The Italian Government’s Stance on the Annexation of Crimea and the Sanctions against the Russian Federation

On the Sanctions Adopted by the EU against the Russian Federation

On 5 June 2018, Italy’s newly appointed Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri (President of the Council of Ministers), Mr Giuseppe Conte, made his first address to Parliament, seeking a confidence vote in the Senato della Repubblica (Senate of the Republic, 9th Meeting, XVIII Legislature). While outlining the foreign policy program of his Government, he also made reference to the sanctions adopted by the European Union after the annexation of Ukraine by the Russian Federation[1]. In this context, Mr Conte stated:

With regard to international scenarios, markets and security, firstly we intend to confirm our country’s convinced belonging to the North Atlantic Alliance, with the United States of America as a privileged, traditionally privileged, ally. But pay close attention! We will be advocates of an opening towards Russia. A Russia that has consolidated its international role in various geopolitical crises in recent years. We will push for a review of the sanctions system, starting from those [measures] that risk humiliating the Russian civil society.

It is noteworthy, however, that on the following day NATO Secretary General, Mr Jens Stoltenberg, emphasized the importance of political dialogue but also recalled the role of sanctions[2]. In similar terms, the US Ambassador to NATO, Mr Bailey Hutchinson, underlined the need to maintain sanctions and avoid any hesitation, highlighting that the lack of unity between allies would be a bad signal to Russia[3].

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Migration Policy and Management under the “Conte 1” Government

The fight against “irregular” migration to Italy featured prominently in the election manifesto of the Lega (League – a right-wing political party) and was incorporated in the coalition agreement concluded between the two governing parties after the 4 March 2018 general election, namely the League and the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement). Accordingly, on 5 June 2018, the President of the Council of Ministers, Mr Giuseppe Conte, outlined the approach on migration of the newly formed Italian Government during his first speech before the Senate of the Republic (9th Meeting, XVIII Legislature):

It is clear to everyone that the management of migratory flows as implemented to date has failed. Europe allowed – we must emphasize it – selfish positions by Member States, which ended up placing the burden, which should have been shared, on border States, first and foremost on Italy. That is why we will vigorously demand to go beyond the Dublin Regulation, so as to ensure actual compliance with the principle of equitable responsibility-sharing and implement automatic mechanisms for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers. […]

We want asylum procedures to be well-established and swift, also with a view to more effectively ensuring that the rights [of asylum seekers] are guaranteed and that they do not live in uncertainty. […]

We must also re-organize the reception system and make it efficient with a view to ensuring the transparent use of public funds and preventing any infiltration by organized crime. Should there be no grounds for the stay [of migrants in Italy], we will take action to make repatriation procedures effective and, at the European level, to compel third States willing to conclude cooperation agreements with any EU Member States to ratify bilateral agreements for the management of migratory flows.

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The Scope and Means of Action of the United Nations Security Council as Seen by Italy during its “Shared Membership”

Italy has a long tradition of taking public stances on issues concerning the United Nations (UN) in general, and the Security Council (SC) in particular. The most important of such issues is perhaps the reform of the SC, a hotly debated question on which Italy has been taking a leading position for many years, promoting a series of proposals around which a group known as “Uniting for Consensus” has gathered.[1] This very same theme has been discussed by Italian representatives at the UN also in 2017 and 2018, when they reiterated and further clarified their country’s view.[2] Those years also correspond to the biennium that saw Italy and the Netherlands share a split non-permanent seat at the SC (the former being a member in 2017). Therefore, Italy has recently had many occasions to express its ideas on the action of the SC.

It is well known that the role of the SC has been progressively expanding since the end of the Cold War, so that nowadays its activities have a far wider scope than that envisioned in 1945 by the drafters of the UN Charter. Such legal developments can be said to be, by now, largely accepted by the international community, and even those States that occasionally veto or anyhow oppose certain SC resolutions, sometimes do that inconsistently and by putting forth political rather than legal justifications.[3] This notwithstanding, the issue of how far-reaching the powers of the SC are remains the subject of scholarly debate and is still of some practical importance for States. From this perspective, it may be useful to review Italy’s stances on the action of the SC.

