Italy was the first and only G7 country to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China on the Belt and Road Initiative. The agreement was signed in 2019 by the government of Giuseppe Conte, and by the end of 2023, the current Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, will have to decide whether to renew it or not.
This decision comes in the midst of the escalation of the rivalry between the United States and China, and Italy's choice could prove to be more decisive for the orientation of European politics in this historical juncture than one might imagine. The scenario, in fact, has two elements to consider. On the one hand, the other leading countries of the EU, France, and Germany, have taken different positions regarding relations with China. On the other hand, the movements of the extreme right parties within the EPP could strengthen the role of Giorgia Meloni in European foreign policy.
To understand what the future moves of Prime Minister Meloni could be, it is necessary to consider that Italy has always maintained good relations with both countries by tradition, also because 32% of GDP (in 2021) depends on exports, so balanced relations on the international level are essential for the economic growth of the country.
This balanced approach is generally approved by the majority of Italians, as demonstrated by the recent survey of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) conducted in 2023.
Most (52%) consider Washington a partner rather than a political and military ally (only 17%). At the same time, 42% of Italians consider China a necessary partner for collaboration. Regarding a conflict between the United States and China, only 18% of Italians would side with the United States, while 65% prefer neutrality.
However, Giorgia Meloni has made increasingly explicit statements of closeness to American allies in recent weeks, starting with the issue of the war in Ukraine.
In this scenario, Italy, which depends militarily on the United States and hosts a significant number of NATO bases, observes with growing attention the internal dynamics of the United States, which for the first time, on the threshold of 250 years since the declaration of independence, seem to be faced with a reassessment of their role as the embodiment of the greatest democratic power.
Richard Haass, former President of the Council on Foreign Relations, in his new book "The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens" (published in 2023) clearly focuses on these problems: the greatest threat to America right now comes from within, from the political divisions that have only for the second time in US history raised doubts about the future of American democracy and even the United States themselves.
According to Haass, American foreign policy as of recent has changed course too frequently as Presidents alternate in the White House. US reliability is at stake. China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran, are challenges that can be managed if the US are united at home. Haass calls upon his fellow citizens by indicating ten obligations that might help the US democracy to recover and to reconquer the commanding heights of democracy. This is the challenge that the United States must face and for which Giorgia Meloni's Italy should also be concerned.