Italy’s history after 1990 has been marked by changes in the country’s political landscape, where new parties and movements have emerged. Since 2013, Italy has also been strongly influenced by the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where refugees and paperless have come from Asia and Africa to Italy.
Italy from 1990 to 2000
Towards the end of the 1980s, the Italian economic system showed its contradictions. Gross domestic product (GDP) increased, while inflation fell. In 1987, Italy was the world’s fifth largest industrial producer and member of the G7. Expenditure on the health sector and pension payments increased, without any cuts to the public budget. Thus, the increase in public spending and the increase in government debt began to follow, even though the country experienced a real economic development.
While the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party alternated over the government, new parties emerged. Towards the end of the 1980s, the Lega Nord party made significant progress. It was a priority to fight corruption and emerged as a “revolutionary” movement that represented Northern Italy’s rebellion against southern Italy by fighting for federalism. To see more information other than history, please visit AbbreviationFinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Italy. It even went so far as to consider separatism, and the party was at the forefront to protest against the old parties’ misconduct. The party’s support came primarily from the middle class in the north, in Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto.
In 1992, Italy was shaken by a major bribery scandal. The charges involved all the old parties, in government and opposition. This development reinforced people’s disdain for politicians and the political system. In the parliamentary elections that year, the government coalition suffered a staggering defeat. At the same time, it became known that Italy was far from fulfilling the Maastricht Treaty’s requirements for entry into the European Union. Giuliano Amato’s business government immediately initiated measures to increase revenue and reduce spending. Nevertheless, in September 1992, the Italian currency had to leave the European Currency System (EMS).
New electoral scheme
In 1993, the electoral system was changed so that 25 per cent of the seats in parliament should be elected according to the ratio method, 75 percent after a majority vote. The new system failed to prevent the number of lots increasing. At the same time, the old parties began to crumble and new alliances emerged. Both the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party joined in this drag.
In 1994, businessman Silvio Berlusconi decided to stand as a candidate for the parliamentary elections, and he founded his own party, Forza Italia. Berlusconi opted for a program of economic liberalism: privatizations, cuts in public spending on health and pensions, and tax cuts. The party won the election and formed a government, but the cooperation broke down after half a year. The split was primarily about economic policy, especially cuts in pension payments, which led to Lega Nord withdrawing from the collaboration. In addition, Berlusconi himself was investigated, suspected of contributing to corruption.
The government resigned and a new government was established under the independent Lamberto Dini. It was composed of persons who were politically independent experts in their respective ministerial disciplines, and gained confidence in Parliament with the support of the center-left and Lega Nord. During Dini’s government, many lawsuits were brought against politicians (including Bettino Craxi) who were involved in the 1972 bribery scandal, and former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was investigated for alleged connection with the mafia.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Italy on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Italy.
The 1996 election was won by the Olive Coalition, an electoral alliance consisting of the Democratic Left, the People’s Party, the Greens, Dini’s new party, Prodi’s party, Communist reconstruction and several small center-left parties. Romano Prodi became new prime minister, while Lamberto Dini became foreign minister.
The coalition government pursued a sober policy to qualify Italy for membership in the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), and the country joined the Union and thus Euro-cooperation from the start. In 1998, Prime Minister Prodi sought leave after the government lost a vote of confidence, and later took office as President of the European Commission. Massimo D’Alema, who had previously been a member of the Communist Party Partito Comunista Italiano, formed a new coalition government in October 1998.
Italy from 2000 to 2010
Berlusconi II Government
D’Alema chose to step down after the local elections in the spring of 2000, when his party, the Democratici di Sinistra, made a bad choice. Alema’s Economy Minister, socialist Giuliano Amato, formed a new center-left government. At the 2001 parliamentary elections, the new Berlusconi-led alliance Casa delle Libertà got 49.6 percent of the vote and a pure majority in the national assembly. The olive coalition, now led by Francesco Rutelli, reached 35 percent.
Berlusconi thus became prime minister for the second time, on a program that ushered in extensive fiscal and tax relief – and a foreign policy shift, with more emphasis on national interests than on EU cooperation, as well as closer ties with the United States, which became clear during Iraq wars. The new government included several controversial names from the right, but also internal tensions around the march cases.
