There is an international side to Mario Draghi’s resignation as well as a purely Italian side. Anyone who has been tracking Italian foreign policy in recent years can easily understand why Moscow is raising its glass over the political crisis in our country while that same crisis is a source of concern both in Brussels and in Washington.
Draghi’s personal reputation unquestionably carries considerable weight both in terms of his ties with the United States and in a European context, but we should also beware of overlooking public opinion. If we take grassroots opinion into consideration, we will see that Italy’s pro-EU and pro-Atlantic position, confirmed by its response to the war in Ukraine, stands a good chance of enjoying continuity inasmuch as it enjoys considerable public support. This is the main finding of a polling exercise/survey conducted by Aspen Institute Italia and Siena University in June.
Unlike the image projected by a certain stereotyped vision of Italy, our country’s grasroots opinion is very clear on three issues in particular: First, Putin’s Russia is the player primarily to blame for the war in Ukraine (according to 65% of respondents); second, economic sanctions are a necessary weapon (71%) and a substantive majority of respondents claim to be prepared to make sacrifices if Russian gas and oil are placed under embargo; and third, Ukraine should be considered a part of Europe and a broad majority of respondents (63%) looks favorably on the country joining the EU. That the majority would be in favor of sheltering Ukrainian refugees was largely predictable but support in this instance is staggering (77%).
In general terms, respondents’ view of Russia and of Putin has become extremely negative as a result of the war in Ukraine, while a majority of respondents sees Ukraine itself in a favorable light. China, too, is suffering from an (admittedly more contained) drop in support, while there is an upswing in respondents’ positive opinion of all European countries, including Germany – though their perception of the United States is still lukewarm and they continue to see it as the world’s chief military superpower.
In a nutshell, our survey – conducted in June with a sample of 4,000 respondents – confirms the Italian electorate’s basic subscription to the country’s current foreign policy line, and it also shows considerable “resilience” when it comes to the cost of the energy crisis. But in addition to this, some 74% of respondents consider NATO to be crucial to Italy’s security and 58% take a positive view of its enlargement, a factor of some importance with a view to parliament’s upcoming ratification of Finland’s and Sweden’s membership bids. A substantial percentage (48%) of respondents favorable to NATO also thinks that Europe should carry greater weight within the organization, and on a broader level, 61% of respondents are in favor of the EU becoming a stronger player in the international arena.
The survey confirms the rift in grassroots opinion with regard to the supply of arms to Ukraine. Those in favor of sending arms to the country account for 45% of respondents, while a (narrow) majority of respondents is opposed to the move. The same also applies to an increase in the defense budget. When set alongside other priorities such as the struggle against COVID-19 or against climate change, a substantial number of respondents agrees that it is preferable to “sacrifice” defense spending. That number even turns into a majority (53%) when the choice is between the energy transition and the defense budget.
A survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations in June sounding out European grassroots opinion in relation to the war in Ukraine suggests that Italy is some kind of major “exception”. The figures (relating to the month of May) point to grassroots opinion in our country being far less negative toward Russia than the European average and far more inclined to assign the blame for the war to both Russia and Ukraine. But as we have seen, this survey conducted by the Aspen Institute Italia and Siena University leads to very different conclusions: The Draghi government’s position and grassroots opinion on Ukraine, on Russia’s role, on blame for the war and on many of the attendant decisions tend to coincide, while prudence with regard to the supply of arms to Ukraine is confirmed.
Of course, it is wise to treat opinion polls with caution, given the inherent limitations of polling and a certain voters’ volatility, visible for example on the issue of arms shipments to Ukraine. In addition, there is a permanent tension between generic foreign policy objectives – especially those based on principles and values – and the willingness to pay a tangible price to pursue them; consistency is a scarse resource indeed, not just among ordinary citizens but even among political leaders.
Yet, these are figures that need to be taken into account: The Draghi government’s foreign policy embodies an “orientation” in the country that gives the lie to those superficial stereotypes that paint a picture of Italy as Europe’s soft underbelly in the face of war that is going to be long and costly. It is crucial that policy not be that soft underbelly: grassroots opinion certainly is not. Moscow should wait before raising its glass.
OPINION OF COUNTRIES (average score)
GERMANY | UNITED KINGDOM | FRANCE | UKRAINE | UNITED STATES | TURKEY | CHINA | RUSSIA
SUPPORT FOR AN EMBARGO ON RUSSIAN GAS AND OIL IMPORTS IN THE EVENT OF NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES FOR ITALY