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Italy seen through British eyes: a European middle power?

Abstract

This article analyses the British perceptions of contemporary Italy and Italian politics. Through the use of a number of sources (parliamentary debates, governmental documents, newspaper articles and interviews) it argues that Italy is not perceived, within Great Britain, as a great power within the European system nor it is viewed as a peripheral actor. Rather, it suggests that Italy seems to have finally found in the post-Cold War scenario its proper role–a European middle power, with important responsibilities within a regional sub-system. A frequent request–and expectation–coming from British politics and society is that Italy should take on more international responsibilities, even in the sphere of defence–as the different readings of Italy's role and leadership in Afghanistan and Lebanon reveal. However, Italy's ability to play this role is believed to be hampered by several factors: its uncertain political situation, its unwillingness to engage in military operations, its reluctance to respect international commitments and its structural economic problems. As a result, further possibilities of cooperation with other international partners as well as its potential for autonomous action on the international stage are, in several cases, precluded. Moreover, if the relations between Italy and the UK are usually seen in a positive way, and Italy is viewed as a reliable partner, the nature of the cooperation between the two countries is often considered to be fragile and based on short-term common interests and strategies

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