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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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 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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President Mattarella’s Refusal to Promulgate a Law on the Financing of the Arms Industry

On 27 October 2017, the Presidente della Repubblica Italiana (President of the Italian Republic, hereinafter President), Mr. Sergio Mattarella, refused to promulgate the law[1] drafted and approved by the Parliament titled “Misure per contrastare il finanziamento delle imprese produttrici di mine antipersona, di munizioni e sub munizioni a grappolo” (Measures to combat the financing of firms manufacturing antipersonnel landmines, cluster munitions and submunitions, hereinafter Law no. 57)[2]. In the Italian constitutional system, in order for a law to enter into force the President has to promulgate it, according to Article 73 of the Constitution. To this end, Article 74 confers the President the power to require that the law undergoes a new debate in the two Houses of the Parliament, expressing the reasons for such a request. As explained in the opinion sent to the Senato della Repubblica (Senate of the Republic) and the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies), the President identified two problematic features of the law, which are here illustrated.

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Italy’s Reaction to the Use of Chemical Weapons at Khan Shaykhun and to the US Attack on a Syrian Airfield

On 4 April 2017, it was reported that the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun – controlled at the time by the Tahrir Al-Sham Alliance – had been the object of an airstrike by the air force of the Government of President Bashar Al Assad.[1] As a result of the airstrike, chemical agents poisoned large numbers of civilians. 

In a report released on 30 June 2017, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) estimated the number of deaths “as approximately 100 people” and determined that “Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” had been used as a weapon in Khan Shaykhun.[2] It took until 27 October 2017 for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to take position on the responsibility for the attack and affirm that the Leading Panel of the mechanism itself was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.[3]

In the aftermath of the attack, however, several countries condemned the action and the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France openly called into question the responsibility of the Syrian Government.[4] The US President, Mr. Donald Trump, condemned the attack as “intolerable” and openly blamed the inaction of his predecessor Barack Obama, who, after establishing “a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons did nothing”.[5] On its part, the Syrian government denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons.[6] The Government of the Russian Federation offered alternative explanations of the events, mentioning the fact that the Syrian Air Force could have “bombed an underground factory producing chemical warfare agents” or alluding to a possible “provocation by the terrorists”.[7] Within the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a draft resolution condemning the attack – tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the US – was vetoed by the Russian Federation, with the abstention of China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.[8] 

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