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Italy: Great Historical Influence On West And Advanced Modern Industry

Date Posted: 2000-07-01

With a long history that includes the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and the Catholic Church, Italy has had a profound and lasting influence on Western civilization.

The Italian peninsula was first unified under the Roman Republic, and by the first century AD, the Roman Empire was the dominant power throughout the Mediterranean. When the Empire collapsed, Italy became a collection of small states and kingdoms that fought among themselves and were conquered by foreign powers. The Popes of Rome and the Holy Roman Emperors also vied for control of the peninsula until the end of the Middle Ages.

By the 14th century, several wealthy commercial cities of the north had established their own democratic governments. Their prosperity gave birth to the Renaissance, the cultural, scientific, and artistic revolution that spread throughout Europe. Italy's contributions to this "rebirth" include DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Dante Galileo, and Christopher Columbus, to name only a few.

During World War II, under the control of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Italy joined the Axis powers and declared war on France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States. When Mussolini was dismissed in by the king in 1943, the country did an about-face and declared war on Germany. After the war, the monarchy was ended by a public referendum, and Italy established itself as a democratic republic in 1946.

Today Italy's population is largely homogeneous, with only a few small minority communities. Although it is the home of the Roman Catholic Church and 99 percent of its 57 million citizens are Catholic, there has been no official state religion since 1985.

Italy's once agricultural economy has been transformed by modern industries such as chemical and textile manufacturing. Yet it remains one of the world's foremost producers of olives, grapes and wine.

Leadership: Good Budgetary Skills But Tainted Past of “Dr Subtle”

Italy's recent political history has been reminiscent of its tumultuous past. There are currently 14 important political parties, and the present administration is the 58th to govern the country since the formation of the republic 54 years ago.

Italy's official head-of-state is President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, but it will be represented at the G-8 Summit by Prime Minister Guiliano Amato. Amato became Prime Minister on April 26 of this year, after the resignation one week earlier of Massimo D'Alema. Amato had served as treasury minister during the 18 months of D'Alema's term.

Amato, 61, also held the position of prime minister once before, in 1992-1993, as a member of the Socialist Party. This was during a period in which Italy faced significant challenges, as voters, frustrated with government debt, corruption, and organized crime, demanded political and economic reforms. During that term, Amato earned respect for enacting serious budget cuts.

Amato later became an independent, and as treasury minister, he was praised for helping Italy take control of its budget deficit. His skill at cutting government spending has earned him the nickname "Dr. Subtle."

Not everyone is impressed with his reputation, however. Amato was a cabinet undersecretary under the late Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, whose tenure was marked by corruption scandals. For some, Amato's name is tainted by the past, even though he was never personally linked with corruption.

Amato has pledged to institute electoral reforms, fight organized crime and increase the flexibility of the labor market to curb Italy's unemployment, which is currently more than 12 percent.

Italian G8 Agenda: Trade, EU’s Global Role and Information Technology

In light of the country's financial challenges, Italy's primary interests in the summit will most likely be related to economic and trade issues. At previous summit meetings, Italy has expressed concerns over trade deficits and initiatives to stabilize the EU's position within the global economy. Like most of the other summit participants, Italy is expected to be very interested in Information Technology issues, especially curbing cyber-crime and regulating international trade.

The Foreign Affairs Ministers of Italy and Japan met in Rome this past January to discuss several political and economic matters that are expected to arise at next month's summit. Chief among these was the issue of international security, and in particular, the link between security problems in Europe and Asia. Italy, as the fifth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, is also focused on reforming and enlarging the UN Security Council to make it more democratic and representative of today's world.

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