Italy's Foreign Aid
On October 30, 2021, Italy will host the G20 summit, the annual economic forum on international cooperation and financial stability. In addition to policy coordination between the world’s major, advanced and emerging economies in efforts to achieve global economic growth, the summit also focuses on development programs in impoverished countries. A closer look at Italy’s foreign aid shows the extent to which Italy helps the world’s most vulnerable people.

Italy’s Foreign Aid

According to U.N. standards, Italy is not contributing enough to foreign aid. Italy is the 10th-largest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) donor for the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The country spent $4.2 billion on official development assistance in 2020. However, this represents only 0.22% of the country’s gross national income. It falls below the U.N. target of 0.7% as well as the DAC average of 0.32%.

Current Fund Allocation

Bilateral aid consists of grants that go to countries without a multilateral intermediary. Italy dedicates 31.1% of its bilateral aid to hosting refugees in donor countries. The country was on track to reach the U.N.’s official development assistance (ODA) target up until 2017. It then started to decrease funding as in-country refugee costs decreased by 76% from 2017 to 2019.

Furthermore, along with many other countries in the European Union, much of Italy’s foreign aid has gone toward border control instead of basic services such as water, food and education. These services are key elements that help fight poverty and decrease the likelihood of forced migration or the need for border control. A June 2019 Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) report found that the country lacks a consistent strategy surrounding development cooperation, largely due to Italy’s fixation on migration and its opportunistic and transactional approach to foreign policy.

Bilateral vs. Multilateral

Although it seems Italy could be doing more to help the world’s impoverished, it is important to note that most of its official development assistance (62%) goes to multilateral institutions. This means that the government authorizes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank Group to allocate foreign aid accordingly. While some multilateral groups can have political leanings, NGOs and think tanks tend to operate apolitically. This minimizes the risk that Italy’s foreign aid only serves to reinforce political ambitions or national security through distribution.

For example, through Italy’s earmarked contribution of more than $82 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UNDP considers Italy a “vital partner in their mission to end extreme poverty” and is helping the country operationalize its G7 commitments through the Africa Centre for Sustainable Development in Rome. Once established, the goal of the Centre is to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa by advocating the best practices regarding food security, access to water and clean energy.

Italy in the G20

As host of the G20 economic forum, Italy has an important position among other members in leading discussions on development and poverty. In fact, in a telephone conversation with the European commissioner for international partnerships, Emanuela Del Re, the Italian vice minister of foreign affairs, asserted that the G20 could be “the relevant international forum to define measures to ensure that vulnerable countries are part of the socio-economic recovery.”

While Italy should be contributing more toward its foreign aid as a whole, its commitment to multilateral cooperation is a promising step in alienating aid from internal politics. Furthermore, by prioritizing the management of the pandemic in economically developing countries in the G20, Italy could reevaluate its interest in migration as a central development issue and create the opportunity for a more balanced allocation of foreign aid.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Flickr