Italy’s parliamentary system features competitive multiparty elections. Civil liberties are generally respected, but concerns about the rights of migrants persist, and regional inequalities are substantial and persistent. Endemic problems of corruption and organized crime pose an enduring challenge to the rule of law and economic growth.
- Following months of instability, the center-left governing coalition collapsed when coalition partner Italia Viva withdrew its support, leading to the resignation of prime minister Giuseppe Conte. After Conte stepped down, the president appointed the former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, to the role, calling on him to form a new unity government; Draghi’s government was confirmed by a majority in both houses of parliament in February.
- In October, a protest against vaccine mandates turned violent when members of the neofascist Forza Nuova (New Force) party vandalized the headquarters of a prominent labor union and attempted to break into prime minister Draghi’s office. Nearly 40 police officers were injured during the protest, which resulted in at least 12 arrests.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Parliament and regional representatives elect the president, whose role is largely ceremonial but sometimes politically influential, for a seven-year term. The legitimacy of the presidential vote rests largely on the fairness of legislative elections. Sergio Mattarella, a former constitutional judge backed by the center-left Democratic Party (PD), was elected president in 2015.
The president appoints the prime minister, who serves as head of government and is often, but not always, the leader of the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies, Italy’s lower house. The prime minister proposes a Council of Ministers that requires confirmation by parliament.
Giuseppe Conte, an independent law professor who was not a member of parliament, became prime minister in June 2018 as part of the coalition agreement between the Five Star Movement and the League. After the dissolution of the coalition in August 2019, Conte was reinstated as prime minister of the new government formed by the Five Star Movement, the PD, the Free and Equals (LeU), and Italia Viva.
Conte resigned as prime minister in January 2021 after the collapse of his second coalition government. Following Conte’s resignation, Mattarella asked the former president of the ECB, Mario Draghi, to form a new unity government. Draghi, who was not a member of parliament, was able to secure the support of nearly all of Italy’s major political parties, and was sworn into office in February. The same month, an overwhelming majority in both houses of parliament voted to confirm Draghi’s government.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The bicameral parliament consists of the 630-member Chamber of Deputies and the 315-member Senate. Members of both houses are popularly elected for five-year terms, though the president can appoint five additional senators, and former presidents are also entitled to Senate seats. In a September 2020 referendum, 70 percent of Italians voted in favor of cutting the Chamber of Deputies to 400 seats, and the Senate to 200. The changes will take effect in 2023.
The March 2018 elections were considered free and fair by international observers. However, the resulting center-right coalition government led by the League party and the Five Star Movement collapsed in August 2019 amid a coalitional crisis provoked by League leader Matteo Salvini. That September, a new government was forged by a coalition including the Five Star Movement, the PD, and LeU, later joined by Italia Viva. The second coalition government collapsed in January 2021, after Italia Viva withdrew from the ruling coalition following months of instability. The political crisis was resolved in February, when a new unity government was formed, headed by Mario Draghi and backed by all of Italy’s major political parties, with the exception of the far-right Brothers of Italy party. Draghi’s government maintained the support of the majority of the parliament throughout the year, and has enjoyed relatively high levels of credibility and stability.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
While Italy’s electoral framework and campaign finance regulations are complex, the elections they enable have consistently been deemed fair and credible.
The current electoral law, adopted by parliament in 2017, introduced a mixed system in both houses, with 36 percent of seats allocated using the first-past-the-post method, and 64 percent using a proportional, party-list method. The law encouraged coalition governments, as demonstrated by the 2018 election results.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties are generally able to form and operate freely, and the political landscape features a high level of pluralism and competition. Since the beginning of the 1990s, politics have been characterized by unstable coalitions and the frequent emergence of new parties.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Italy has a long record of frequent changes in the governing coalition, with multiple transfers of power since the early 1990s.
