U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Italy, May 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Italy
Area: 301,225 sq. km. (116,303 sq. mi.); about the size of Georgia and
Florida combined. Cities: Capital--Rome (pop. 2.7 million). Other
cities--Milan, Naples, Turin. Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous.
Climate: Generally mild Mediterranean; cold northern winters.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Italian(s). Population: 57 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.2%. Ethnic groups: Primarily Italian, but small
groups of German-, French-, Slovene-, and Albanian-Italians. Religion:
Roman Catholic (majority). Language: Italian (official). Education:
Years compulsory--14. Literacy--98%. Health: Infant mortality rate--
8/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--74 yrs. Work force: 23 million;
unemployment 12%. Services--61%. Industry and commerce--32%.
Type: Republic since June 2, 1946. Constitution: January 1, 1948.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), Council of Ministers
(cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister).
Legislative--bicameral parliament: 630-member Chamber of Deputies, 325-
member Senate. Judicial--independent constitutional court and lower
magistracy. Subdivisions: 94 provinces, 20 regions. Political parties:
Forza Italia, Northern League, National Alliance, Democratic Party of
the Left, Italian People's Party, Christian Democratic Center,
Socialist, La Rete, Communist Renewal, Social Democratic, Republican,
Liberal, Greens, Italian Renewal. Suffrage: Universal over 18.
GDP (1996): $1.21 trillion. Per capita income (1996): $21,190. GDP
growth (1996): 0.7%. Natural resources: Fish, natural gas. Agriculture:
Products--wheat, rice, grapes, olives, citrus fruits.
Industry: Types--automobiles, machinery, chemicals, textiles, shoes.
Trade (1996): Exports--$250 billion; partners--EU 55%, U.S. 7%, OPEC 3%;
mechanical products, textiles and apparel, transportation equipment,
metal products, chemical products, food and agricultural products.
Imports--$207 billion; partners--EU 61%, OPEC 6%, U.S. 5%; machinery and
transport equipment, foodstuffs, ferrous and nonferrous metals, wool,
cotton, energy products.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is
diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth-
highest population density in Europe--about 200 persons per square
kilometer (490/sq. mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being
the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around
Trieste. Other groups comprise small communities of Albanian, Greek,
Ladino, and French origin. Although Roman Catholicism is the majority
religion--99% of the people are nominally Catholic--all religious faiths
are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution.
Greeks settled in the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in the
eighth and seventh centuries B.C.; Etruscans, Romans, and others
inhabited the central and northern mainland. The peninsula subsequently
was unified under the Roman Republic. The neighboring islands also came
under Roman control by the third century B.C.; by the first century
A.D., the Roman Empire effectively dominated the Mediterranean world.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth century
A.D., the peninsula and islands were subjected to a series of invasions,
and political unity was lost. Italy became an oft-changing succession of
small states, principalities, and kingdoms which fought among themselves
and were subject to ambitions of foreign powers. Popes of Rome ruled
central Italy; rivalries between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors,
who claimed Italy as their domain, often made the peninsula a
Commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, beginning
in the 11th century, and the influence of the Renaissance mitigated
somewhat the effects of these medieval political rivalries. Although
Italy declined after the 16th century, the Renaissance had strengthened
the idea of a single Italian nationality. By the early 19th century, a
nationalist movement developed and led to the reunification of Italy--
except for Rome--in the 1860s. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of the House
of Savoy was proclaimed King of Italy. Rome was incorporated in 1870.
From 1870 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a
parliament elected under limited suffrage.
Italy's Cultural Contributions
Europe's Renaissance period began in Italy during the 14th and 15th
centuries. Literary achievements--such as the poetry of Petrarch, Tasso,
and Ariosto and the prose of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione--
exerted a tremendous and lasting influence on the subsequent development
of Western civilization, as did the painting, sculpture, and
architecture contributed by giants such as da Vinci, Raphael,
Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo.
