Italy - Country Profile

Official Name:Republic of Italy

Italy maintains an embassy in the United States at:
1601 Fuller Street NW,
Washington, DC 20009
(tel. 202-328-5500).

Geography

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.

People

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: 24 million; unemployment 11%. Services--60%. Industry and commerce--33%. Agriculture--7%.

Government 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, 326-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.

Suffrage: Universal over 18.

Economy

GDP (1994): $1.02 trillion.

Per capita income (1994): $21,300.

GDP growth (1994): 2.2%.

Natural resources: Fish, natural gas.

Agriculture: Products--wheat, rice, grapes, olives, citrus fruits.

Industry: Types--automobiles, machinery, chemicals, textiles, shoes. Trade (1994): Exports--$189 billion; partners--EU 54%, U.S. 8%, OPEC 4%; mechanical products, textiles and apparel, transportation equipment, metal products, chemical products, food and agricultural products, energy products. Imports--$167 billion; partners--EU 56%, OPEC 5%, 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 battleground.

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 culture.

20th-Century History

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.

GOVERNMENT

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 governmental machinery.

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--Lamberto Dini

Foreign Minister--Susanna Agnelli

Ambassador to the United States--Boris Biancheri


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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 situation.

From 1992 to 1995, 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 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 Alliance" coalition--into office as Prime Minister. However, Berlusconi was forced to step down in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew support.

Italy's current Prime Minister, Lamberto Dini, is a respected economist who also heads the finance ministry. His government of technocrats has already implemented much of its ambitious reform program. Once the reforms are completed, Italy is expected to hold new national elections.

In April 1995 regional elections, Italians confounded pollsters, who had predicted a big lead for former Prime Minister Berlusconi's "Forza Italia" movement. Instead, voters split almost evenly between center-right and center-left coalitions, making it difficult to predict the outcome of the next national elections.

From The U.S. Department of State