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Country Profile

Area: 301,318 sq km
Population: 60.6 m (ISTAT)
Capital City: Rome (population: 2.72m) (ISTAT)
People: Mostly Italian, with small populations of German, French and Slovene Italians in the north, and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south. Around 4m (ISTAT) legal immigrant foreigners and up to 1m illegal immigrants. The largest immigrant populations are from Romania, Albania and Morocco.
Life expectancy: Men (78.3), Women (84) (UN)
Language(s): Italian. However, German is the predominant language in the South Tyrol (Trentino-Alto Adige); French is predominant in the Valle d'Aosta region on the Swiss/French border and Slovene on the Slovene border.
Religion(s): 83% Roman Catholic; remainder Jewish and Protestant and a growing Muslim immigrant community, an estimated 1.2 million (Caritas), of which 67,000 are Italian born and immigrants with Italian citizenship.
Currency: euro
Parliament: Italy has a bicameral system composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Both are directly elected and are of equal authority.
Government: Republic
Head of State: President Giorgio Napolitano (elected May 2006)
The Constitution provides for the election of the Head of State (who is not politically aligned) for a seven-year term by an electoral college, consisting of the two Houses of Parliament and delegates from each region. The President, required by the Constitution to be over 50 years old, can dissolve one or both houses of Parliament after consultation with the Speakers.
Prime Minister: Mario Monti
Membership of main international groups/organisations: Founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. Founding member of the European Community (precursor of the European Union) in 1957. Member of United Nations and the G8 and G20 (Italy held the Presidency of the G8 in 2009, hosting the Summit in L’Aquila, the city devastated by an earthquake in April 2009).

Major Political Parties in Parliament:


-- Popolo della Libertà (PdL – People of Liberty): Angelino Alfano
-- Lega Nord (Northern League): Umberto Bossi


-- Partito Democratico (PD - Democratic Party): Pier Luigi Bersani
-- Italia dei Valori (IdV - Italy of Values): Antonio Di Pietro

Third Pole (Centre)

-- Unione di Centro (UDC - Union of the Centre): Pierferdinando Casini
-- Alleanza per l’Italia (ApI – Alliance for Italy): Francesco Rutelli
-- Futuro e Libertà (FLI – Future and Liberty): Gianfranco Fini
-- Movimento per le Autonomie (MpA – Movement for the Autonomies): Raffaele Lombardo

Did You Know?

It rains more in Rome than in London. The annual rainfall in Rome is 744mm (30 inches), compared to 593mm (24 inches) in London.

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: $1.76 trillion (2009) [CIA estimate; IMF estimate is $1.740trillion]
Annual GDP Growth: -5.1% (2009), +1.1% (2010 est.), +1.5% (2011 est.) [OECD Italy Economic Outlook]
Inflation (CPI): 0.8% (2009), 1.2% (2010 est.), 1.0% (2011 est.) [OECD]
Unemployment: 7.8% (2009), 8.7% (2010 est.), 8.8% (2011 est.) [OECD]
Public debt: 115.2% of GDP
Major trading partners: EU (57%), US, China, Japan, Turkey, Russia.
Italy is the world’s eighth largest industrial economy. It has few natural resources, the most important being natural gas reserves - in the Po valley and offshore in the Adriatic Sea - and some oil deposits. Most raw materials needed for manufacturing and more than 80% of the country’s energy are imported. Italy’s economic strength is in the processing and manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium sized family-owned firms. Its major industries are tourism, precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electrical goods, textiles, fashion, clothing and footwear.

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The "Risorgimento"

Italian unity was achieved in an intense and dramatic struggle, known as the Risorgimento (Revival), between 1848 and 1870 under the House of Savoy and was essentially the conquest of the Italian peninsula by the Kingdom of Sardinia in the north ruled by the Savoy dynasty from Turin. The first part of this process ended in 1861 with the declaration of the Kingdom of Italy, comprising the northern provinces, Sicily, Sardinia and the south. Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour were the epic figures who led the unification of Italy, which was completed in 1871 when the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II (formerly the King of Piedmont and Sardinia), entered Rome, the capital of the Papal States, expelled the French troops defending papal authority and declared it the capital of Italy. The conquest of the Papal States ended the temporal power of the papacy. However, the Church refused to recognise the new state and excommunicated its monarch, the Pope remaining confined within the small enclave of the Vatican. The "Roman Question", or the territorial status of Rome, and the question of Church/state relations were not settled until 1929 when the Lateran Pact was concluded between the Vatican and Mussolini.

In 2011 Italy celebrated the 150th anniversary of its unification.

