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Italy: country overview

25 January 2017, 22:26 CET

Italy is a founding member of the European Union. It is a charter member of NATO. It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include sluggish economic growth, high youth and female unemployment, organized crime, corruption, and economic disparities between southern Italy and the more prosperous north. The most important sectors of Italy’s economy in 2015 were wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services (20.5 %), industry (18.8 %) and public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (17.1 %). Italy’s main export partners are Germany, France and the US, while its main import partners are Germany, France and China.

Italian flag

Capital: Rome

Geographical size: 302 073 km2

Population: 60 795 612 (2015)

Population as % of total EU: 12 % (2015)

Gross domestic product (GDP): € 1.636 trillion (2015)

Official EU language(s): Italian

Political system: parliamentary republic

EU member country since: 1 January 1958

Seats in the European Parliament: 73

Currency: Euro. Member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999

Schengen area member? Yes, Schengen Area member since 26 October 1997

Presidency of the Council: Italy has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU 12 times between 1959 and 2014.

Country overview

Italy is mainly mountainous, except for the Po plain in the north, and runs from the Alps to the central Mediterranean Sea. It includes the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Elba and about 70 other smaller ones. There are two small independent states within peninsular Italy: the Vatican City in Rome, and the Republic of San Marino.

Italy has a two-chamber parliament, consisting of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) or upper house and the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati). Elections take place every five years.

The country's main economic sectors are tourism, fashion, engineering, chemicals, motor vehicles and food. Italy's northern regions are per capita amongst the richest in Europe.

The centre of the vast Roman Empire which left a huge archaeological, cultural and literary heritage, the Italian peninsula saw the birth of medieval humanism and the Renaissance. This further helped to shape European political thought, philosophy and art via figures like Machiavelli, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo.

The list of famous Italian artists is long and includes Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Caravaggio. The country has also produced opera composers such as Verdi and Puccini and film-maker Federico Fellini.

Italian cuisine is one of the most refined and varied in Europe, from the piquant flavours of Naples and Calabria to the pesto dishes of Liguria and the cheese and risotto dishes of the Italian Alps.

Economy overview

Italy has a diversified economy, which is divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less-developed, highly subsidized, agricultural south, where unemployment is higher. The Italian economy is driven in large part by the manufacture of high-quality consumer goods produced by small and medium-sized enterprises, many of them family-owned. Italy also has a sizeable underground economy, which by some estimates accounts for as much as 17% of GDP. These activities are most common within the agriculture, construction, and service sectors.

Italy is the third-largest economy in the euro zone, but its exceptionally high public debt and structural impediments to growth have rendered it vulnerable to scrutiny by financial markets. Public debt has increased steadily since 2007, topping 135% of GDP in 2015, but investor concerns about Italy and the broader euro-zone crisis eased in 2013, bringing down Italy's borrowing costs on sovereign government debt from euro-era records. The government still faces pressure from investors and European partners to sustain its efforts to address Italy's longstanding structural impediments to growth, such as labour market inefficiencies and tax evasion. In 2014, economic growth and labour market conditions continued to deteriorate, with overall unemployment rising to 12.7% and youth unemployment around 40%, but Italy began to recover in 2015, with marginal growth and a slight reduction in unemployment.

Useful links

The Commission's Representation in Italy

European Parliament office in Italy

Italian Government

Tourist information

Source: European Commission, CIA - The World Factbook

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