The musical influence of Italian composers Monteverdi, Palestrina, and
Vivaldi proved epochal; in the 19th century, Italian romantic opera
flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and
Giacomo Puccini. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers,
architects, composers, and designers contribute significantly to Western
During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany
and Austria-Hungary and, in 1915, entered the war on the side of the
Allies. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former
Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. In 1922, Benito
Mussolini came to power and, over the next few years, eliminated
political parties, curtailed personal liberties, and installed a fascist
dictatorship termed the Corporate State. The king, with little or no
effective power, remained titular head of state.
Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and
France in 1940. In 1941, Italy--with the other Axis powers, Germany and
Japan--declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union. Following
the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini and
appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier. The Badoglio government
declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country and
freed Mussolini, who led a brief-lived regime in the north. An anti-
fascist popular resistance movement grew during the last two years of
the war, harassing German forces before they were driven out in April
1945. The monarchy was ended by a 1946 plebiscite, and a constituent
assembly was elected to draw up plans for the republic.
Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's
frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to
Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a
free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under
the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of
Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and
Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was
made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977
(currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the
1947 peace treaty, Italy also gave up its overseas territories and
certain Mediterranean islands.
The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since
its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the
Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which were
confirmed by the present constitution, the state of Vatican City is
recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While
preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated
several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman
Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.
Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the
monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was
promulgated on January 1, 1948.
The Italian state is highly centralized. The prefect of each of the
provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government. In
addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with
limited governing powers. Five regions--Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto
Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia--function with special
autonomy statutes. The other 15 regions were established in 1970 and
vote for regional councils. The establishment of regional governments
throughout Italy has brought some decentralization to the national
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Chamber of
Deputies and Senate), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch
composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) which is headed by the
president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic
is elected for seven years by the parliament sitting jointly with a
small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime
minister, who chooses the other ministers. The Council of Ministers--in
practice composed mostly of members of parliament--must retain the
confidence of both houses.
The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed
majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993
legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in
parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional
basis. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members. In addition to 315
elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other
persons appointed for life according to special constitutional
provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but
either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term.
Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a
majority in both.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the
Napoleonic code and subsequent statutes. There is only partial judicial
review of legislation in the American sense. A constitutional court,
which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II
innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as
extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Principal Government Officials
President--Oscar Luigi Scalfaro
Prime Minister--Romano Prodi
Foreign Minister-- Lamberto Dini
Ambassador to the United States--Ferdinando Salleo
Italy maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 Fuller Street
NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-328-5500).
There have been frequent government turnovers since 1945. The dominance
of the Christian Democratic (DC) party during much of the postwar period
lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political
From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters--
disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt,
extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence--
demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. In 1993 referendums,
voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a
proportional to a largely majoritarian electoral system and the
abolishment of some ministries.
Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence,
underwent far-reaching changes. New political forces and new alignments
of power emerged in March 1994 national elections--there was a major
turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out
of 315 senators elected for the first time. The 1994 elections also
swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi--and his Freedom Pole coalition--
into office as Prime Minister. However, Berlusconi was forced to step
down in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew support.
The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed
by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which fell in early 1996.
In April 1996, national elections were again held and led to the victory
of a center-left coalition (the Olive Tree) led by Romano Prodi. Prime
Minister Prodi's coalition includes the Democratic Party of the Left
(PDS), the Italian People's Party (PPI), and other small, center-left
groups. To make up its majority in the chamber of deputies, however, the
Prodi government depends on the Communist Renewal Party. In the April
1997 local elections, voters split almost evenly between center-right
and center-left coalitions.
Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape
between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations touched thousands of
politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a
proportional to majoritarian voting system (with the requirement to
obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation)
also altered political ground rules.
Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved;
the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged.
Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet. New
movements such as Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Berlusconi,
gained wide support. The National Alliance broke from the neo-fascist
Italian Social Movement. A trend toward two large coalitions--one on the
center-left and the other on the center-right--emerged from the April
1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national elections, the center-
left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center right
united again under the Freedom Pole. This emerging bi-polarity
represents a major break from the fragmented, multi-party political
landscape of the postwar era. The recommendations of the bilateral
commission on reform and Parliament's subsequent decisions expected by
the end of 1997 may strengthen the promise of real bi-polarity.
