The increasing shift of power from the G8 to the G-20 observed throughout the unfolding of the international crisis has culminated with the recent statement at the Pittsburgh Summit that the G-20 will become the premier forum for global economic policymaking.
While this is a welcome development for the management of the global economy, as the key players now all sit around the same table, it poses a delicate issue for the smaller G8 countries, such as Italy and Canada. There is no doubt, in fact, that the recent move toward the G-20 is going to dilute their perceived role and influence in the world stage.
As I stated in a recent interview on the Agenda with Steve Paikin, the membership of the G8 is seen in Italy as the most tangible outcome of a longstanding foreign policy effort. Following the destruction of the country’s economic and political foundations in WW II, its post-war leaders worked hard for the country to gain a prominent place alongside other more established Western democracies, like the U.S. and the U.K., despite its limited economic weight and political clout.
This prompted Italy to loyally support its key allies in various ways, even militarily and under difficult internal political circumstances. Most recently, the country has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, despite opposition from its public opinion. Earlier on, despite the same opposition, it went ahead by hosting a NATO nuclear missile base when the West was fighting the spectrum of communism.
In return, this has enabled Italy to forge an effective political, military, economic and cultural relationship with its longstanding ally—the U.S.—whose support at difficult moments has never been in doubt. The G8—a club of “like-minded”—has been the ideal place where this relationship has played out.
The G-20, with a more diverse membership, makes the dynamics much more difficult adding to the complexity of how a medium-sized country with relatively limited means can leverage on the new world order. After several centuries when Italy or its regions and cities have played a key role in the world in one way or another, and always above their limited economic weight, the country is now facing the prospect of a sizable adjustment in its international ambitions.
The need to redefine a foreign policy stance that has worked pretty well in the recent decades has spurred a debate by the country’s elites about what role Italy can realistically pursue in an “enlarged” global governance setting. In a way, the “exit strategy” has already been chartered by the early post-war leaders who made the country a founding member of what would then become the European Union and the euro area. Through the heavier weight of the EU, the challenge of global governance looks much more manageable.
To cash on this, however, the country would need to spend more political capital on an issue—that of European integration—that has lost momentum exactly when the country needs it most. With that, Italians ought to ask themselves how to strengthen their country’s leverage vis-à-vis EU member states and institutions. Perhaps a little less glamorous task but one that can offer a concrete alternative to the irreversible decline that many in the country feel right now.