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Mark Gilbert

The year 2004 was a crucial one for the European Union (EU) and an

important one for Italy’s policy toward European integration. As the

rhetoric surrounding the signature of the EU constitution in Rome dies

down, the time is ripe for a preliminary analysis of Italy’s strategy and

tactics during the complex negotiations carried on during the Irish

presidency of the EU in the first six months of 2004 and of Italy’s overall

approach to European questions in the year as a whole. Inevitably,

this analysis can only be provisional in character. The task of providing

a final assessment of the aims and objectives of the Berlusconi

government will fall to a future generation of diplomatic historians.

Nevertheless, a broad generalization about Italy’s European policy in

2004 can already be made. The Berlusconi government, which has

often been accused of a degree of ambivalence toward the European

project, seemingly did attempt to “return, free from the responsibilities

of the presidency, to reaffirming the most advanced European

principles.” More pragmatically, it also strove hard to reassert Italy’s

place as a country that counts within the newly enlarged union.

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Mark Gilbert and Gianfranco Pasquino

Unravelling the knots of Italian politics was as elusive a task as

ever in 1999. But the key thread, if anywhere, is to be found in the

interwoven themes of the creation of the D’Alema government in

October 1998 (and its subsequent political fall-out), the difficulty

of reforming the electoral law, and hence the hyper-fragmented

party system, and the short, sharp crisis of the D’Alema cabinet

just before Christmas 1999. Short though the crisis was, it jumbled

up politics once more and left new loose ends that will gradually

unwind themselves in the coming year.