Longer Historical Perspective

BBC Timeline of Italy (

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Italy's relations with the UK

About 4-5 million British visitors visit Italy each year, while just over 1 million Italians visit the UK. There are 28,174 Britons resident in Italy, while 107,244 Italians live in the UK. Italy is an important partner of the United Kingdom, both in the bilateral context and in our work together as members of the European Union, NATO, G8 and other international organisations. This relationship is strengthened by frequent contacts at ministerial level. Co-operation in other areas includes the annual British Italian Conference “Pontignano”, which brings together opinion formers from both countries to debate topical issues.

Global and Strategic Issues

Italy and UK work closely together on a wide range of global issues including non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, conflict prevention, Afghanistan, African development, the Balkans and the European neighbourhood.

Like the UK, Italy has a major presence in Afghanistan (see Defence below for details of military deployment) where it is taking a leading role in reconstruction promoting commercial links and funding development and training programmes. Italy is also playing a key role with the UK in the fight against drug smuggling from Afghanistan. Italy has been a strong supporter of the European role in tackling nuclear proliferation, including by Iran. Given its geographical proximity to the region, Italy plays a leading role on the Western Balkans. Italy is also a strong supporter of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans. Italy plays a particular role in Kosovo where its current Ambassador is also the EU representative for North Kosovo.


Like other countries, Italy in recent years has had to face the issue of international terrorism. It participates in multilateral bodies, such as the EU and UN, which cooperate on measures to counter this threat. Italian police carry out surveillance against suspects, making extensive use of telephone tapping. They have acted on numerous occasions to disrupt suspect groups, and have expelled some foreign nationals, mainly to North African countries. Most of the activity being monitored is thought to have been in support of terrorist activity conducted in other countries, although there have been, so far isolated, instances of Islam-related terrorist offences within Italy. In the 1970s, Italy suffered from terrorist attacks by home-grown groups inspired by extreme left-wing ideology, but for the moment this phenomenon has all but disappeared.


Italy encourages a significant amount of legal immigration, mainly to meet the need of its economy for low-skilled foreign workers, who typically work as domestic carers, agricultural and construction workers, and in the service industries. An annual quota, currently set at around 150,000, regulates the arrival of these workers. The current immigrant population is over four million, with anything up to a million illegal immigrants, who are mainly overstayers, although some have arrived by boat from the coasts of Africa. While the vast majority of immigrants have regular, legal employment, many work in the extensive black economy. The state does not provide much assistance for the destitute and there have been instances of violent protest and counter-protest by immigrants and Italians in some deprived areas.


NATO, of which Italy is a founder member, is the cornerstone of Italian defence policy. UK-Italy bilateral defence relations are excellent; Italy regards the UK as one of its military partners of choice and is a close ally on ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy). Italy is currently keen to increase defence cooperation with the UK further and a number of bilateral ministerial meetings have taken place since the election of the new British Coalition Government in 2010 to explore opportunities both between respective Armed Forces and in the Defence industrial environment.

Italy plays a prominent role in peacekeeping, stabilisation and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan, the Lebanon and the Balkans and it participates in the NATO Training Mission in Iraq and in a large number of other (mostly UN-led) international operations around the world. The number of troops it deploys in each mission fluctuates but the total number of Italian troops abroad currently amounts to an average of around 8,000. Italy is the largest European contributor of troops to UN missions.

Some 4,000 Italian troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of ISAF, NATO's International Security Assistance Force. Italy has the lead in Regional Command West in Herat, where it runs a Provincial Reconstruction Team and makes a significant contribution to the Forward Support Base established there, while its Carabinieri deployment contributes to military/police training. In the Lebanon, after leading the UN mission UNIFIL from 2006 to early 2010, Italy still maintains over 1,700 personnel and at the same time continues to deploy some 1,200 troops in the Balkans, mainly in Kosovo Italy is also an active contributor to anti-piracy operations off Somalia in both the EU and NATO missions.

Climate Change, Environment and Energy

Italy ratified the Kyoto Protocol in May 2002. Under the Protocol, Italy has a target to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 6.5% against 1990 levels. Current emissions are between 12-13% above 1990 levels. Along with other EU Member States, Italy is a signatory of the Copenhagen Accord. The main sources of emissions are the energy sector and transport. Italy is highly dependent on imported energy (around 85% of energy needs), particularly oil and gas. Oil makes up 43% of Italy's energy use, natural gas 36%. Renewables account for around 6% of total energy, mainly from hydroelectric sources. Italy phased out nuclear power following a referendum in 1987, but is now in the process of planning for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Rome is the site of the headquarters of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).Rome also hosts the Secretariat to the Rotterdam Convention on Hazardous Chemicals (jointly with Geneva) and the Global BioEnergy Partnership which Italy launched in 2005.

