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How Italy balances regional and international priorities whilst holding the 2021 G20 Presidency

Niamh Callinan | Europe and Eurasia Fellow

Image credit: Italian G20 Presidency

Italy holds the 2021 G20 Presidency entitling it to set the priorities and agenda of the international forum that is held annually between the world’s major economies. This is the first time Italy has held the presidency since the format of the G20 was reimaged to include world leaders in 2008. The presidency provides Italy with a unique opportunity, in setting the agenda, to boost its own presence and role on the global stage.

The Italian Presidency comes at a crucial time for bilateral EU-US relations. As a member of the European Union (EU), the only organisation represented at the G20, there is a question as to how Italy is balancing regional and international priorities.

The comparison in priorities between the EU and the G20 regarding the development of policy highlights a disparity on two levels. Firstly, there are differing frameworks and perspectives and secondly, the contexts in which the negotiated policies will be designed for are substantially different.

The priorities of Europe as a region are best articulated by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS). According to the authors there are ten main issues to consider and address in 2021 across Europe, including food for all, fighting inequalities, culture in crisis, the EU recovery plan, a circular economy, critical raw materials, COVID-19 vaccine distribution, migration and asylum, a new United States president, and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Whilst there are number of issues, such as a new US President, which are applicable on an international level, these priorities have been framed based on data recorded from countries within the Union. Further to this, the underlying aim is to explicitly address these issues through policies modelled and designed specifically for a European landscape. In contrast, the G20 is an international forum which engages the world’s major economies and is focused on ‘delivering coordinated international economic policy responses’.

Critiques have suggested that Italy, in setting the agenda, will take too-narrow a focus upon re-establishing transatlantic talks that were brought to a stalemate during Trump’s unproductive presidency. There have also been suggestions that Italy will partake in the role of spokesperson for the European Union rather than adequately incorporating an agenda for all G20 Member States.

Italy, however has strategically identified 3 pillars—People, Planet and Prosperity—as the priorities of the 2021 G20, which summarise its approach to incorporate regional and international priorities into the agenda of the G20. The 3 pillars have been broken down into 11 Taskforce Areas ranging from Migration to Multilateralism and Global Governance to Social Cohesion and the Future of Welfare Systems. Within each of these higher-level issues a further breakdown emphasising more specific areas of address are thoroughly recognised, articulated and collated.

Italy’s management of both regional and international priorities is highly effective. The balance maintains the overarching premise of the international forum whilst incorporating numerous elements of regional concern. These elements have been presented using rhetoric that is broad and deliberately all-encompassing to mitigate an over-emphasis on priorities that may be perceived as more regionally-specific. Italy has prudently produced an approach that highlights commonalities between the G20 countries and the regional and international spheres. In doing this Italy has presented an agenda that is designed to ensure the forum is able to create collaborative and cohesive policies which are practical and well-placed to address country-specific, regional, and international concerns and priorities.

Italy’s commitment to balancing both regional and international priorities at a multi-lateral forum like the G20 is significant. Firstly, G20 member states who are participating in the forum are presented with a framework and agenda which embeds fundamental commonalities. The Italian Presidency’s incorporation of the Brisbane Target, an agreed target to reduce the gender gap within the labour force set during the 2014 G20, exemplifies this. There is an underlying advantage to this approach; barriers that can be created when formulating and negotiating priorities across and between countries are substantially reduced.

Consequently, collaboration of ideas and policies is considerably augmented, enabling overall support, consensus, and cooperation at international forums. Further to this, member states may be more likely to actively adhere to and enact policy recommendations if they participated in the creation of such policies. Italy, in the framework and agenda that it has set for the 2021 G20, has capitalised on this advantage as a means to balance both regional and international priorities as well as encourage participation with these priorities from other G20 members.

Secondly, policies are not created in isolation. Instead, the policies that emerge from the G20 will have been designed with intent to be applicable on multiple levels, including the international sphere. Countries are able to build and model policies that are applicable to their nation and to the region within which they predominantly operate, enabling the provision of tangible results.

Fundamentally, policies created at an international forum like the G20 are inherently complex. Efforts to balance priorities that are regional and international is one approach to ensuring the success and longevity of the forum; an approach Italy, who holds the 2021 G20 presidency, has been quite effective at enacting.

Niamh Callinan is the Europe and Eurasia Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.


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