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The Diplomatic Row between Italy and Austria over Vienna’s Draft Laws on Dual Nationality and Consular Assistance for German- and Ladin-speaking South Tyroleans

German-speakers in the Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige (Autonomous Province Bolzano – South Tyrol, hereinafter “South Tyrol”) constitute 69.6% of the total population of the Province, the rest belonging to the Italian (25.8%) and Ladin (4.5%) ethno-linguistic groups.[1] South Tyrol enjoys a high level of self-government and fiscal autonomy, according to Article 6 of the Italian Constitution,[2] the provisions of the 1946 Accordo De Gasperi – Gruber (De Gasperi – Gruber Agreement) between Italy and Austria,[3] also known as Paris Agreement, and the 1972 second Autonomy Statute for South Tyrol.[4] Under the Paris Agreement, in particular, Austria exercises a protective function for South Tyrol, historically monitoring progress towards the attainment of autonomy by the Province. To this extent, in 1960, Austria submitted the question of the implementation of South Tyrol’s autonomy to the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). The dispute was settled on 19 June 1992, by means of a discharge issued by both States before the UN, after all the measures that make South Tyrol’s autonomy a unique model of minorities’ protection had been enacted.[5]

Against this background, in 2017, the decision of the Austrian Government to support a reform of its domestic legislation favoring the acquisition of dual citizenship by German and Ladin South-Tyroleans became a significant source of tension between the two neighboring countries. Indeed, the debate on the attribution of the Austrian citizenship to South Tyroleans can be traced back to at least a decade before. Since 2006, the autonomist party Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP – South Tyrolean People’s Party) had lobbied for the attribution of Austrian citizenship to German-speaking South Tyroleans.[6] Already in 2009, a first draft law by the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ – Freedom Party of Austria),[7] although subsequently rejected by the Austrian Parliament, prompted a reaction by the Ministro degli Affari esteri e della Cooperazione internazionale (Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Mr Franco Frattini, who, in a diplomatic note transmitted to Vienna, defined the proposal as a “non-friendly gesture towards Italy”.[8] The proposal for a dual citizenship for South-Tyroleans was further discussed following a 2011 motion filed by the Consiglio della Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano (South Tyrol’s Council)[9] and a 2013 citizens’ initiative,[10] for which on 9 April 2014 the Austrian Parliament instituted an ad hoc subcommittee, the Südtirol Unterausschuss (South Tyrol Subcommittee), within the Außenpolitische Ausschuss (Foreign Affairs Committee).

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The Threatened Demolition of the Khan al-Ahmar “Rubber Tire School” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Khan al-Ahmar community is located in the West Bank, near the road that connects Jerusalem to the city of Jericho and the Dead Sea and not far from the Israeli settlements that rise to the east of the Holy City.[1] Its 180 inhabitants (35 Bedouin families) belong to the tribal group Jahalin, originating from Tel Arad, in southern Israel. Members of this clan were expelled by the Israeli army in 1951 and had to relocate in what was then a territory under the control of Jordan. Nowadays, their lands are formally located within the so-called Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which, under the Oslo Accords, is administered by Israel, and in particular on corridor E1, an area considered strategic for controlling the territory up to Jericho and for the expansion of the settlements. Families are extremely poor and live in temporary structures built without permits from the Israeli authorities, often funded by European countries. Villages are not connected to electricity, roads and the sewage system. They lack health and education infrastructures. Scattered in the area of Khan al-Ahmar live twelve Palestinian communities with roughly 1,400 inhabitants. The so-called “Rubber Tire School”, located in Khan al-Ahmar, serves 150 children from five different communities. The Italian NGO Terra di Vento established it in 2009 with an innovative project using mud and tires. Together with other infrastructures, it was funded by Italy, Belgium and the European Union.

Over the years, the Israeli authorities have confiscated and demolished existing facilities and issued several demolition orders to the detriment of the Bedouin communities of the Jerusalem area. As documented by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, “from 2006 until the end of May 2018, 26 residential structures were demolished. 132 people were left without shelter, of which 77 were children and teenagers. In addition, 7 non-residential structures were demolished”.[2]

Several petitions were filed with the High Court of Justice in favor or against the demolition orders. The Israeli settlers petitioned the Court to have the demolition orders implemented, whereas the Palestinian communities tried to resist deportation. In this respect, the position of the Israeli Government is that the Khan al-Ahmar buildings were established without any permits and that residents have been offered an alternative location where the school would be reconstructed.[3]

On 28 May 2018, the Israeli High Court confirmed that the Government might demolish the homes of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and the school.[4] On 4 July the Israeli civil administration started implementing the expulsion of the residents and the demolition of the buildings, but a subsequent petition to the Court froze the process. With a temporary injunction, the Court invited the parties to reach an agreement. The Government then insisted on the immediate relocation of the Palestinian community to a site in Abu Dis, near a garbage dump.[5] The Palestinian community refused the proposed solution and continued resisting to the expulsion and the destruction of their homes.

