The cultural exchanges between Italy and India date back to an ancient history and that’s why the relations between the two countries are based on common values. Not only can the ties between European and Indian cultures be traced back to 700 BC, there are also testimonies of linguistic influences in the 16th century.
Italy boasts the most important tradition of Indology studies in the world outside India. In the last 50 years, exchanges in the cinema field have flourished with the production of docufilms by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini and awards at the Venice Film Festival to Satyajit Ray and Mira Nair.
In 2021, the Festival of Italian Culture in India was celebrated with the Embassy of India in Rome, through a rich number of events and activities in the fields of cinema, music, literature, visual arts, fashion and design.
These paved the way for a stronger cooperation in 2022, which marks the 75th year of India-Italy relations. On the Italian National Day and Republic Day, Italy unveiled a new logo to mark a crucial moment in our bilateral relations at a jazzy celebration at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi.
To bring Italian-Indian cultural relations to the young generations through education in the most attractive fields of study such as design and fashion, Italy is supporting the development of new university courses in India promoted by the best of Italian institutions.
“We are also promoting more business opportunities for our creative industries, also thanks to the conclusion of important agreements that facilitate Italy-India film coproductions,” says Vincenzo de Luca, Italy’s Ambassador to India, Italy is a soft-superpower thanks to the immense richness of beauty, arts, music, literature, monuments, cinema, lifestyle, fashion and innovative creativity.
The Italian Cultural Institute in Delhi is a cultural hub and its Director General Andrea Baldi has done a great job in designing a programme of activities of the highest standards and among the most dynamic and rich ones. The added value of its work is the capability of engaging with the key cultural institutions in Delhi. The bilateral ties are not only rooted in the past, but they are very much driven by innovation, creativity and contemporary cultural mileau.
The stage of a closer bilateral ties was set when the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte chose India as one of his first visits outside the EU in 2018, demonstrating the prominent place given to India in the Italian foreign policy.
Conte met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the bilateral talks. The two leaders discussed common concerns to global governance and a time when Italy and India were to hold the G20 presidency for consecutive years in 2021 and 2022. They, therefore, worked towards aligning agendas on issues of common interest, such as connectivity and fight against terrorism.
Italy is among India’s top five trading partners in the EU. At present India ranks 19th as country of origin of Italian imports, accounting for 1.2 per cent of Italian imports.
Italy ranked 18th in FDI inflows in India during April 2000 to December 2020, with an inflow of $3.02 billion during this period.
However, the potential for growth in trade and investment is largely untapped. Italy has changed for better under Mario Draghi as the new Prime Minister and has its relations with India, diplomatic observers have noted.
This was reflected in the first in-person meeting between Draghi and PM Modi on the sidelines of the latest G20 Summit during which the two leaders had extensive talks on diversifying the bilateral ties.
Darghi has sown the seeds of Italy-EU engagement in expansion and creation of Indo – Mediterranean. In a short time, he has managed to bridge the chasm with India that took a decade to create, while starting to limit Italy’s engagement with China and Turkey.
Italy hosts the third largest Indian community in the European Union, with an estimated 1,80,000 people, after the UK and the Netherlands. Indian labour is particularly active in the agriculture and dairy industry.
Italy is the eighth largest economy in the world and the third largest in the Eurozone after Germany and France with a GDP of $1.86 trillion. It is also the world’s sixth largest manufacturing nation, dominated by small and medium enterprises clustered in many industrial districts.
After few difficult years, the two countries are now entering a new phase of bilateral relations, which will hopefully lead to a strong partnership, resistant to contingencies and changing political moods.
Shaping up a trilateral, with Japan
One of the signs of India’s growing centrality in the IndoPacific strategic architecture is its burgeoning engagement with key western nations.
Recently, Italy has also begun to signal its intention to enter the IndoPacific geography. It has done so by seeking to join India and Japan in a trilateral partnership.
This initiative comes after years of Rome’s relative absence from the geopolitical affairs of the region as it sought to concentrate more on the Atlantic and European dimensions while maintaining good, albeit wellbelow-potential, bilateral relations with India.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has started to pay attention outside its immediate neighbourhood again. Italy has become more vocal on the risks emanating from China’s strategic competitive initiatives.
During a recent India-Italy-Japan trilateral, organised by the Italian embassies in India and Japan, India reiterated that the responsibility of keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open, and working for the welfare of its inhabitants falls on like-minded countries within and beyond the region. With the expression of interest on the Italian side, the first step towards this trilateral has been taken, yet it needs to evolve into something more significant.
The Italian Government must formulate a clear Indo-Pacific strategy that must indicate its objectives and, above all, the means and initiatives it is willing to implement on its own and in cooperation with its partners.
The India, Italy and Japan trilateral initiative can, and should, be a forum to foster and consolidate a strategic relationship between these three countries, and specifically expand India-Italy bilateral relations.
A strategic trilateral between India, Italy and Japan has, in the medium to long term, a lot of potential.
At the security level, the well-defined India-Japan Indo-Pacific partnership can easily be complemented by Italy, already present in the western Indian Ocean where it is engaged in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. The three countries share the same values and the same rules-based worldview. Italy, in particular, should recognise its interests in playing a larger role towards the maintenance of a free and open Indo-Pacific.