VERDI himself could not have orchestrated it any better. Just as
Italy takes over the presidency of the European Community, intending
to sensitize the Italians' partners to Mediterranean issues, Iraq
Italy's contention that Europe's southern flank is vulnerable now
seems prescient, and the Gulf standoff is affording Prime Minister
Giulio Andreotti an unprecedented opportunity to lead the community
to heightened foreign policy unity. But the crisis has also
momentarily distracted attention away from the Italian political
class's steadfast resistance to much needed budgetary, regulatory,
and political reform.
Italy is nothing if not a paradox. It stands accused of political
instability, but while governments fall with alarming frequency, the
constellation of cabinet members is virtually unchanging. Prime
Minister Andreotti has led the government six times, and many of his
Christian Democratic partners have had careers nearly as long and
diverse. The lack of political regeneration suggests that, if
anything, Italian politics is far too stable.
Italy has enjoyed tremendous economic and political success over
the last decade. Its largest companies, such as Fiat, have emerged
as world-class mulitinationals, while highly flexible and smaller
firms sell products appreciated for their superior quality and
design. Even the once volatile lira is now reliable, and inflation
is down due to the Bank of Italy's stringent monetary policy.
Although southern Italy remains mired in poverty, the country as a
whole is as dynamic and wealthy as virtually any country in the
Terrorism, which once brought Italy to its knees, has waned
considerably, and the global failure of Marxist ideology now compels
the Italian Communist Party, the West's largest, to revamp its
image, democratize its structures, and even scramble for a new name.
These political and economic developments have spawned increased
Italian activism in the international sphere.
The Italians are aggressively building a strong presence in the
Soviet Union, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, all of which
see Italy as a bridge to the European Community. Italy's strategic
importance to the United States is also growing, not only as a
potential counterweight to a unified Germany, but more importantly,
as a frontier state to a crisis-plagued and ever more militarily
potent Middle East.
Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis would like to see Europe more
engaged in the Middle East for a number of reasons, including the
growing tide of Arab immigrants to Europe, regional power
imbalances, the proliferation of chemical and ballistic weapons, and
European energy vulnerabilities. He is using the EC presidency both
to forge tighter links to the Arab Cooperation Council and the Arab
Maghreb Union, and to boost EC aid to the region. …