Area: 301,225 sq. km. (116,303 sq. mi.); about the size of
Georgia and Florida combined.
Cities: Capital--Rome (pop. 2.8 million, 3.7 million
metro). Other cities--Milan (1.3 million, 3.9 metro),
Naples (975,000, 3 million metro), Turin (900,000, 2.1
Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous.
Climate: Generally mild Mediterranean; cold northern
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Italian(s).
Population (July 2007 est.): 58.15 million.
Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 0.01%.
Ethnic groups: Primarily Italian, but there are small groups
of German-, French-, Slovene-, and Albanian-Italians.
Religion: Roman Catholic (majority).
Language: Italian (official).
Education: Years compulsory--12. Literacy--98%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.72/1,000 live
births. Life expectancy--77.01 years for men; 83.07
years for women.
Work force (24.63 million, 2006 est.): Services--63%;
industry and commerce--32%; agriculture--5%.
Unemployment rate is 7%.
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, 315-member
Senate (plus a varying number of "life" Senators).
Judicial--independent constitutional court and lower
Subdivisions: 94 provinces, 20 regions.
Political parties: Forza Italia, Democratic Party, National
Alliance, Northern League, United Christian Democrats of the
Center, Communist Renewal, Italians of Values, Greens, Rose
in the Fist, Italian Communist Party, UDEUR (Union of
Democrats for Europe).
Suffrage: Vote for House; universal over 18; vote for
Senate; universal over 18.
GDP (purchasing power parity, 2007 est.): $1.8 trillion.
GDP per capita (purchasing power parity, 2007 est.):
GDP growth: 1.7% (2007); 1.9% (2006); 0.1% (2005); 0.9%
(2003 est.); 0.4% (2002); 1.8% (2001).
Natural resources: Fish and natural gas.
Agriculture: Products--wheat, rice, grapes, olives,
citrus fruits, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans beef, dairy
Industry: Types--tourism, machinery, iron and steel,
chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles,
clothing, footwear, ceramics.
Trade: Exports (2007 est.)--$474.8 billion f.o.b.:
mechanical products, textiles and apparel, transportation
equipment, metal products, chemical products, food and
agricultural products. Partners (2006)--Germany
13.2%, France 12.3%, U.S. 7.5%, Spain 7.5%, U.K. 6.6%.
Imports (2007 est.)--$483.6 billion f.o.b.: machinery
and transport equipment, foodstuffs, ferrous and nonferrous
metals, wool, cotton, energy products. Partners
(2006)--Germany 17.3%, France 10.0%, Netherlands 5.7%, China
5.2%, Belgium 4.5%, Spain 4.3%.
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 per sq.
mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being the
German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes
around Trieste. There are also small communities of
Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Immigration has
increased in recent years, however, while the Italian
population is declining overall due to low birth rates.
Although Roman Catholicism is the majority religion--85% of
native-born citizens are nominally Catholic--all religious
faiths are provided equal freedom before the law by the
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
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
The commercial prosperity of
northern and central Italian cities, beginning in the 11th
century, combined with 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.
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
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. A 1946 plebiscite ended
the monarchy, 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 relinquished 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, 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
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.
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 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, and recent governments have
devolved further powers to the regions. Many regional
governments, particularly in the north of Italy, are seeking
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), 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 proportional
representation system. Under 2005 legislation, the Chamber
of Deputies has 630 members (12 of whom are elected by
Italians abroad). In addition to 315 elected members (six of
whom are elected by Italians abroad), 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 and the volume and
frequency of its decisions are not as extensive as those of
the U.S. Supreme Court.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Romano Prodi
Foreign Minister--Massimo D'Alema
Minister of Defense--Arturo Parisi
Minister of Finance--Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa
Minister of Justice--Luigi Scotti
Minister of the Interior--Giuliano Amato
Ambassador to the United States--Giovanni Castellaneta
Italy maintains an
embassy in the United States at
3000 Whitehaven Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.
Until recently, there had been frequent government turnovers
(more than 60 and counting) since 1945. The dominance of the
Christian Democratic (DC) party during much of the postwar
period lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's
From 1992 to 1997, 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 a largely
majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some
ministries. However in 2005, parliament passed a new
electoral law based on full proportional assignment of
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. The election saw 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 Pole coalition--into office as
Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down
in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew
support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a
technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini,
which fell in early 1996. New elections in 1996 brought a
center-left coalition to government for the first time after
World War II.
A series of center-left coalitions
dominated Italy's political landscape between 1996 and 2001.