The largest parties in the Chamber are: Democratic Party of the Left --
moderate successor to the Italian Communist Party -- (21.1%); Forza
Italia (20.6%); National Alliance (15.7%); Northern League (10.1%);
Communist Renewal (8.6%); and Italian People's Party-Prodi's List
(6.8%). The same rankings generally apply in the Senate.
The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end of World War
II. From an agriculturally based economy, it has developed into an
industrial state ranked as the world's fifth-largest industrial economy.
Italy belongs to the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations; it is
a member of the European Union and the OECD.
Italy has few natural resources. With much of the land unsuited for
farming, it is a net food importer. There are no substantial deposits of
iron, coal, or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley
and offshore Adriatic, have grown in recent years and constitute the
country's most important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for
manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are
imported. Italy's economic strength is in the processing and the
manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned
firms. Its major industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles,
chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, and fashion and clothing.
Italy's economy slowed from 2.8% GDP growth in 1995 to 0.7% in 1996, one
of the lowest growth rates among the industrialized economies. GDP
Growth is not expected to surpass 1.5% in 1997 and could be even less.
Most forecasts expect it to rebound to 2% in 1998.
Continuing a positive trend of recent years, Italy's foreign balances
improved further in 1996, with weakening export growth more than
compensated by falling imports. Italy posted a $60-billion trade surplus
(fob/fob) in 1996, up from a $44-billion surplus in 1995. Its current
account surplus of $42 billion was also up from 1995's $28-billion
surplus. Inflation fell to 3.9% in 1996 after rising to 5.4% in 1995 and
is continuing its downward trend in 1997. Through May of 1997, inflation
was running at a 1.6% year-on-year rate.
The biggest economic challenge facing Italy remains imbalances in public
finances. Since 1992, economic policy in Italy has focused primarily on
reducing government budget deficits and reining in the national debt.
Successive Italian governments have adopted annual austerity budgets
with significant cutbacks in spending, as well as new revenue raising
measures. Italy has enjoyed a primary budget surplus, net of interest
payments, for the last five years, and will do so again in 1997. The
deficit in public administration declined in 1996 to 6.7% of GDP, down
from 7% in 1995. According to government calculations, the deficit could
fall to 3% of GDP in 1997, in line with the Maastricht Treaty target for
European Monetary Union.
The national debt should continue to decline slowly. It stabilized in
1995 at roughly 124% of GDP, declined slightly in 1996, and will
continue to shrink in 1997 and beyond. Given the heavy weight of
interest payments in government expenditures, public finances remain
susceptible to international capital market developments, as well as
domestic political developments.
Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European
Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Italy's
largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (18%),
France (13%), and the United Kingdom (7%).
U.S.-Italy Economic Relations
The U.S.-Italian bilateral relationship is strong and growing. The U.S.
and Italy cooperate closely on major economic issues, including within
the G-7. With a large population and a high per capita income, Italy is
one of the United States' most important trade partners. In 1996, the
United States was the fifth-largest foreign supplier of the Italian
market (with a market share of 5%) and the largest supplier outside the
EU. Total trade between the United States and Italy exceeded $29 billion
in 1996. The U.S. ran more than an $8-billion deficit with Italy.
Significant changes are occurring in the composition of this trade which
could narrow the gap. More value-added products such as office machinery
and aircraft are becoming the principal U.S. exports to Italy. The
change reveals the growing sophistication of the Italian market, and
bilateral trade should expand further. During 1996, the United States
imported about $18 billion in Italian goods while exporting about $10
billion in U.S. goods to Italy. U.S. foreign direct investment in Italy
at the end of 1995 exceeded $9.5 billion; Italian investment in the U.S.
was roughly $8.7 billion.