The split in the question of a change from the lira to the euro as currency led to the resignation of EU-friendly Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero after only a few months. Later, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti went the same way, following a controversy over financial choice and the scope of the tax cut. However, the Berlusconi government struggled through all the turbulence until April 2005. Then, a defeat for the regional parties in the regional elections led to the small Christian Democratic partner UDC leaving the coalition. The solution to the political crisis that arose was a Berlusconi II government – Italy’s 60th post- World War II government. A new election with poor prospects for the ruling parties had been averted, and the prime minister consolidated his position as the longest reigning throughout the post-war era.
At the threshold of the new century, Italy had the lowest economic growth – around one percent – and the highest government debt of all the countries that entered the euro. Unemployment was around 11-12 percent. An extremely low birth rate, rising life expectancy and a relatively generous pension system were among the causes of increased government budget deficits. Cuts, proposals for pension reforms and measures to liberalize employment legislation triggered the largest mass demonstrations and strike actions in decades.
The roll-up of business scandals, with food giant Parmalat in a gloomy role, did not improve the situation either. Italy has on several occasions been on the verge of incurring penalties for violating EU budget deficit rules. In 2005, the EU requirement was in practice softened, but the need for austerity and restructuring continued to exist in Italy.
Berlusconi had to retire after the 2006 election, when Romano Prodi returned as prime minister after the Olive Coalition had won the election by as little margin as possible. Prodi’s alliance, L’Unione, consisted of a number of parties from Christian Democrats and right-wing liberals to environmentalists and communists.
In May 2006, the National Assembly elected Giorgio Napolitano as the country’s new president, the first with a background from the Communist Party. A constitutional proposal to strengthen the prime minister’s power at the expense of the president, in his time initiated by Berlusconi, was rejected in a referendum. The Prodi government proposed a more critical stance on US warfare in Iraq and to bring home all Italian forces – and to play a more active role in the EU than under its predecessor. Alongside economic austerity measures, environmental policy was among the foremost challenges; In a new report, Italy came out with 80 violations of EU environmental law, twice that of other major member states. But due to internal strife, little was achieved.
In its first 20 months in power, the Prodi government saved itself through 30 vote of confidence, but resigned in January 2008 after losing on 31, when one of the coalition’s mini-parties switched to the opposition. The president failed in an attempt to start a process to tighten electoral system, an arrangement that had given 39 parties seats in parliament at the elections in 2006. Thus, it was early elections, and in April, Silvio Berlusconi green light for its third prime minister period and for to form Italy’s 63rd government since 1945. He had recently been elected leader of the new right-wing coalition Il Popolo della Libertà.
Berlusconi III Government
Berlusconi’s new coalition, which also included Lega Nord, achieved about 47 percent of the vote, and a clear majority in both chambers, against 38 percent to left-wing Walter Veltroni. The biggest loser of the election was the red-green Rainbow Alliance, and communists, socialists and environmental parties lost all their seats. Only six parties remained in the National Assembly, which was considered to give Berlusconi a better basis for governance. He embarked on a broad front, initially by deploying soldiers to remove the health-hazardous garbage piles that had accumulated in Naples, among others., and by gearing up the fight against the mafia, which had major financial interests including the garbage. A number of arrests followed. In the summer of 2008, the government declared a state of emergency in the fight against illegal immigration. By then, 13,000 people had made their way to the coasts of the country since the turn of the year, compared to 8,000 the same time last year.
The financial crisis that developed through 2008 hit the country hard with one of the most resilient economies in Western Europe. In November, the recession was a fact after two quarters of negative growth. The government was criticized for weakening the fight against corruption when Berlusconi passed a law that secured the prime minister and other top politicians with criminal immunity as long as they are in office. He himself was persecuted by the country’s judges, after 2,500 hearings and 587 police visits on suspicion of corruption.
The Berlusconi era in Italian politics is characterized by the concentration of economic, media and political power on the Prime Minister’s hand. Silvio Berlusconi became one of Italy’s richest men with a foundation in finance, real estate and industrial activities. In 2003, he passed a law that violated a court decision requiring him to sell one of his three nationwide television companies. Both from the opposition, from media organizations and from EU teams, he has been criticized for a program policy that strongly favors his own person and which just as strongly tones down political opponents.
Berlusconi’s attempt to pass a law to secure him immunity from prosecution was met with opposition protests. Several corruption cases were pending against him from his time as a businessman in the 1980s. The immunity decision was later rescinded by the Constitutional Court and the case resumed. Berlusconi became the first reigning prime minister to meet as charged in a courtroom. It ended with acquittal, while a close party trap was convicted of cooperating with the mafia.