In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a
center-left coalition (the Olive Tree) under the leadership
of Romano Prodi. Prodi's government became the
second-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a
vote of confidence (by three votes) in October 1998. A new
government was formed by Democratic Party of the Left leader
and former-communist Massimo D'Alema. In April 2000,
following a poor showing by his coalition in regional
elections, D'Alema resigned. The succeeding center-left
government, including most of the same parties, was headed
by Giuliano Amato, who had previously served as Prime
Minister in 1992-93.
National elections, held on May 13,
2001, returned Berlusconi to power at the head of the
five-party center-right Freedom House coalition, comprising
the prime minister's own party, Forza Italia, the National
Alliance, the Northern League, the Christian Democratic
Center, and the United Christian Democrats. This Berlusconi
government served its entire term.
In national elections held April
9-10, 2006, Romano Prodi's center-left Union coalition won a
narrow victory over Berlusconi's Freedom House coalition.
The Union coalition includes the Democratic Party (born of
the November 2007 fusion of the Democrats of the Left and
the Daisy Party), UDEUR (Union of Democrats for Europe),
Rose in the Fist (made up by Italian Social Democrats and
Italian Radical Party), Communist Renewal, the Italian
Communist Party, and the Greens.
In May 2006, the parliament elected
Giorgio Napolitano of the Democratic Party of the Left as
the Republic's President. President Napolitano formerly
served as a lifetime senator, Minister of the Interior, and
a Member of the European Parliament. President Napolitano's
term ends in May 2013. The Senate, lower house, and regional
representatives will vote to elect his successor.
The Prodi government nearly fell in
February 2007 due to dissatisfaction by members of far-left
parties with Prodi's foreign policy. In January 2008, the
Prodi government fell when small coalition partner UDEUR
withdrew support. In February, the President dissolved
parliament and elections were scheduled for April 2008. The
Prodi government will serve as caretaker until a new
government is formed after the April elections.
Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political
landscape between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations
touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and
businessmen; the shift from a proportional to majoritarian
voting system--with the requirement to obtain a minimum of
4% of the national vote to obtain representation--also
altered the political landscape.
Party changes were sweeping. The
Christian Democratic Party dissolved; the Italian People's
Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. Other
major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet.
A new populist and free-market oriented movement, Forza
Italia, gained wide support among moderate voters. The
National Alliance broke from the neofascist Italian Social
Movement. A trend toward two large coalitions--one on the
center-left and the other on the center-right--emerged from
the April 1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national
elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree
coalition while the center right united again under the
Freedom Pole. The May 2001 elections ushered into power a
refashioned center-right coalition dominated by Berlusconi's
party, Forza Italia. The April 2006 elections returned the
center-left to power under the Union coalition, a successor
to the Olive Tree. Freedom House now sits in the opposition.
Prodi's government is formed by an eight-party coalition
with diverse political views.
The largest bloc in the Chamber of
Deputies was the Olive Tree (31.3%), a grouping of the
Democrats of the Left and the Daisy Party within the Union
coalition; Forza Italia (23.7%); the National Alliance
(12.3%); the Union of Christian and Center Democrats (6.8%);
and the Communist Renewal Party (5.8%). Similar rankings
generally apply in the Senate, in which the Olive Tree
coalition and Forza Italia were the dominant parties.
In October 2007, the Olive Tree
parties officially merged to form the Democratic Party. Rome
Mayor Walter Veltroni was chosen as party leader and is
expected to be the center-left's main candidate in the April
2008 elections. Silvio Berlusconi launched an alliance
between his Forza Italia party and Gianfranco Fini's
National Alliance. The parties will run together under the
People of Liberty symbol in April 2008. A reform of the
electoral system is expected after the elections, with the
goal of reducing the influence of small parties. After the
fall of the Prodi government, large and small parties began
negotiating alliances in preparation for the April 2008
The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end
of World War II. From an agriculturally based economy, it
has developed into an industrial state ranked as the world's
sixth-largest market economy. Italy belongs to the Group of
Eight (G-8) industrialized nations; it is a member of the
European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD).
Italy has few natural resources.
With much land unsuited for farming, Italy is a net food
importer. There are no substantial deposits of iron, coal,
or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley
and offshore in the Adriatic, constitute the country's most
important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for
manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy
sources are imported. Italy's economic strength is in the
processing and the manufacturing of goods, primarily in
small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Its major
industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles,
chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, and fashion and
Italy's economic growth averaged
only 0.66% for the five years ending in 2005; 2006 GDP
growth reached 1.9%, the highest since 2000, largely due to
export growth to the Euro zone area, and is expected to
decelerate slightly to 1.7% in 2007.