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The Illegal Trafficking in Crude Oil and Petroleum Products from Libya and the Relationship Between Italy and Malta

Control over oil resources has been a key factor in the situation of civil war and political turmoil that has affected Libya in this decade.[1] Already in 2011, a turning point in the struggle against the Qhadafi Government took place when the insurgents of the Transitional National Council proved that, by controlling the eastern ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf, they were able to trade in oil with foreign corporations.[2] In the ensuing period, and especially between 2014 and 2018, the competition between rival governments was constantly mirrored by the struggle to gain control over oil resources and, most notably, over the National Oil Corporation (NOC).[3] In 2014, in a paradoxical twist of history, the stability of the revolutionary government that had ousted Qhadafi was seriously put into question when a group of “Petroleum Facilities Guards”, led by a Ibrahim Jadhran, came to control the same eastern ports that had been instrumental to the demise of the previous ruler.[4] A stateless tanker was able to leave port against the will of the Tripoli Government and was subsequently inspected, seized on the high seas, and brought back to port in Libya by an operation of the US Navy.[5] In 2015, the House of Representatives of Tobruk attempted to establish a new National Oil Corporation with headquarters in eastern Libya claiming that the NOC based in Tripoli had no legitimacy and that new contracts had to be negotiated with the eastern NOC.[6] The initiative had little success as the NOC and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli remained the sole official interlocutors of the international corporations operating in Libya.[7] However, the situation of uncertainty with respect to control over the main oil fields of the country persisted.[8] In July 2018, when the Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar took control of the eastern oil fields, attempts to sell oil through the eastern-based oil corporation started again, allegedly with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates.[9] This prompted a reaction by the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Italy, which is commented upon here below.

Repeated attempts to illicitly export oil from Libya were condemned by the UN Security Council, which clearly supported the position of the GNA. With Resolution 2146 (2014) the Council requested that the GNA contact the Sanctions Committee previously established by Resolution 1970 (2011) “to inform the Committee of any vessels transporting crude oil illicitly exported from Libya”.[10] The Resolution then authorized Member States, after seeking consent by the vessel’s flag State, “to use all measures commensurate to the specific circumstances […] to […] direct the vessel to take appropriate actions to return the crude oil, with the consent of and in coordination with the Government of Libya, to Libya”.[11] Moreover, it was made clear that all Member States were under an obligation to “take the necessary measures to require their nationals and entities and individuals in their territory not to engage in any financial transactions with respect to such crude oil from Libya aboard vessels designated by the Committee”.[12] Subsequently, Resolution 2174 (2014) expanded the reasons for listing individuals and entities in the sanctions lists mentioning explicitly those “providing support for armed groups or criminal networks through the illicit exploitation of crude oil or any other natural resources in Libya”.[13] Resolution 2362 (2017) expanded the applicability of the measures adopted with Resolution 2146 (2014) to petroleum, including crude oil and refined petroleum products. In a number of resolutions, the Security Council reiterated that the resources of Libya must remain under the sole control and authority of the GNA and the NOC of Tripoli.[14]

Within this context, the position of the Italian Government has consistently supported the GNA by affirming clearly that the right to control and administer the oil resources of the country pertained exclusively to the NOC. During the course of 2018, Italy participated in the adoption of two joint statements (together with France, the United Kingdom and the United States) dealing directly with the issue of control over Libyan oil resources.

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The Airstrikes Against Syria in Response to the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons

On 17 April 2018, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, President of the Council of Ministers, reported before the Senate of the Republic on the developments of the situation in Syria (5th Meeting, XVII Legislature). In doing so, he also summarized the Government’s position on the airstrikes against Syria conducted by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom on 14 April 2018, presented as a response to the chemical weapons allegedly used in Douma by the Syrian army a few days before. Mr Gentiloni firstly commented upon the credibility of these allegations:

Eventually, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (which is a partnership between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations) determined that in the last years, at least three times, the Syrian army resorted to using chlorine gas.

