Transatlantic Trends 2014 shows an Italian public that wants strong leadership from the West, but also wants the transatlantic relationship to be more independent.
Italian views of the United States and the European Union remained positive and stable. Fifty-five percent of Italians said that they found strong U.S. leadership desirable (compared to 56% in 2013), and 72% said they had a favorable opinion of the United States (compared to 74% in 2013). The Italians and the Dutch were the most likely to approve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy (both 74%), and Italian and Swedish respondents were the most likely to approve of Obama’s handling of relations with Russia (both 62%) after the Netherlands (65%). Nonetheless, 58% of Italians said they wished their country to pursue a more independent approach in the security and diplomatic partnership between the United States and the EU, a nine percentage point increase from 2013.
Italy (77%) was second only to Germany (87%) in its support for strong EU leadership; 66%said they held a favorable opinion of the EU. Fifty-one percent of Italians approved of their own government’s international policies, near the European average of 52%.
Italians found strong leadership from Russia and China undesirable (68% and 74%, respectively). Sixty-nine percent of Italians expressed an unfavorable opinion of Russia; 67% said the same of China. A plurality of Italians (47%) approved of their government’s handling of relations with Russia.
THE ECONOMY, THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION
As in other southern European countries, the economic crisis continues to preoccupy Italians. Forty percent of Italians said unemployment was the single most important issue facing their country. Seventy-two percent of Italians said they felt personally affected by the economic crisis, down four percentage points since last year. Eighty-seven percent of Italians, the second-highest number after Spain (88%), felt the EU had not done enough to combat the economic crisis. Domestic governments fared little better. Seventy-four percent of Italians and Spaniards felt that the countries most severely affected had not done enough to combat the crisis themselves. Fifty-eight percent of Italians said the euro had been a bad thing for their country.
Despite the economic gloom, 56% of Italians said EU membership had been a good thing for their country. Among those who said EU membership had been a good thing, 41% said that it was because the EU “is a community of democracies that should act together,” 27% said the EU “allows freedom to travel, work, and study within its borders,” 12% said the EU “has maintained peace in Europe,” and 11% said the EU had “strengthened European economies.”
Among those who said EU membership had been a bad thing, the most common grievance cited against it was that it has harmed Italy’s economy (66%).
Immigration continues to be a concern for Italians. Sixty-four percent of Italian respondents said they disapproved of their government’s handling of immigration. Fifty-seven percent cited “to work” as the first or second most common reason for immigrants to come to their country; 46% said it was “to seek asylum.” Seventy-six percent of Italians were worried about immigration from outside the EU, and 51% were worried about immigration from within the EU. Forty-four percent of Italians said there were too many immigrants in their country, however, that number dropped to 22% of respondents who were given the actual number of immigrants in Italy. A majority of Italians supported more restrictive refugee policies (57%).
Fifty-two percent of Italians believed immigrants are integrating poorly into their society, a reversal from last year when 60% felt immigrants were integrating well into their society. Italians were more optimistic about second-generation immigrants: 63% believed the children of immigrants were integrating well into society. Eighty-four percent of Italians said emigration was a serious problem for their country.
TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY COOPERATION
NATO was still seen as essential by 50% of Italians, up four percentage points since last year. Sixty-nine percent of Italians said that NATO should be engaged in the territorial defense of Europe, while 59% supported NATO’s attempting to establish stability in places like Afghanistan. Fifty-nine percent disapproved of NATO conducting military operations outside of North America and Europe. Italians were particularly adamant in their disapproval of NATO providing arms or training in order to help countries defend themselves (70%).
When asked whom they would prefer to work with when managing their relationship with Russia, 49% of Italians preferred working with other members of the European Union, and 37% said they preferred to deal with Russia independently. Only 9% said they preferred to work with the United States.
Fifty-two percent of Italians were in favor of the European Union continuing to provide Ukraine economic and political support even if there was a risk of increasing conflict with Russia. Italians were divided on whether to offer NATO membership to Ukraine (47% approved, 46% disapproved). Fifty-eight percent supported offering EU membership to Ukraine, 56% supported increased economic assistance to Ukraine, and 59% supported economic sanctions against Russia. Italians (80%) were surpassed only by Germans (85%)and French (81%) in their staunch opposition to sending military supplies and equipment to Ukraine.