Italy continues to grapple with
budget deficits and high public debt--2.0% and 105.6% of GDP
for 2007, respectively. Italy joined the European Monetary
Union in 1998 by signing the Stability and Growth Pact, and
as a condition of this Euro zone membership, Italy must keep
its budget deficit beneath a 3% ceiling. In June 2006, the
European Commission warned Italy it had to bring the deficit
down to that level by 2007. The Italian Government has found
it difficult to bring the budget deficit down to a level
that would allow a rapid decrease of that debt. The economy
continues to grow less than the euro-zone average and growth
is expected to decelerate from 1.9% in 2006 and 1.7% in 2007
to under 1% in 2008 as the euro-zone and world economies
Italy's closest trade ties are with
the other countries of the European Union, with whom it
conducts about 60.3% of its total trade (2006 data). Italy's
largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are
Germany (14.9 %), France (11.1 %), and the United Kingdom
(5.3 %). Italy continues to grapple with the effects of
globalization, where certain countries (notably China) have
eroded the Italian lower-end industrial product sector.
The Italian economy is also
affected by a large underground economy--worth some 27% of
Italy's GDP. This production is not subject, of course, to
taxation and thus remains a source of lost revenue to the
local and central government.
U.S.-Italy Economic Relations
The United States and Italy cooperate closely on major
economic issues, including within the G-8. With a large
population and a high per capita income, Italy was the
United States' thirteenth-largest trading partner through
November 2007, with total bilateral trade of $44.9 billion
comprised of exports to Italy totaling $12.0 billion and
imports from Italy worth $32.1 billion. The U.S.'s $19.2
billion deficit with Italy through November 2007 was
slightly below the $20.1 billion deficit registered in 2006.
Part of this imbalance has been due to a strong dollar.
Significant changes are occurring in the composition of this
trade. Value-added products such as office machinery and
aircraft are becoming important U.S. exports to Italy. U.S.
foreign direct investment in Italy at the end of 2006
exceeded $28.9 billion.
Unemployment is a regional issue in Italy--low in the north,
high in the south. The overall national rate is at its
lowest level since 1992. Chronic problems of inadequate
infrastructure, corruption, and organized crime act as
disincentives to investment and job creation in the south. A
significant underground economy absorbs substantial numbers
of people, but they work for low wages and without standard
social benefits and protections. Women and youth have
significantly higher rates of unemployment than do men.
Unions claim to represent 40% of
the work force. Most Italian unions are grouped in four
major confederations: the General Italian Confederation of
Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (CISL),
the Italian Union of Labor (UIL), and the General Union of
Labor (UGL), which together claim 35% of the work force.
These confederations formerly were associated with important
political parties or currents, but they have evolved into
fully autonomous, professional bodies. The CGIL, CISL, and
UIL are affiliated with the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and customarily coordinate their
positions before confronting management or lobbying the
government. The confederations have had an important
consultative role on national social and economic issues.
Italy's agriculture is typical of the division between the
agricultures of the northern and southern countries of the
European Union. The northern part of Italy produces
primarily grains, sugar beets, soybeans, meat, and dairy
products, while the south specializes in fruits, vegetables,
olive oil, wine, and durum wheat. Even though much of its
mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming, Italy has a
large work force (1.4 million) employed in farming. Most
farms are small, with the average size being only seven
For further economic and commercial
information, please refer to the
Country Commercial Guide for
Italy was a founding member of the European Community--now
the European Union (EU). Italy was admitted to the United
Nations in 1955 and is a member and strong supporter of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization
(GATT/WTO), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe. It chaired the
CSCE (the forerunner of the OSCE) in 1994, the EU in 1996,
and the G-8 in 2001 and served as EU president from July to
December 2003. Italy began serving a two-year term on the UN
Security Council in January 2007.
Italy firmly supports the United
Nations and its international security activities. Italy
actively participated in and deployed troops in support of
UN peacekeeping missions in Lebanon, Somalia, Mozambique,
and Timor-Leste and provides critical support for NATO and
UN operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania.
Italy, under NATO's ISAF, maintains approximately 2,500
troops and a Provincial Reconstruction Team in the western
Afghanistan province of Herat. In December 2006, Italy
completed the deployment of some 3,000 troops who supported
international efforts to stabilize Iraq and continues to
support reconstruction and development assistance of the
Iraqi people through humanitarian workers and other
officials, particularly in Dhi Qar Province. Currently over
8,000 Italian troops are deployed, including 2,250 in
Kosovo, 2, 350 in Lebanon as part of UNIFIL, and over 2,500
The Italian Government seeks to
obtain consensus with other European countries on various
defense and security issues within the EU as well as NATO.
European integration and the development of common defense
and security policies will continue to be of primary
interest to Italy.