The leader of the Italian government, Mr. Berlusconi, is commanding his administration much differently than in his previous terms in office. In fact, the 2008 cabinet has been acclaimed not only by President Bush, but also by President Sarkozy, who inaugurated a new axis Paris-Rome withi n his highly publicized Union pour la Méditerrannée (UPM). In fact, thanks to the Franco-Italian military engagement in Lebanon, this axis signifies a new start for Italy, now in charge of the UNIFIL deployed in Tyr and other Lebanese hot spots.
Additionally, because of Berlusconi's personal friendship with the Russian duo Putin-Medvedev, new relations with Egypt, and the significant relationship with Israel (the core foreign policy of Berlusconi and Fini when the latter was Foreign Minister in 2004-2006), Rome has emerged as a new leading actor on the international scene. In only two months, the Italian PM earned extra prestige for Italy, highlighted by Bush's official visit to the Boot and Sarkozy's recognition of the Italian role in the EU and the Mediterranean.
Notwithstanding the pungent media, especially the documented editorials of the Economist that recently grilled the Italian PM about four ad personam laws that secured his legal position and protected his business empire, it is evident that Berlusconi is back in the saddle with new intentions and aims. He wants an Israel-friendly country aligned on Washington and NATO lines. This new course is evident even in the conduct of the military operations in Lebanon, where the long-lasting, Palestine-friendly policy once at the centre of the Socialist and Christian Democrat foreign agendas in the 1980s is now a memory of the past.
Early in his new term, Berlusconi took bold steps by lifting the restrictions on the Italian military contingent in Afghanistan. The Italian government is now able to cooperate with the NATO-Allies and distance itself from the terrorist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, thereby giving a new status and image to our troops stationed in the former Taliban fief. Additionally, his clear-cut position on an Iranian nuclear program has re-launched the international role of Italy, which had been stagnating for two years under the previous Government.
Italy is reinstating the important Mediterranean role within the EU that began with the 1950s Med-Atlantic policy but that was lost years ago. This role is resurfacing with a low-profile, but it is well present in the mind of the centre-right coalition's leader.
Additionally, the UPM and the Franco-Italian axis might become the lynchpin of the would-be European Armed Forces, but it could also be the beginning of an integrated European foreign policy, which should stand independent and autonomous between Moscow and Washington while still working well with NATO. Another step in the construction of the European Armed Forces might be the strengthening of the three most important European Navies in the Mediterranean Sea: the Marina Militare, the Marine Nationale and the Armada Española. These three Navies, under the leadership of the more and more modernized Italian Navy, could become the pillar of the future European defense system and the sentinel of the EU seas and frontiers.
The dream of a new Roma caput mundi might be an exaggeration, but the multi-millionaire PM seems ready to face problems and challenges in a vigorous and managerial way. In so doing, he will have to face the return to a national nuclear energy plan, the challenging cooperation with France in the Mediterranean, and the frictions between America and Russia over important geopolitical issues.
Oreste Foppiani is a teaching and research assistant at the Graduate Institute of International Studies (HEI).
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