Elections in Italy: Where do parties stand on foreign aid?

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Photo by: Dane Larsen / CC BY-NC

Most political parties in Italy appear to be in agreement on the need for a new law on development cooperation. But they differ on many related issues, such as the feasibility of pulling all aid-related resources from across the government into one single fund.

Adopted in 1987, the current law on international cooperation is deemed archaic considering the fast-evolving global development landscape. According to a working group of the First Forum of the Italian Cooperation, this law proved to be weak in terms of coherence and clarity of programming, implementation and evaluation of development efforts. Attempts to reform it have so far failed, most recently during the administration of Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Italians went to the polls Feb. 24-25 to determine the composition of parliament and vote for a new government. As of Tuesday, it appears the country is heading into political deadlock, as no party had no clear majority.

Ahead of these general elections, a coalition of Italian NGOs launched a 10-pronged appeal, asking all political parties to support:

  1. A high-level aid chief, ideally at the Cabinet level.

  2. Aid law reform within the first year after appointment.

  3. National coordination of all international cooperation initiatives.

  4. Alignment of development spending with European targets.

  5. A greater role for Italy in the definition of global development targets.

  6. Cuts in military spending and allocation of savings to development cooperation.

  7. More resources for civil society projects and less for military missions.

  8. The taxation of financial transactions — derivatives included — to be in part allocated to international development.

  9. A reduction of fiscal, bureaucratic and administrative burdens for nongovernmental and civil society organizations.

  10. More transparency and the online publication of funds disbursed for development programs as well as results.

The petitioning NGOs have created a Web page where candidates can use Twitter to agree to any of the 10 action points.

So far, at least 40 candidates from seven parties — Scelta Civica per Monti, Unione di Centro, Partito Democratico, Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà, Partito Socialista, Rivoluzione Civile  and Lista Liberali per l’Italia — have signed the appeal.

Some of them presented their parties’ strategies early this month at a public gathering organized by the NGO coalition.

Devex reached out to several parties not represented at that public gathering. All but Il Popolo delle Libertà, the party of ex-President Silvio Berlusoni, responded.

Here’s what these political parties told us about their position on international development cooperation:

Scelta Civica con Monti per l’Italia

This is a coalition created to back departing Prime Minister Mario Monti and his reform agenda.

The party believes development cooperation should be under a ministry, which, alongside a specialized agency, will coordinate all aid-related efforts, and that the idea of a single fund should be evaluated, even if the proposal is unlikely feasible. It is in favor of taxing financial transaction derivatives but believes the issue should be addressed at the international level.

The party signed the 10-point NGO appeal.

Unione di Centro

This is a Christian democratic coalition of parties in Italy. It is led by Pier Ferdinando Casini, Lorenzo Cesa and Savino Pezzotta.

One of its candidates, Luca Bringhen, told Devex he supports the idea of an ad-hoc ministry that will coordinate efforts by all bodies involved in development cooperation, a single fund, and cuts in military spending to partially fund international cooperation. He stressed the need to reform tax concessions for organizations working in development cooperation and increase tax deductions to those that support their work.

Bringhen said he signed the 10-point NGO appeal.

Partito Democratico

This is the country’s main center-left political party. Leader and prime minister candidate Pierluigi Bersani is a former minister of industry, trasport and economic development.

The party promises to reform the aid law within the first 100 days of its administration and agrees with the creation of a single fund for development cooperation resources and with the taxation of financial transactions. It commits to develop a plan to fulfill Italy’s international commitments.

The party signed and included the 10-point NGO appeal in its platform.

Sinistra, Ecologia e Libertà

Led by Nichi Vendola, this democratic socialist political party was originally founded as a left-wing coalition of parties.

The party envisions a ministry with a budget and the role of coordinating all bodies handling official development assistance, together with a specialized agency, as well as a consultative board to engage all stakeholders, including NGOs, in development cooperation. It agrees with the idea of a single fund, aims to pour “permanent, continuative and growing resources,” and wants to use the cuts in military spending as well as part of the resources coming from the taxation of the financial transactions to support development cooperation. It proposes an ombudsman who will handle complaints against poorly implemented projects. Candidate Giulio Marcon said the party will push for the approval of an aid law reform within the first year of its rule.

The party signed the 10-point NGO appeal.

Lega Nord

This federalist and regionalist political party is headed by Roberto Maroni, a former interior minister.

The party is in favor of increasing funds for development cooperation though “it will be very hard to make this understood. … It requires that the reasons are explained very well,” Lorenzo Fontana, head of Lega’s European Union delegation, told Devex. He envisions an aid law reform that would reduce the administrative burden and improves the participation of organizations working on the ground. The party, hed added, wants to scrutinize how money for development is being spent.

The party did not sign the 10-point NGO appeal, but Fontana said that a ministry for development cooperation is necessary because “what happens outside the Italian borders had internal repercussions.”

Movimento Cinque Stelle

Comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo and entrepreneur Gianroberto Casaleggio founded this party in October 2009. The party advocates direct democracy and free access to the Internet as well as condemns corruption.

Candidate Alessandro Di Battista told Devex: “Development cooperation is one of the ways to build peace,” but without coherence, it is a “mockery …; it is only emergency.” He proposed an “ethical code” for companies operating in developing countries and a greater role for NGOs, but there should be strict scrutiny of resources.

The party did not sign the 10-point NGO appeal.

Rivoluzione civile

This is a left-wing political coalition in Italy. It is headed by Antonio Ingroia, a magistrate appointed in 2012 as director of a United Nations investigation into narcotraffic in Guatemala.

Candidate Flavio Lotti said the party supports establishing a permanent consultative forum for civil society on themes such as poverty fight, conflict prevention and resolution, human rights and democracy. He said the party’s candidates promise to use part of their salaries as members of paliaments “to give back civil society organizations’ ill-gotten gains.”

The party envisions a government where international cooperation is one of the most important instruments of Italy’s international action, led by a high-level figure. It wants a new foreign policy, the reform of the aid law, certain and planned resources, reduction of administrative burden for NGOs, taxation of financial transactions and ethical finance supporting development cooperation.

Fare per fermare il declino

This pro-business liberal-libertarian political association in Italy was launched in July 2012 by seven economists: Oscar Giannino, Michele Boldrin, Sandro Brusco, Alessandro De Nicola, Andrea Moro, Carlo Stagnaro and Luigi Zingales. FiD’s core goals include reducing the national debt by 20 percent of the gross domestic product, public expenditure and tax burden on citizens by at least 5 percent in five years.

Stagnaro said the party wants a change in the approach to development cooperation: Aid had been “merely charity … or an instrument to nourish the domestic patronage system”; it should be limited to critical situations and emergencies while the long-term solutions can come, for example, from eliminating trade barriers, resuming WTO negotiations and enhancing international trade as well as building institutional capacity.

The group’s co-founder rejects the idea of taxing financial transactions but agrees with involving private companies in development cooperation so long as this is within a system of clear and transparent rules. He believes savings resulting from a public spending review will not lead to an increase in development cooperation resources, at least in the short term, and that these savings will likely fund domestic programs.

The party did not sign the 10-point NGO appeal.

Lista Liberali per l’Italia – Partito Liberale

This is a liberal political party in Italy which is led by Stefano de Luca.

The party signed the 10-point NGO appeal.

Partito Socialista

Led by former member of the European Parliament Riccardo Nencini, this is a minor social-democratic political party in Italy.

The party signed the 10-point NGO appeal.

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About the author

  • Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.