In February 2007, two unusual events placed foreign policy at the centre of Italian politics. The first concerns an open letter that the ambassadors of six of Italy’s partners in Afghanistan sent to La Repubblica. In that letter, they expressed appreciation for the role that Italy had played in the stabilisation and reconstruction of Afghanistan but at the same time urged it not to withdraw its troops. This appeal was motivated by the level of resistance of the three radical left parties within the centre-left coalition led by Prime Minister (PM) Romano Prodi to the continued funding of all military missions, especially the one in Afghanistan. The use of ‘public diplomacy’ is still an unknown practice in Italy, and therefore the letter caused a wide range of reactions.1 The more reformist parties of the ruling coalition, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Massimo D’Alema and the Minister of Defence (MD) Arturo Parisi, defined it as an unusual and inopportune method of conducting diplomacy. The more radical parties,

showing their anti-American sentiment, maintained that it was a way to condition domestic politics in a sovereign country. Finally, the parties in the centre-right opposition took the opportunity to denounce Italy’s loss of all credibility in the eyes of its traditional partners. The second episode is related to the resignation of PM Prodi after his

cabinet lost a critical vote in the Senate over foreign policy. While most and notably international observers were not surprised by a new governmental crisis, a resignation directly linked to foreign policy was a novelty. When MFA D’Alema presented the broad lines of Italy’s foreign policy, confirming both the prosecution of the mission in Afghanistan and the expansion of a US military base in Vicenza, a few dissidents from the extreme left declined to vote. In the debate, not surprisingly, no acknowledgement was made of the somewhat timid attempts by the centre-left coalition to reverse the disappointing trends in Italian development policy over the previous decade. These two events offer a number of elements for reflection on the status of

Italy’s external relations: new assertiveness in the international arena, political fragmentation, politicisation of foreign policy, low profile of development policy. To analyse these phenomena, this article starts from the ‘dual crisis’ in the early 1990s – i.e. the end of the Cold War, the end of the First Republic – and makes three main arguments.2 First, despite various examples of bipartisan consensus, there are fundamental differences in the way the centre-right and centre-left coalitions pursue foreign policy goals (i.e. neo-Atlanticism and pragmatic bilateralism for the centre-right; neoEuropeanism and effective multilateralism for the centre-left). Second, the increased fragmentation of the political system and the re-politicisation of foreign policy have resulted in a number of quarrels within the two coalitions. Third, the trajectory of Italy’s development policy is the opposite of that of its foreign policy: rising activism during the Cold War, declining interest since the early 1990s. Italy is one of the largest donors in terms of volume of aid – though only in absolute terms – yet it has faced a bipartisan failure in its relations with the developing world. The article is divided into three broad sections. The first section sketches

the debate on the link between foreign and development policy and domestic politics, focusing in particular on the role of partisan politics. The second section discusses the evolution of foreign policy over the past decade. It analyses a number of key choices, such as the missions in Albania and Kosovo during the centre-left government (1996-2001), the decision to support the US after the tragic events of September 2001 during the centreright government (2001-06) and the mission in Lebanon during the new centre-left government (2006-). The third section concentrates on development policy. Following a short overview of how Italy became a substantial donor in the 1980s, it explores the declining trends in foreign aid caused by the political scandals and the budget deficits in the 1990s.