Cultural Relations with the UK

Italian influence on Britain's cultural and social development has been profound. The Renaissance, probably the most significant cultural explosion to affect the UK, began in Italy. Italian literature influenced Chaucer, Milton and the Romantic poets. Many of Shakespeare's plays are set in Italy and Italian architects, painters, musicians and composers have all made a great impact in the UK.

British contemporary visual and performing arts are well respected in Italy and there is a constant and lively exchange at all levels. British contemporary art, architecture and design has a high profile in the Italian media and British music, ranging from the main classical orchestras and conductors to popular DJs, figures prominently on the Italian scene.

British Council, Italy

The British Council has operated in Italy for sixty five years and organises events, exchanges and projects in the fields of the arts, education, and science. It works primarily with young people in schools and universities and also through its English language teaching centres in Rome, Milan and Naples. Working together with partners in Italy, the British Council builds networks among the younger generation, bringing them together to share ideas on areas of common interest such as Climate Change, Immigration and Diversity. Every year, in collaboration with the British Embassy, the British Council organises the Pontignano Conference where high level opinion formers from the UK and Italy gather to debate key issues facing Europe. Since 1938 the British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion in Venice, showcasing British art and artists at the Art biennial.

British Council: Italy (
The UK is represented in Italy through the British Embassy in Rome, Consulate General in Milan, Consulates in Florence and Naples, and a network of honorary consuls. The British Council has offices in Rome, Milan, Bologna and Venice.

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A peninsula in Southern Europe extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, including the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Elba and about 70 other smaller islands. It is mostly mountainous, though between the Apennines (which form the spine of Italy) and the eastern coastline there are the fertile plains of Emilia-Romagna in the north and of Puglia in the south. The Alps in the north divide Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The climate is predominantly Mediterranean in the south and Alpine in the north.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Italy (

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Italy has a bicameral system composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Both are directly elected and are of equal authority. The Speakers of the Senate and Chamber are respectively second and third to the President of the Republic in the Italian order of precedence.


100% of senatorial seats are decided on the basis of proportional representation according to regions (20 regional constituencies). There are two separate thresholds for parties and coalitions: single parties obtaining less than 8% of the vote in each single region are not represented in the Senate; coalitions failing to win 20% of the vote in each region do not obtain seats.

The threshold to reach in order to obtain a senatorial seat corresponds to 55% of all regional votes within each region. In the event of a close result, the coalition with the majority of votes is given extra seats to reach that percentage. On a national basis the seats amount to 308 (6 for constituencies overseas).

Chamber of Deputies

-- 100% of parliamentary seats are decided on the basis of proportional representation with large voting districts replacing smaller constituencies (in total 27 districts)

-- There are three separate cut-off thresholds for parties and coalitions:

-- single parties obtaining less than 2% of the national vote are not represented in parliament, and their votes count towards their coalition's overall tally. (However, should some seats remain unallocated these votes are then assigned to those parties that have received less than 2% of the national vote in descending order.)

-- parties obtaining less than 4% of the national vote (but more than 2%) are not given seats, but their votes count towards their coalition's tally;

-- coalitions failing to win at least 10% of the national vote do not obtain seats.

-- In the event of a close result and should the winning coalition not gain the necessary 340 seats (out of 618 plus 12 for constituencies representing Italians resident overseas) to guarantee a sufficient majority in the Chamber of Deputies, then the "missing" extra seats (see (1) above) are given to this coalition.


Consists of the President of the Council of Ministers and departmental Ministers who together constitute the Council of Ministers. Ministers are nominated by the Prime Minister and formally appointed by the President of the Republic.

Regional Government

Italy is made up of 20 regions, including five autonomous regions. Regional Presidents have been directly elected since 1998.

Recent Political Developments

Mario Monti, a leading Italian economist and EU Commissioner from 1994-2004, was asked to form a government by President Giorgio Napolitano on 13 November 2011 following Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation as Prime Minister. Monti leads a technocratic government charged with crisis management and urgent structural reform until Spring 2013 when general elections are due. The Government recently announced a “Save Italy” economic package to kick start the economy and counter the risk of stagnation. The Government is supported in Parliament by Silvio Berlusconi’s PdL, Pierluigi Bersani’s PD and by the Third Pole, while the Northern League is in opposition

Italian politics over the last 18 years has been dominated by Silvio Berlusconi who holds the record as Italy’s longest serving post-war Prime Minister. His 2001-2006 Government is also the longest serving post-war Italian Government and the only one to survive the full five-year mandate.