Berlusconi was in the spotlight a number of times in the period after he entered politics in 1994. He has, among other things, been indicted for corruption and financial crime. The first verdict against him fell on August 1, 2013, when he was sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion.
Italy after 2010
In the spring of 2010, Italy featured in the group of countries that, with their economic setbacks, were considered a threat to the euro. During the financial crisis year 2009, central government debt grew to almost double the euro area requirement, and the budget deficit approached the same level, while gross domestic product fell by five per cent at the end of the financial crisis. Through government measures, unemployment remained stable for around eight per cent for a long time. The EU made a number of demands for austerity.
In the fall of 2011, the government of Berlusconi stepped down and left the place to economics professor Mario Monti, who was commissioned to try to lead Italy out of the financial disability. Monti took on the task of ordering the country’s economy, and presented plans to increase taxes and fees, reduce pension payments and intensify the fight against tax evasion. These measures might initially seem necessary, but the austerity policy was also criticized. When Monti ran for election in 2013, he achieved no more than about ten percent of the vote, and resigned as prime minister.
The 2013 parliamentary elections
The big surprise of the 2013 election was that Beppe Grillo and his party The Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) got over 25 percent of the vote. The center-left coalition, where Partito Democratico is the largest party, got 29.5 percent of the vote, and got a majority in the House of Representatives, but not in the Senate, while the center-right coalition, led by Silvio Berlusconi, made a surprisingly good choice and received 29 percent of the vote.
March 22, 2013, the head of Partito Democratico, Pier Luigi Bersani, was commissioned by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to form a new government. Bersani started negotiations with the Five Star Movement, but these negotiations did not produce any results, and Bersani sent the mission to form a new government back to the president on March 28. In April 2013, Bersani resigned as party leader for Partito Democratico after an attempt to elect Romano Prodi as Italy’s president failed. Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected President on April 20, 2013.
On April 28, 2013, Enrico Letta of Partito Democratico became prime minister of a coalition government with members from both Partito Democratico and Il Popolo della Libertà, as well as members from some other smaller parties.
In February 2014, the leadership of Partito Democratico decided that Matteo Renzi should replace Enrico Letta as prime minister. Renzi was 39 years old when he was deployed on February 22, 2014, thus becoming the youngest prime minister in the country’s history.
The European Parliament elections in 2014
In the European Parliament elections in May 2014, Partito Democratico was the big winner, with more than 40 percent of the vote. The election result was a personal triumph for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, showing that a majority of the Italian people wanted EU-friendly parties to represent the country in the European Parliament. The EU-skeptical party The five-star movement made a poorer choice than expected and received 21 percent of the vote.
Giorgio Napolitano resigned as president in January 2015 and was succeeded by Sergio Mattarella. Mattarella, who was prime minister Matteo Renzi’s candidate, was elected by a solid majority, and his election was seen as a victory for the prime minister and his party, Partito Democratico. Silvio Berlusconi, who did not support Mattarella as presidential candidate, came out weakened by the election of new president.
The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean
Italy has long been a target for refugees and illegal immigrants from Africa and Asia on their way to Europe. A large number of people have embarked on boats across the Mediterranean to reach Italy, and although very many of them have been rescued ashore on the Italian side of the Mediterranean, many have also lost their lives during the crossing.
Since 2013, the flow of boat refugees has increased significantly, partly as a result of the civil war in Syria and the unrest in Libya. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 170,000 boat refugees came to Italy in 2014, while the figure for 2015 was just over 150,000.
Italian state rescue operation Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013 after 366 people were killed when a boat crashed off Lampedusa. According to the European Refugee Council (ECRE), Mare Nostrum helped save around 140,000 people before it was replaced by EU operation Operation Triton in November 2014. The EU operation, led by Frontex, proved to be significantly less effective than the Italian operation, and the Italian authorities’ desire for more European countries to become more involved, was not very much accommodated.
The 2016 local elections
The five-star movement achieved very good results in the local elections in some of Italy’s largest cities in June 2016. An important symbolic victory for the five-star movement was that the party’s candidates were elected mayors both in Rome (Virginia Raggi) and in Turin (Chiara Appendino). Partito Democratico and the center-left side maintained their strong position in only a few cities (such as Milan and Bologna) in the June 2016 election, while Forza Italy and the right-hand side made a poor choice, and did not achieve a majority in some of Italy’s largest cities.
In the summer of 2016, the five-star movement passed the ruling party Partito Democratico as the largest party in Italy on some polls (both with a turnout of around 30 percent), while the right-wing parties were nowhere near having the same confidence among voters as the two major parties.
