The 100th issue of Aspenia took a multifaceted look at Italy, starting with Italians as citizen-voters, individuals and groups, producers and consumers, analyzing then the institutions that unite them to arrive at the overall country system, not least in terms of its international projection. A certain insecurity hovers over Italy, a country that boasts heights of excellence yet is not without its vulnerabilities.
To begin with, an age-old, historic insecurity regarding the country’s international standing. Back in the days of the Risorgimento, Cavour was aware that Italy was a nation of the “second order”– not least because success of the unification was still not assured nor where it would lead. It was that leadership’s exceptional intuition to immediately commit the future Italian State to the European framework, contributing to objectives shared with other important powers and acquiring a certain degree of prestige and credibility.
At a different and subsequent stage, Italy made additional strides following the same intuition and a similar method: under extremely harsh post-war conditions, De Gasperi chose Atlanticism; i.e., stable economic and security as well as political and cultural anchorage to the United States. At the same time, he chose multilateral Europeanism, participating in the founding of the OEEC and the EEC. Given the history of the Italian economy, De Gasperi was conscious of the country’s structural needs: foreign capital, raw materials and international processes steered by political institutions, and not by the market alone.
Since then, Italy cannot be said to have become a nation of the “first order” in a Franco-German dominated Europe, and where the specific weight of England is (or was) obviously greater; but neither is it a one of no count. It finds itself at a sort of middle of the road, not small not big, therefore with the potential to matter more, but also less, in function of contingencies.
In this context, Italy’s influence in Europe has always been gauged in relation to its effective capacity to tap that potential. When Rome has been active in the pursuit of creative policy-making it has managed to steer and condition European policy. Where it has been passive, it has had to defer to them because Italian consensus is not always necessarily the lowest common denominator of the European decision-making process.
Today’s Italy can still rely above all on its industrial prominence – especially in manufacturing – as a factor in bringing its potential to bear; e.g., having the world’s most diversified exports ensures good resilience and adaptability thanks to relatively short production chains. Nevertheless, the small size of Italian companies is a continuing problem and greater volumes can only be achieved with the help of State participation; moreover, indebtedness and low productivity are issues still to be resolved. Meanwhile, some niche excellences recognized and appreciated the world over remind us that it is necessary to be open to influences and change, while at the same time maintaining our roots and traditions intact.
The political and administrative system, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction – even though, as Issue no. 100 points out, the political/social distress of recent years has spread at the same pace across the rest of the continent, paradoxically shifting Italy closer to the average, with France’s presidential structure showing visible cracks, Germany’s solidity waning in comparison with the recent past and England’s near total self-ostracization. It could be said that the status of “potentially great” is applicable by now to each individual EU member and to its new weaknesses, especially when compared with counterparts on the global stage ranging from the US to China and all the various emerging and ambitious powers in between.
This situation is highly problematic for a Europe that has seen the evaporation of the Russian political-diplomatic option – i.e., “Eurasian” – as a realistic scenario, at least for now. New agreements with the United States are essential since the Old Continent – and the West in general – can ill afford internal divisions given today’s intense and multidimensional global competitive stage.
In any case, in order to meet the future, and “complete” Italy and Italians, it is going to be fundamental to better understand and analyze the past – starting with the complex heritage of the Classical culture – so as to make astute, farsighted choices. This is precisely the formula that can be described as the “Aspen method”, which is embodied in this publication.