Italy has fallen two places in this year’s index, from 11 to 13. Political instability – combined with the fragile state of the country’s economy – are likely to have had a negative impact on the country’s soft power. The resignation of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi following Italy’s national referendum on constitutional reform has left the government vulnerable ahead of an anticipated 2018 general election. The political climate remains uncertain as current leader Paolo Gentiloni faces political comebacks from both Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi, while Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement continues to exert a destabilising force. On a positive note, Italy’s rich culture provides a vast reserve of soft power which is unlikely to deplete anytime soon. The country is a cultural superpower and home to the most UNESCO World Heritage sites; one of the world’s most popular cuisines; exceptional museums and galleries; the language of opera; a strong football culture; and a competitive fashion industry. Even more impressive is Italy’s ability to leverage these assets through its extensive international network of embassies and diplomatic cultural missions.
Italy’s greatest soft power assets lie with its cultural pursuits, as shown in its strong performance in both the Culture sub-index and international polling data. With more than 48 million tourist arrivals in 2016, citizens from around the world continue to be drawn to the ancient sites of Rome; Florence’s impressive architecture; and the stunning landscapes of the Amalfi Coast.
Political instability and the lingering effects of the global recession continue to weigh on Italy’s economy and public services, translating to low scores in Government, Enterprise, and Education. Issues with government effectiveness and corruption are yet to be resolved and the country is seeing rising rates of poverty, income inequality, and youth unemployment. The influx of asylum seekers in 2016 has created additional social and budgetary hurdles.
With the young and tech-savvy Renzi no longer in office, Italy has seen a fall in its Digital ranking. More could be done to promote existing cultural assets through government-owned digital channels. Italy also faces a long term challenge in addressing socio-economic and political issues, and ignoring them will only add to structural weaknesses and inefficiencies in public administration.