Unemployment remains high (12.4% for 1996). It is especially severe in
the south where average unemployment for the year was 21.8%. Women and
youth have significantly higher rates of unemployment than men. A rigid
labor market serves as a disincentive to job creation. There is a
significant underground economy absorbing substantial numbers of people,
but they work for low wages and without standard social benefits and
Unions claim to represent 40% of the workforce. Most Italian unions are
grouped in three major confederations: the Italian General Confederation
of Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Labor Unions (CISL) and
the Union of Italian Labor (UIL). These confederations formerly were
associated with important political parties or currents, but they have
formally terminated such ties. Nowadays, the three often coordinate
their positions before confronting management or lobbying the
government. The three major confederations have an important
consultative role on national social and economic issues. Among their
major agreements are a four-year wage moderation agreement signed in
1993, a reform of the pension system in 1995, and an employment pact,
introducing steps for labor market flexibility in economically depressed
areas, in 1996. The CGIL, CISL, and UIL are affiliates of the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
Italy's agriculture is typical of the division between the agricultures
of the northern and southern countries of the European Union. The
northern part of Italy produces primarily grains, sugar beets, soybeans,
meat, and dairy products, while the south specializes in producing
fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, and durum wheat.
Even though much of its mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming,
Italy has a large work force (1.4 million) employed in farming. Most
farms are small, with the average farm only seven hectares.
Italy was a founding member of the European Community--now the European
Union (EU). Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and is a
member and strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO); the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD); the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade
Organization (GATT/WTO); the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE), the Western European Union (WEU); and the Council of
Europe. It chaired the CSCE and the G-7 in 1994 and the EU in 1996.
Italy firmly supports the United Nations and its international security
activities. Italy actively participated in and deployed troops in
support of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique, and Cambodia
and provides critical support for NATO and UN operations in Bosnia.
Italy is currently leading a 6,000-member multi-national protection
force seeking to provide emergency and humanitarian assistance in
Albania following the collapse of state authority and the economy in
that country in early 1997.
The Italian Government seeks to obtain consensus with other European
countries on various defense and security issues within the WEU as well
as NATO. European integration and the development of common defense and
security policies will continue to be of primary interest to Italy.
A strong NATO ally, Italy occupies an important strategic position in
the Mediterranean, critical to regional security and for enhancing
stability in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. To meet
challenges of the post-Cold War era, Italy has proposed a New Defense
Model that calls for the creation of more mobile and highly trained
units staffed by career professionals. The Italian military is
subordinate to civilian authority, which is vested in the Ministry of
Defense. Under the authority of the Defense Minister, the armed forces
have also been used in Italy for emergency relief and combating
organized crime. For 1995, Italy's defense budget will equal 1% to 2% of
The United States enjoys warm and friendly relations with Italy. The two
are NATO allies and cooperate in the United Nations, in various regional
organizations, and bilaterally for peace, prosperity, and defense. Italy
has worked closely with the United States and others on such issues as
NATO and UN operation in Bosnia, sanctions against the former
Yugoslavia, assistance to Russia and the New Independent States (NIS),
Middle East peace process multilateral talks, Somalia and Mozambique
peacekeeping, and combating drug trafficking and terrorism.
Under long-standing bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership,
Italy hosts important U.S. military forces at Vincenza and Livorno
(Army); Aviano (Air Force); and Sigonella, Gaeta, and Naples--home port
for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet. The United States has about 17,000
military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO War College
Italy remains a strong and active trans-Atlantic partner which, along
with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and
international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict. Toward
this end, the Italian Government has cooperated with the U.S. in the
formulation of defense, security, and peacekeeping policies.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--James B. Cunningham
Political Affairs--Shaun Byrnes
Economic Affairs--Robert Smolik
Public Affairs--Cynthia Miller
Commercial Affairs-Robert Connan
Agricultural Section--Frank Padovano
Defense Attache--Capt. Vincent P. Mocini, USN
Consul General, Florence-Louis A. McCall
Consul General, Milan--George Griffin
Consul General, Naples--Clarke Ellis
The U.S. embassy in Italy is located at Via Veneto 119, Rome (tel.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see Principal
Government Officials listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous
areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a
country (see Principal U.S. Embassy Officials listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's
World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to
the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information. (###)
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