of regional governments throughout Italy has brought some decentralization to the national governmental machinery.
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral Parliament (Chamber of Deputies and Senate), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) which is headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic is elected for 7 years by the Parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who chooses the other ministers. The Council of Ministers--in practice composed mostly of members of Parliament--must retain the confidence of both houses.
The houses of Parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993 legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in Parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members. In addition to 315 elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons appointed for life according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and subsequent statutes. There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. A constitutional court, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Principal Government Officials
President--Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Italy maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 Fuller Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-328-5500).
There have been frequent government turnovers since 1945. The dominance of the Christian Democratic (DC) Party during much of the postwar period lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political situation.
From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters-- disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence-- demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. In 1993 referendums, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to a largely majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries.
Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, underwent far-reaching changes. New political forces and new alignments of power emerged in March 1994 national elections: There was a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time. The 1994 elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi--and his "Freedom Pole" coalition--into office as Prime Minister. However, Berlusconi was forced to step down in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which fell in early 1996.
In April 1996, national elections were again held and led to the victory of a center-left coalition (the Olive Tree) led by Romano Prodi. Prodi's government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence (by three votes) in October 1998. A new government was formed by Democratic Party of the Left leader and former-communist Massimo D'Alema. Like Prodi's government, D'Alema's coalition includes the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), the Italian People's Party (PPI), the newly created Italian Communist Party (split from the Communist Renewal in October 1998) and other small, center-left groups. In May 1999, the Parliament selected Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as the new Italian President (replacing Oscar Luigi Scalfaro). Ciampi, a former Prime Minister, and actual Minister of Treasury, was elected on the first ballot with an easy margin over the required two-thirds votes.
Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a proportional to majoritarian voting system--with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation-- also altered the political landscape.
Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved; the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet. New movements such as Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Berlusconi, gained wide support. The National Alliance broke from the neofascist Italian Social Movement. A trend toward two large coalitions--one on the center-left and the other on the center-right-- emerged from the April 1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center right united again under the Freedom Pole. This emerging bipolarity represents a major break from the fragmented, multiparty political landscape of the postwar era.
The largest parties in the Chamber are Democratic Party of the Left-- moderate successor to the Italian Communist Party--(21.1%); Forza Italia (20.6%); National Alliance (15.7%); Northern League (10.1%); Italian Communist Party (4%); Communist Renewal (4%); and Italian People's Party (6.8%). The same rankings generally apply in the Senate.
The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. From an agriculturally based economy, it has developed into an industrial state ranked as the world's fifth-largest industrial economy. Italy belongs to the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations; it is a member of the European Union and the OECD.
Italy has few natural resources. With much of the land unsuited for farming, it is a net food importer. There are no substantial deposits of iron, coal, or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley and offshore Adriatic, have grown in recent years and constitute the country's most important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are imported. Italy's economic strength is in the processing and the manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Its major industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, and fashion and clothing.
Italy is in the midst of a slow economic recovery but lags behind most of its west European neighbors. Italy's economy accelerated from anemic 0.7% growth in 1996 to 1.3% in 1998, still one of the lowest growth rates among industrialized economies. Domestic demand and exports were the dominant factors in GDP growth. Most economic forecasters expect GDP growth to drop to around 1% in 1999.
While exports grew, imports grew faster, resulting in a trade surplus of $27 billion in 1998, down from $47.1 billion in 1997 and $60 billion in 1996. Italy has continued to build foreign exchange reserves to $80 billion in 1998, a record high.
On inflation, Italy is now firmly within norms specified for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), a major achievement for this historically inflation-prone country. Consumer inflation fell from 3.9% in 1996 to 1.5% in 1997, with a slight increase to 1.9% in 1998. The 1992 agreement on wage adjustments, which has helped keep wage pressures on inflation low, remains in effect. Tight monetary policy by the Bank of Italy also has helped bring inflation expectations down.
Since 1992, economic policy in Italy has focused primarily on reducing government budget deficits and reining in the national debt. Successive Italian governments have adopted annual austerity budgets with cutbacks in spending, as well as new revenue raising measures. Italy has enjoyed a primary budget surplus, net of interest payments, for the last 7 years. The deficit in public administration is expected to decline to 2.4% of GDP in 1999, down from 7% in 1995. Italy joined the European Monetary Union in May 1998.