In the June 2016 local elections, Partito Democratico lost power to the Five Star Movement in Rome and Turin, and some polls showed that Beppe Grillo’s party at this time had greater support among Italian voters than Partito Democratico.
Matteo Renzi’s government resigned following a referendum on December 4, 2016, in which the public would decide on the government’s proposals for changes in the constitutional system. All major opposition parties, such as the Five Star Movement, Lega Nord and Forza Italy, were opposed to the government’s proposal, with the result that 59 percent of voters voted against the reform. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had stated in advance that he would step down if the government’s proposals for changes in the country’s political system did not receive support in the population, and the same night as the result became clear, he announced that he chose to step down as prime minister. Renzi’s reign lasted from February 22, 2014 to December 7, 2016.
President Sergio Mattarella entrusted the task of forming a new government to Paolo Gentiloni, who had been Foreign Minister in Matteo Renzi’s government. On December 12, 2016, Gentiloni presented the new government, which to a large extent consisted of the same people who had been members of Matteo Renzi’s staggering government.
Continued refugee flow
The number of refugees and paperless migrants from Africa and Asia on their way to Europe across the Mediterranean by boat was still very high in 2016 and 2017. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 153,842 people arrived in Italy by boat in 2016, while the figure for 2016 was 181. 436 people. A large majority of these people came from African countries (Nigeria, Eritrea, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Sudan), as well as some people from Asia, primarily from Bangladesh. Only a very small proportion of them came from Syria.
In the period January – June 2017, the number of people arriving in Italy was over 80,000, and at this time there was much to indicate that the flow of refugees would continue to increase. The burden on the port cities of southern Italy, and especially in Sicily, was very high, and the Italian authorities again asked the other European countries for help in dealing with the refugee crisis.
The 2018 parliamentary elections
The political situation in Italy before the parliamentary elections on March 4, 2018 was characterized by uncertainty as to which of the three major blocs that had consolidated after the 2013 parliamentary elections should be given the best starting point for forming government. Partito Democratico was at the forefront of the center-left coalition that had been ruling since the last election, the Five Star Movement tended to be the largest opposition party, while Forza Italy, Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia had agreed in advance to form the basis of a center-right coalition. In connection with this election, Lega Nord presented itself as “Lega” (without “North”), and conducted active election campaigns across the country, not only in Northern Italy.
The big winner of the election was the Five Star Movement, which got over 32 percent of the vote in the House of Commons election, while the election’s big loser was Partito Democratico, who ended up with just over 18 percent of the vote. Both parties had received around 25 percent of the vote in the 2013 election. Lega Nord became the largest party on the right, with over 17 percent of the vote, ahead of Forza Italy with 14 percent. The center-right coalition became the largest group in parliament, with 37 percent of the vote both to the House of Representatives and to the Senate, but did not get a majority in any of the chambers.
The turnout was 72.9 percent, down from 2013, when the turnout was 75.2 percent.
The trend in the 2018 elections was that the Five Star Movement was the dominant party in southern Italy, while the center-right coalition gained a majority in much of northern Italy. The five-star movement got more than 50 percent of the vote in some constituencies in southern Italy, and about 49 percent of the vote in Sicily, while the figure for Trentino-Alto Adige in the north of Italy was 19 percent. In Rome, Naples, Bari and Palermo, the Five Star movement was the largest party, while Partito Democratico was the largest in Milan, Turin, Bologna and Florence. In Naples, the Five Star movement received 52 percent of the vote.
Two months after the election, the country had still not received a new government. The five-star movement first tried to negotiate with Lega Nord on government cooperation, then with Partito Democratico, but failed to reach agreement with any of the parties. Forza Italy leader Silvio Berlusconi stated that he did not want any cooperation with the Five Star Movement, and Matteo Renzi of Partito Democratico stated that it was not appropriate for him to support a government dominated by the Five Star Movement.
New negotiations between the two winners of the election, the Five Star Movement and Lega Nord, finally came to an end, and a “contract” between the two parties laid the groundwork for a new government presented in May 2018. Giuseppe Conte, a professor of law without political experience, was proposed as new prime minister. In the government agreement, the Five-Star Movement should, among other things, have an impact on the election promise to introduce a form of citizen pay, while Lega Nord should have an impact on introducing tax relief. There was also agreement between the two parties about lowering the retirement age for some income groups.