Municipal elections held in October 2021 saw a shift toward center-left coalitions within the local governments of many of Italy’s largest cities, with right-wing parties entering the opposition.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
The public is generally free to make political choices without undue interference. However, organized crime groups retain some ability to intimidate and influence politicians, especially at the local level, and to establish corruption networks abetted by public administrators. In 2021, the government dissolved several town councils over ties to local mafia-like groups.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Electoral laws contain provisions designed to encourage political participation by linguistic minorities, and to promote gender parity, though progress toward full political representation for women and LGBT+ people remains slow.
The extremely limited political participation rights accorded to migrants limits their voice in national politics, a dynamic exacerbated by the emergence of a xenophobic and nationalist discourse in recent years. In October 2020, the government amended the tightened restrictions on citizenship and naturalization enacted in 2018, but maintained several provisions that imposed barriers to citizenship, including a lengthy processing period and an Italian-language proficiency requirement.
European Union (EU) citizens are entitled to vote in local elections.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials are able to craft and implement policy without improper interference from unelected entities. However, Italy has not yet adopted comprehensive lobbying regulations at the national level.
The president selected Mario Draghi, who did not then hold elected office, to form a new government in February 2021. Draghi became prime minister later that month, and both houses of parliament confirmed his Cabinet in a landslide vote; his government enjoys wide-ranging political support, and is able to determine the country’s policies.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious problem despite long-term efforts to combat it, and its impact is exacerbated when officials and members of organized crime networks jointly carry out graft schemes. Since 2018, Italy has strengthened its anticorruption framework. An anticorruption law adopted in 2019 tightened sanctions for corruption, reformed statutes of limitation to limit stalling tactics, and extended existing antimafia investigative tools to include corruption offenses. Despite this increased capacity, many sectors require additional reforms to limit graft, including public procurement.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The legal framework mandates administrative transparency and access to public information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) adopted in 2016. Although the legislation designates access to information as a fundamental right, efforts to ensure compliance with FOIA requests by public administrators remain incomplete.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. Despite the rapid growth of the online news industry, traditional media still play a large role in news consumption. There are more than 100 daily newspapers, most of them locally or regionally based, as well as political party papers, free papers, and weekly publications. Concentration of ownership remains a major concern. Internet access is generally unrestricted.
Italy’s Ministry of the Interior registered 232 acts of intimidation against journalists in 2021, representing a 42 percent increase from the 163 such events recorded the previous year. Organized crime threats—which have resulted in permanent police protection for a number of journalists—accounted for 11 percent of the acts, while 49 percent were attributed to social or political motivations.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice. There is no official religion; while the Roman Catholic Church receives certain benefits under a treaty with the state, other groups have access to similar benefits through their own accords.
Some local governments have raised obstacles to the construction and recognition of mosques, and right-wing political parties have stoked anti-Muslim attitudes. Antisemitic acts have also trended upward in recent years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are typically able to freely discuss controversial or sensitive topics in public without fear of surveillance or retribution.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The freedom to assemble peacefully is guaranteed in the constitution and typically upheld in practice. COVID-19 containment measures included restrictions on freedom of assembly in both 2020 and 2021, though demonstrations against lockdown measures took place throughout both years. Some antilockdown demonstrations sparked violent clashes between protesters and police, including in October 2021, when members of the neofascist Forza Nuova party vandalized the headquarters of a prominent labor union and attempted to break into Draghi’s office during a protest against vaccine mandates. Nearly 40 police officers were injured during the protest, which resulted in at least 12 arrests.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally free to organize and operate. In 2018 and 2019, Italian authorities engaged in repeated standoffs with NGO-operated ships involved in rescue operations of trafficked and smuggled migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2019 new decrees limited access to Italian ports, leading to extended wait times for disembarkation that created serious health risks for migrants, and imposed large potential fines for noncompliance. In October 2020, the government amended the decrees, lowering—though not eliminating—the fines. In 2021, despite existing restrictions and repeated delays, a number of people rescued in NGO operations were allowed to disembark in Italian ports.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions are generally free to organize and operate. The constitution recognizes the right to strike but places restrictions on strikes by employees in essential sectors like transportation, sanitation, and health, as well as by some self-employed individuals, including lawyers, doctors, and truck drivers.