The national debt should continue to decline slowly. It stabilized in 1995 at roughly 124% of GDP and has declined steadily to 118% of GDP in 1998. Given the heavy weight of interest payments in government expenditures, public finances remain susceptible to international capital market developments, as well as domestic political developments.
Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Italy's largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (18%), France (13%), and the United Kingdom (7%).
U.S.-Italy Economic Relations
The U.S.-Italian bilateral relationship is strong and growing. The U.S. and Italy cooperate closely on major economic issues, including within the G-8. With a large population and a high per capita income, Italy is one of the United States' most important trade partners. In 1998, the United States was the fourth-largest foreign supplier of the Italian market (with a market share of 5.6%) and the largest supplier outside the EU. Total trade between the United States and Italy exceeded $30 billion in 1998. The U.S. ran more than an $8.5 billion deficit with Italy.
Significant changes are occurring in the composition of this trade which could narrow the gap. More value-added products such as office machinery and aircraft are becoming the principal U.S. exports to Italy. The change reveals the growing sophistication of the Italian market, and bilateral trade should expand further. During 1998, the United States imported about $19 billion in Italian goods while exporting about $11.3 billion in U.S. goods to Italy. U.S. foreign direct investment in Italy at the end of 1997 exceeded $11.8 billion; Italian investment in the U.S. was roughly $9 billion.
Unemployment remains high (12.2% for 1998 but has declined to just below 12% in mid-1999). It is especially severe in the south where average unemployment for the year was more than 20%. Women and youth have significantly higher rates of unemployment than men. A rigid labor market serves as a disincentive to job creation. There is a significant underground economy absorbing substantial numbers of people, but they work for low wages and without standard social benefits and protections.
Unions claim to represent 40% of the work force. Most Italian unions are grouped in three major confederations: the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Labor Unions (CISL) and the Union of Italian Labor (UIL). These confederations formerly were associated with important political parties or currents, but they have formally terminated such ties. Nowadays, the three often coordinate their positions before confronting management or lobbying the government. The three major confederations have an important consultative role on national social and economic issues. Among their major agreements are a 4-year wage moderation agreement signed in 1993, a reform of the pension system in 1995, and an employment pact, introducing steps for labor market flexibility in economically depressed areas, in 1996. The CGIL, CISL, and UIL are affiliates of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
Italy's agriculture is typical of the division between the agricultures of the northern and southern countries of the European Union. The northern part of Italy produces primarily grains, sugarbeets, soybeans, meat, and dairy products, while the south specializes in producing fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, and durum wheat.
Even though much of its mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming, Italy has a large work force (1.4 million) employed in farming. Most farms are small, with the average farm only seven hectares.
For further economic and commercial information, please refer to the "Country Commercial Guide" for Italy, available on the State Department web page at www.state.gov.
Italy was a founding member of the European Community--now the European Union (EU). Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and is a member and strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Western European Union (WEU), and the Council of Europe. It chaired the CSCE and the G-7 in 1994 and the EU in 1996.
Italy firmly supports the United Nations and its international security activities. Italy actively participated in and deployed troops in support of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique, and Cambodia and provides critical support for NATO and UN operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania.
The Italian Government seeks to obtain consensus with other European countries on various defense and security issues within the WEU as well as NATO. European integration and the development of common defense and security policies will continue to be of primary interest to Italy.
The United States enjoys warm and friendly relations with Italy. The two are NATO allies and cooperate in the United Nations; in various regional organizations; and bilaterally for peace, prosperity, and defense. Italy has worked closely with the United States and others on such issues as NATO and UN operations in Bosnia and Kosovo; sanctions against the former Yugoslavia; assistance to Russia and the New Independent States (NIS); Middle East peace process multilateral talks; Somalia and Mozambique peacekeeping; and combating drug trafficking, trafficking in women and children, and terrorism.
Under longstanding bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership, Italy hosts important U.S. military forces at Vincenza and Livorno (Army); Aviano (Air Force); and Sigonella, Gaeta, and Naples--home port for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet. The United States has about 17,000 military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO War College in Rome.
Italy remains a strong and active transatlantic partner which, along with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict. Toward this end, the Italian Government has cooperated with the U.S. in the formulation of defense, security, and peacekeeping policies.
Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General, Florence--Hilarion Martinez
The U.S. embassy in Italy is located at Via Veneto 119, Rome (tel. (39)(06) 46741 The URL for the embassy web page is: http://www.usis. it/mission/
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
To comment on this service,
send feedback to the Web Development Team.