European Integration

   Italians have been numbered among the most vocal supporters of European unification since after 1918, with scholars like Luigi Einaudi and the industrialist Giovanni Agnelli being early supporters. Resistance to the nationalist doctrine of Fascismwas tinged from the start with a belief in the necessity for a federal reorganization of Europe. One of the earliest appeals for a federal European state—the so-called Manifesto of Ventotene—was drawn up in 1941 by the antifascist intellectuals Ernesto Rossi and Altiero Spinelli. Catholics, in part from idealism, in part from fear of communism, also backed the idea of European unity. In the 1950s, Alcide De Gasperi made European integration one of the core elements of his foreign policy and led Italy into the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952. The negotiations that led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), or “Common Market,” were begun in Messina in Sicily and became law in the Treaty of Rome (1958) with the signatures of the governments of France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Participation in the EEC brought Italy substantial commercial benefits and was a major factor in the surge of economic growth in 1958–1963 known as the economic miracle. Italy has never quite punched its weight in the European Community (EC) and then the European Union (EU), although it has subscribed to every attempt to expand the powers of “federal” institutions, such as the European Parliament and Commission, at the expense of national sovereignty. In 1987, for instance, dissatisfied with the institutional provisions of the 1986 Single European Act (SEA), Italy symbolically refused to sign the treaty together with the other member states, but waited until a referendum in Denmark had confirmed the treaty.
   Some critics argue, however, that Italy’s commitment to European unification is in reality somewhat less enthusiastic than its rhetoric suggests. Italy was among the slowest of all member states to implement the single market in goods and services required by the SEA, and even today certain industries and services, notably banking, enjoy a degree of informal protection from European rivals. Italy’s state bureaucracy has also failed to exploit the opportunities for growth and industrial development offered by the various European funds for social and economic modernization. Finally, Italy’s ability to enforce immigration controls required by the Schengen agreements (March 1995) has been called into question, especially by the German government. These agreements eliminate passport and other customs controls at EU borders for EU nationals. Italy’s long coastlines, however, offer easy access for clandestine immigrants, who can then move at will to other EU nations. For this reason, Italy only implemented the accords in October 1997. It is fair to say, however, that the process of European unification has compelled Italy’s political parties to adopt deregulating, comptitioninducing policies that they might otherwise not have followed. The privatizations, pension reforms, and austerity policies followed by the governments of Lamberto Dini and Romano Prodi in the mid-1990s might never have been introduced had there not been the vincolo esterno (“external constraint”) of the need to participate in European monetary union. AEurope-wide poll taken by the European Commission in May 1997 showed that fully 73 percent of Italians favored the introduction of the European single currency, the euro, regardless of the sacrifices entailed.
   Nevertheless, it is true that public opinion has cooled toward European integration since 2000. The 2001–2006 government of Silvio Berlusconi was, by Italian standards, skeptical of the benefits of the EU. Especially among right-wing voters, enthusiasm for European integration is currently at a postwar low.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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