Sonnino, Giorgio Sidney

(1847–1922)
   The Tuscan-born Sonnino (his mother was Welsh) entered politics only in 1880, after beginning a successful diplomatic career. Shortly after becoming a parliamentary deputy, he was one of the leaders of the movement to introduce universal suffrage into the electoral reform of 1882. Sonnino’s first ministerial job was as minister of finance from 1893 to 1896. He skillfully steered bank reforms through Parliament and all but balanced the budget despite the outlays caused by Italy’s adventures in Africa. In 1897, he published an article entitled “Torniamo allo statuto” (“Back to the Constitution”), which urged the crown to reclaim its right under the Statuto Albertino to name the executive independently of Parliament. Sonnino argued that Parliament was inept and corrupt and that its role should be merely consultative. These views were immensely influential, and they underlay the authoritarian attempts of the conservative governments of Antonio Starabba Di Rudini and Luigi Girolamo Pelloux from 1898 to 1900 to combat social unrest and the nascent workers’ movement by authorizing emergency measures with a royal decree rather than with a vote of Parliament.
   Sonnino, in short, was the conservative counterpart of Giovanni Giolitti. Since the first decade of the 20th century was dominated by Giolitti, Sonnino was only briefly prime minister in 1906 and again from December 1909 to March 1910. In October 1914, he became foreign minister and kept that role throughout World War I. He negotiated Italy’s entrance into the war on the side of the Entente in 1915, winning the promise of substantial territorial gains in Dalmatia and the eastern Mediterranean from Great Britain and France. After the war, however, Britain and France did not support Italy’s claims at the Paris peace conference, and the Italian government briefly walked out of the talks. The report on the Caporetto disaster by the Commission of Inquiry, published in 1919, roundly criticized him for not having sought a separate peace with Austria. Nominated to the Senate in 1920, Sonnino died in Rome in 1922. His diaries are one of the outstanding historical sources for the politics of this period.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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