Italy's ‘suicide diplomacy’ is reducing its influence in EU and NATO, says report

A new report says that while Italy has a "central role" to play in Europe’s response to growing security challenges in the Mediterranean region, the current government’s "suicide diplomacy" is weakening its clout in the EU and NATO.
credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Aug 2019

According to the report by Friends of Europe, the “poor state” of relations between France and Italy - a “toxic blend of French arrogance and Italian resentment” - is a major obstacle to more coherent European policy.

The study, authored by Paul Taylor of Friends of Europe, a leading Brussels-based think tank, says that climate change, demography and state fragility are “fuelling great power rivalry, resource conflicts, radicalisation and Jihadist terrorism, and the smuggling of people and arms and drugs.”

This, it adds, poses “mounting” threats to European security and stability which can only be mitigated through “much closer, more far-sighted cooperation between the EU and NATO.”


The report is timely against the backdrop of an ongoing debate about the contribution made to NATO by its EU members.

President Trump has long complained that NATO members need to step up their contribution to the alliance. He has also questioned the long-term future of NATO.

It also coincides with discussions about the next EU budget, including spending on defence, and growing concerns about European defence if, and when, the UK exits the EU.

The study is based on interviews with nearly 50 present and former European Union, NATO, Italian, French and US policymakers, a former prime minister, ex-ministers and others.

"Little will go right if Italy is at loggerheads with its main European partners, nor while France and Italy are waging what resembles a proxy war in Libya" Paul Taylor, Friends of Europe

Taylor also highlights a “worrying tendency to back local strongmen” in short-sighted efforts to clamp a lid on terrorism and migration that risks aggravating alienation and radicalisation among young people in Arab and Muslim countries.

He said, “EU and NATO policies towards the greater Mediterranean region since the end of the Cold War have largely failed, stalled or - in the worst case of the 2011 intervention in Libya - aggravated the chaos.”

“It’s time to draw lessons from what didn’t work and to join forces to design and execute more consistent and effective policies. Italy will be at the centre of that effort. Its input is essential. Little will go right if Italy is at loggerheads with its main European partners, nor while France and Italy are waging what resembles a proxy war in Libya.”

The report examines what he calls Italy’s “often unfairly undervalued” role in international peacekeeping and security missions under UN, EU and NATO mandates.

It says Rome “has to struggle” to make its voice heard in these organisations, leading to frustration and a sense of being sidelined, and hence to a perception that Italy is very agitated.”

Taylor, a former Reuters bureau chief, also pinpoints the “poor” state of relations between France and Italy and recommends a “grand bargain” between Paris and Rome to restore political and industrial cooperation on a range of issues.

The report goes on to recommend a new division of labour between the EU and NATO to maximise each organisation’s ability for projecting stability and building institutions.

It also recommends a Franco-Italian grand bargain to overcome disputes that are hobbling efforts to stabilise Libya and develop a coherent European foreign and defence policy.

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