The two parties had agreed that EU-critical economist Paolo Savona should be the new government’s finance minister, which proved very controversial. Savona had previously criticized the single currency euro and had been critical of Germany’s dominant role in European economic policy. Politicians and media in several European countries, especially Germany and France, warned against allowing Savona to become part of the government. Italian President Sergio Mattarella wanted a more EU-friendly government and was particularly afraid of jeopardizing euro cooperation, so he chose not to approve the government as long as Savona should have the role of finance minister. In the first place, Giuseppe Conte had to give up the attempt to form government with members of the Five Star Movement and Lega Nord. Almost three months after the election, the government was finally approved, after Paolo Savona had been placed in another ministry. Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini both became deputy prime ministers in the new government, which was sworn in on June 1, 2018.
In 2007, unemployment in Italy was six percent, but gradually increased until January 2015, when more than 13 percent of the workforce was unemployed. After 2015, the share of unemployed has fallen, and the figures for August 2018 were 9.7 percent. Unemployment among young people is high, especially in some regions of southern Italy, such as in Calabria, Campania and Sicily, where youth unemployment figures are above 50 percent.
Unemployment in Italy is higher than the average for the EU countries and for the eurozone countries, where the figures for August 2018 were 8.1 percent and where only Greece and Spain had higher unemployment than Italy.
Government debt in Italy is high, accounting for about 132 percent of GDP in 2018. In Europe, only Greece has a sovereign debt which represents a larger share of GDP.
Italy has a trade balance surplus and has a substantial export of goods to countries around the world. In 2017, goods were exported for EUR 448 billion, while goods were imported for EUR 400 billion. In the EU, only Germany and the Netherlands had higher trade balance surpluses in 2017.
In 2019, figures were presented showing that Italy had seen a decline in gross domestic product in the last two quarters of 2018, and that the country was in a recession. Figures were also presented showing that Italy had the lowest economic growth of all EU countries.
State budget 2019
When the new government presented the budget proposal for 2019, this was received with great skepticism, not only among the Italian opposition parties Partito Democratico and Forza Italy, but also outside Italy. The European Commission refused to approve the budget and asked the Italian government to make changes to it. The combination of large government debt, the state budget deficit and low economic growth meant that the European Commission feared that Italy’s economy could pose a risk to the entire eurozone. Within Italy, it was in particular the Five Star Movement’s proposal to introduce a form of citizen pay that was criticized. This would only increase public spending without contributing to any kind of value creation, it was claimed by the opposition.
The EU Commission’s involvement in the government’s budget work was poorly received, particularly by Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Salvini had played a very central role in the government ever since it was formed, and he was referred to by some as the government’s real leader. In November 2018, a poll showed that Lega Nord was the country’s largest party with a turnout of around 30 percent. In addition, disagreement between the European Commission and the Italian government had contributed to increased EU skepticism in Italy.
The state budget was finally accepted by the European Commission after the Italian government made amendments that met the Commission’s wishes.
The Italian government’s deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio actively participated in discussions on foreign policy issues, with some controversial statements, ever since the government was formed in June 2018. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi appeared to be more pragmatic and diplomatic who did not want to provoke Italy’s international relations.
Luigi Di Maio and the Five Star Movement went out early in support of the “Yellow West” (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) in France, while Matteo Salvini criticized French President Emmanuel Macron and the French government’s policies in strong order. Salvini had a better relationship with Russia and was opposed to the economic sanctions imposed in 2014 against the country by the EU and the US in connection with the Ukraine crisis.
Development of the infrastructure in Italy should prove to be an inflamed theme for Giuseppe Contes’s government after it was formed in the summer of 2018. The two partners, Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement, had different views on which projects to prioritize. The five-star movement was initially skeptical of major road and rail developments, and in particular the construction of the new high-speed rail line between Turin and Lyon, partly funded by the EU.
In the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019, Lega Nord received over 34 percent of the vote, becoming the country’s by far the largest party. The five- star movement, which had been the largest party a year earlier, received 17 percent of the vote (against 32 percent in the 2018 parliamentary elections). Lega Nord had significantly increased its support in the southernmost regions, receiving more than 20 percent of the votes in Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily. The party had thus become a nationwide party, and had definitely departed from separatism which characterized the party in the 1990s. The party had also taken over the role of the dominant party on the right side in Italian politics, a role that Forza Italy had previously held.
In the summer of 2019, the coalition between Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement was dissolved, and Giuseppe Conte became prime minister in a new government consisting of members of the Five Star Movement, the Partito Democratico and some other smaller parties.