The last General Elections took place on 13/14 April 2008. Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Liberty (PdL – Popolo della Libertà) party in coalition with the Northern League (Lega Nord, led by Umberto Bossi) won convincingly with 47% of the vote. This majority returned Berlusconi as Prime Minister for the third time.

The last Elections heralded an important change in Italian politics as a result of the decisions of the two biggest parties, the PdL and the centre-left PD (Democratic Party) to run alone, leading to a more bi-party system. The elections also saw a drastic fall in the number of parties in Parliament, which dropped from 39 to 9 compared to the previous legislature, in part because of the amalgamation of several parties into the PdL and PD on the right and left. The radical left, whose parties had held previous PM Romano Prodi hostage in a coalition for 20 months, failed to win any seats in either House.

The PdL is the merger of two centre right parties: Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi, and National Alliance headed by Gianfranco Fini, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. The amalgamation of the two parties was formalised in 2009 with Berlusconi as leader.

In July 2010 after a series of public spats, Fini was expelled from the party. He took with him a considerable number of parliamentarians and formed his own party called Futuro e Libertà per l’Italia (FLI – Future and Liberty for Italy), which initially deprived Berlusconi of a majority. Although this was temporary (Berlusconi survived repeated votes of confidence thanks to a group of MPs, including some from FLI, whom he persuaded to form a group to support him), it marked the beginning of a downhill journey for Berlusconi.

Fini has since joined forces with small centrist parties, the UDC (Union of the Centre) and Alleanza per l’Italia (ApI), and other smaller opposition parties, to create a co-ordinating body called Nuovo Polo per l’Italia (New Pole for Italy, more commonly known as Third Pole) with which to run in the next elections (due in Spring 2013).

The main centre-left party is the PD led by Pierluigi Bersani. He is the party’s third leader in four years. Despite its transformation over recent years, the PD has suffered repeated electoral defeats.

Recent Visits

-- July 2010: Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa met their counterparts in London.
-- January 2010: Foreign Minister Franco Frattini attended the London Afghanistan Conference.
-- January 2010: Italian Employment Minister Maurizio Sacconi paid an official visit to London for talks with government officials.
-- November 2009: Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti went to St. Andrews for the G20 Finance Ministers meeting.
-- October 2009: Former Italian Economic Development Minister, Claudio Scajola, had talks in London with his counterpart.
-- April 2009: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other ministers attended the London Summit and associated events and met HM the Queen, HRH the Prince of Wales, and Prime Minister Brown.
-- 30 July 2008: The Foreign Secretary David Miliband met with Franco Frattini in London.
-- 6 November 2006: The Prime Minister Rt. Hon Tony Blair met with Romano Prodi in London.
-- October 2006: President Napolitano and Sigra Napolitano paid a private visit to London during which they met with HM The Queen.
-- March 2005: Former President and Mrs Ciampi paid an Official State Visit to Britain.


-- November 2010: Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, paid a working visit to Venice for an OECD Ministerial meeting and met with his Italian counterpart, Renato Brunetta.
-- August 2010: The Prime Minister, David Cameron, paid an official visit to Rome and met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
-- June 2010: The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Rt Hon William Hague, paid an official visit to Rome.
-- April 2010: HRH The Duke of York paid an official visit to Italy.
-- October 2009: Secretary of State for Scotland paid a working visit to Rome.
-- July 2009: The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid an official visit to L’Aquila to attend the G8 Summit.
-- April 2009: TRHs The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall paid an official visit to Italy.
-- March 2009: Trade Minister Gareth Thomas visited Rome on a bilateral visit.
-- 2009: UK Cabinet Ministers visited Italy to attend G8 Ministerial meetings.
-- May 2008: Europe Minister Jim Murphy paid a working visit to Rome.
-- May 2007: Former SoS for Work and Pensions Rt. Hon John Hutton attended the National Conference on Family in Italy.
-- March 2007: Speakers of both the House of Commons and House of Lords visited Rome to attend the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Treaty of Rome.
-- February 2007: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer (and current Prime Minister) Gordon Brown met the Italian Prime Minister during the course of an official visit to Rome.
-- October 2004: HRH Prince of Wales visited Turin and the Piedmont region to attend the Slow Food Movement’s biannual international food and drink show.
-- November 2002: HRH Prince of Wales paid a working visit to Rome, Florence and Naples.
-- October 2000: HM The Queen paid a State Visit to Italy accompanied by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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