While Italy has a “central role” to play in Europe’s response to growing security challenges in the Mediterranean region, the current government’s “suicide diplomacy” is weakening its clout in the EU and NATO, says a new report by Friends of Europe, a leading Brussels-based think-tank. The study also argues that the “poor state” of relations between Italy and France – aptly described as “toxic blend of French arrogance and Italian resentment” – is a major obstacle to more coherent European policy. The report is timely in the context of both an ongoing debate about the EU member states’ contribution made to NATO and discussions about the next EU budget, including spending on defense.
Demography, state fragility and climate change are “fuelling great power rivalry, resource conflicts, radicalization and Jihadist terrorism, and the smuggling of people and arms and drugs,” which increasingly poses threats to European security and stability, which can only be mitigated through “much closer, more far-sighted cooperation between the EU and NATO.” President Trump has long complained that NATO members need to increase their contribution to the alliance while questioning the long-term future of NATO.
Based on interviews with nearly 50 present and former EU, NATO, Italian, French and US leading policymakers and members of government, the study recommends a new division of labor between the EU and NATO to maximize each organization’s ability for projecting stability and building institutions. It also recommends a Franco-Italian grand bargain to overcome disputes that are detrimental to the efforts to stabilize Libya and develop a coherent European foreign and defense policy. “Little will go right if Italy is at loggerheads with its main European partners, nor while France and Italy are waging what resembles a proxy war in Libya,” says Paul Taylor of Friends of Europe, the author of the study.