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The politics of Italy’s foreign policy in the Mediterranean

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  • Political Science

Abstract

One of the announcements made by Silvio Berlusconi after his victory in the April 2008 elections was that his first visit as prime minister would be to Jerusalem in May 2008, to take part in the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel. The trip never happened, but that statement was a first sign of discontinuity with the foreign policy conducted by the defeated centre-left government. In particular, the Prodi government was characterized by a strong commitment to a more integrated European Union (EU) and an open attitude towards the Arab world, which was broadly in line with Italy's traditional role in the Mediterranean. Moreover, the then minister of foreign affairs (MFA), Massimo D'Alema, not only had characterized his approach to the Middle East peace process as of equivicinanza – defined as ‘equally close to the cause of the Palestinians and the Israelis’ (Il Sole 24 Ore, 19 July 2006) – in opposition to the formerly accepted principle of equidistanza (equally distant), but was even photographed walking in the streets of Beirut with a Hizballah leader. The return of Franco Frattini as MFA was particularly appreciated by the Israeli government. In September 2003, during the Italian EU presidency, he had been instrumental in the EU decision to include Hamas in a list of the terrorist groups, following a similar decision made by the United States. The different position on the Middle East peace process is only one example of the divergent approaches the two coalitions that have alternated in power since the early 1990s have taken in foreign policy. This article concentrates on Italy's approach to the Mediterranean between Prodi and Berlusconi, analysing three cases: the adoption of the Union for the Mediterranean, the war in the Gaza Strip and the normalization of the relationship with Libya.

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