The European Mood After March 11: Italy Will Not Give Up the Fight

The recent Spanish elections did more than just bring the socialists to power in one of Europe's most important nations.

The recent Spanish elections did more than just bring the socialists to power in one of Europe's most important nations. They also triggered a fierce discussion among European liberals about their position on the war on terror and about the European presence in Iraq. Many important EU functionaries immediately uttered warm congratulations to Spain's new prime minister Zapatero and backed his position on Iraq. In Italy, most leftists agreed with Zapatero's proposal to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq without further UN involvement.  

 

However, the government headed by Silvio Berlusconi seems stable enough to keep being one of the U.S.'s most loyal allies in Europe. There is, nonetheless, much to worry about in the liberal conviction that, if one leaves terrorism to flourish in the rest of the world and allows Western-hostile regimes to promote fanatical groups, terrorism will spare Europe and target only Israel and the United States.

 

Among the European countries who were most active in opposing the United States are France and Germany. France, in particular, emerged as the most anti-American country in Europe and a huge amount of anti-Americanism swept across that country. The Chirac-Raffarin government, however, did not actually benefit from their position towards the U.S., as the recent regional elections demonstrated. The government coalition lost in 21 out of 22 regions, arguably because it wasn't able to distinguish itself from the left coalition. One of the reasons for this is surely Chirac's foreign policy, which showed France's reluctance to fight terrorism. Now that France is worried about the continuous threat posed by terrorism, there is the impression that France's antiterrorism policy needs to transcend traditional compromises with Arabic groups and a general policy of appeasement.

 

As long as Germany and France do not understand that the war on terrorism requires the use of military forces, the sole major allies of the United States in Europe will likely be Italy and Poland. Italy, especially, is facing tough threats, particularly in light of the huge flow of clandestine immigrants from Muslim countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Albania, and so on), which is very difficult to control. Being home to the heart of Christianity, Italy is likely to be ranked among the very top target countries on terrorist hit lists, and the menace grows as Easter approaches.

 

There aren't only cultural reasons for which Italy is a realistic target; in the past few years, Italy completely overhauled its foreign policy. Before Silvio Berlusconi's rise, Italy was a country that had very strong ties to Muslim countries. This Arabophilia spanned across every Italian government since the late 1950s, and it was quite strong even in Bettino Craxi's government, as the Sigonella case shows. Thus, it is not surprisingly that Italy played an important role in Colonel Qaddafi's recent commitment to cooperate with the United States. However, things have changed a lot since Berlusconi chose to embrace American foreign policy, backing every American initiative under the Clinton and Bush Administrations. This is quite remarkable in a country where many forces, like Catholic movements and large parts of the industrial and cultural establishment, would often lead the government towards a much lower profile policy.

 

Berlusconi wants to create a transatlantic dialogue at a time when Europe is fragmented on many critical issues and is struggling to define a common foreign policy. Josè Maria Aznar shared this idea with Italy's premier, as many other European countries still do, and Berlusconi is committed to carry on the torch.

 

 

Francesco Galietti is a junior fellow of the Italian Center for Study and Documentation (www.cidas.it) and an op-ed writer for the weekly e-zine Ragionpolitica (www.ragionpolitica.it)