COVID-19 containment measures did not include restrictions on the right to strike. In June 2021, the government lifted a COVID-19-related ban on firing workers in the construction and manufacturing industries; the protections were extended until October for textile and garment workers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is generally independent and autonomous. Allegations of abuse of power and corruption involving members of the High Council of the Judiciary, which controls internal governance of the judiciary, have led to reform efforts, including an August 2020 proposal to improve the Council’s accountability and transparency; the bill remained pending in parliament as of the end of 2020.
Organized crime networks continue to threaten judges and prosecutors involved in antimafia processes, particularly in Calabria, but state protection measures function adequately, and both attacks and the incidence of mafia-related judicial corruption have declined overall in recent years.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process rights are largely upheld. However, judicial procedures are often characterized by lengthy delays; Italy has one of the lowest numbers of judges per capita in the European Union. The government has been criticized for denying detained migrants access to lawyers. In September 2021, the parliament approved a number of criminal justice reforms, including a requirement that initial appeals be resolved within two years.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
While the population is generally free from major threats to physical security, there have been reports of excessive use of force by police and prison guards, particularly against undocumented migrants. Asylum seekers and undocumented migrants have been held in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. In 2021, Italy suspended more than 50 prison guards after a news website published video footage that showed the guards physically assaulting inmates who were staging a protest to demand protection against the spread of COVID-19.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, and sexual orientation, among other categories, and these protections are generally enforced. However, members of the Romany minority have unequal access to housing, and many live in segregated settlements that lack adequate infrastructure. LGBT+ people face societal discrimination and occasional acts of violence. In October 2021, the Senate blocked a bill that would define violence against women and LGBT+ people as a hate crime.
Italy’s treatment of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been subject to significant criticism in recent years. In late 2018, parliament approved legal changes that tightened conditions for granting asylum and humanitarian protection, reduced access to services, and eased deportation conditions. A decree enacted in October 2020 allows migrants and refugees to apply for residency on humanitarian protection grounds if they “risk being subjected to torture or inhumane treatment” at home and expands access to public services, but does not offer regularized status to those who lost legal residency under the 2018 decrees.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals are generally free to travel and to change their place of residence, employment, and education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
The legal and regulatory framework supports property rights and the operation of private businesses, but corruption and organized crime can hinder normal business activity, as can onerous bureaucratic obstacles. Delays in court proceedings often undermine enforcement of protections for property rights.
According to experts on organized crime, mafia groups exploited the social and economic crises provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic, distributing goods and expanding control of cash-starved local businesses via loan-sharking and money-laundering operations.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
The law protects individual freedom on personal status issues such as marriage and divorce. Same-sex civil unions with nearly all the benefits of marriage are permitted, and courts have begun to recognize second-parent adoption rights for same-sex couples. Though public awareness of the problem of domestic violence is increasing due to advocacy campaigns, it remains a persistent issue, and calls to the national domestic violence rose significantly during the COVID-19 lockdown.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
In the last few years, Italy has adopted measures to combat human trafficking and labor exploitation, but both phenomena remain concerns, especially with respect to asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from Eastern Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic increased migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation and worsened labor and living conditions, even as many were excluded from large-scale government aid programs instituted in response to the crisis. During 2020, the government assented to demands by Italy’s major trade union confederations and repeatedly extended a ban on firing workers amid the coronavirus emergency. The ban was extended to June 2021 for workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors, and through October for those in the textile and garment industries.
The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation remains a concern. In a positive step, 2020 amendments to the 2018 immigration decrees ended asylum seekers’ exclusion from access to reception centers, which had left victims of trafficking without assistance.
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Global Freedom Score90 100 free
Internet Freedom Score75 100 free