Moreover, it confirmed the use of nerve gas in the attack in KhanShaykhun that occurred exactly one year ago. You will recall that on that occasion there was a response by the United States. But the same body – the Joint Investigative Mechanism – determined that Daesh as well, on a couple of occasions, resorted to using chemical weapons in the Syrian context.

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The Italian Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Carlo Calenda, on China’s Market Economy Status

China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. As an economy undergoing transformation, special trade rules were negotiated and agreed with China to safeguard the interests of the existing WTO membership. Article 15 of China’s WTO Accession Protocol sets out that modified rules for imposing anti-dumping tariffs (less favorable to China) will apply for a period of fifteen years from the accession date. This period expired on 11 December 2016 and since then the interpretation of the provisions in Article 15 of the Accession Protocol has become a bone of contention. The dispute over granting China market economy status (MES), which is associated with the expiry of the special conditions in Article 15 of the Accession Protocol, affects directly the legal basis of EU’s trade (defense) policy towards China.

On 1 February 2017, shortly after the fifteenth anniversary of China’s WTO membership, during a meeting of the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies, 734th Meeting, XVII Legislature), Mr. Raffaello Vignali, a member of the Italian Parliament, posed an interpellation to the Ministro dello Sviluppo Economico (Minister of Economic Development), Mr. Carlo Calenda, regarding the issue of granting China MES – which would potentially weaken the competitiveness of Italian companies – and the initiatives undertaken at the European Union (EU) level to achieve a balanced solution.

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Italy’s stance on the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

On 6 December 2017, the United States (US) President, Mr. Donald Trump, put into effect his presidential campaign promise to effectively recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby indicating a future move there for the US embassy from Tel Aviv. Such a decision has been interpreted by many as marking a turning point in the US approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Indeed, even though the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act adopted by the US Senate and House of Representatives committed the Federal Government to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, since its enactment every US President has regularly availed himself of the possibility to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law. President Trump himself signed such a waiver twice, before (June 2017) as well as after (December 2017) his own declaration. Nonetheless, his announcement sparked controversy and many countries voiced their dissent. Italy is among those States and its stance will be discussed below. However, in order better to understand the dissent it expressed along with a number of other countries, it is useful to provide a factual and legal context, starting with Mr. Trump’s actual words. 

In his speech, Mr. Trump motivated his decision as follows: 

Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. […] But today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done. 

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The Legality of Italy’s Export of Arms

On 17 July 2017, during a Parliamentary debate on the ongoing war in Yemen, the Sottosegretario di Stato per gli Affari esteri e la Cooperazione internazionale (Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Mr. Vincenzo Amendola, presented the stance of the Italian Government vis-à-vis the conflict between the Houthi rebels and the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The request for military support from President Hadi’s government, which enjoys wide international recognition, has been accepted by a coalition of States, led by Saudi Arabia. Before the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies, 835th Meeting, XVII Legislature) Mr. Amendola qualified the government as the legitimate authority in Yemen. He described the situation as follows: 

In 2014, there was a true subversion of the institutional order from the Houthis, carried out by paramilitary militias. The coup interrupted the process of transition that was in place and resulted in the destitution of President Hadi and the fall of the Yemeni Parliament. Given the situation and the worsening of the terrorist threat brought about by Al Qaeda in great part of the Yemeni territory, which took advantage of the power vacuum in the country, a military intervention upon request and sustained by the legitimate government was launched by a coalition of States formed by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan, Egypt and Morocco. 

Allegations of a violation of international humanitarian law as a result of the bombings carried out by Saudi Arabia led to questioning the export of arms to Riyadh. On this issue, too, the Undersecretary explained the Italian position. The obligations applicable to Italy as to the export of arms derive from domestic, European and international legal instruments. However, Mr. Amendola only mentioned the domestic framework and reminded that: 

The exports of arms are governed by Law no. 185 of 1990 and its subsequent amendments, and the authorizations for licenses involve different Ministries and authorities, as to the analysis of the content of the single operation as well as in terms of opinions for the export to non-EU/NATO countries. 

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