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Why has Italy been named ‘country of the year’ for 2021′?

Italy has been crowned the 'country of the year' by The Economist. Here's what this means and why the country took the top spot.

Italy has been named country of the year for 2021.
Italy has been named country of the year for 2021. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

2021 has been nothing short of momentous for Italy – from winning the European cup to triumphing in the Eurovision song contest and claiming gold in the Olympics, the country has repeatedly stood out for its global achievements this year.

However, these aren’t the reasons Italy has been named ‘country of the year’ by global news magazine The Economist.

Instead, it’s taken first place for its politics.

READ ALSO:  ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

“The Economist has often criticised Italy for picking leaders, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who could usefully have followed the Eurovision-winning song’s admonition to ‘shut up and behave‘,” writes the publication.

“Because of weak governance, Italians were poorer in 2019 than they had been in 2000. Yet this year, Italy changed,” it added.

It attributes Italy’s newfound economical success to the country’s leader since February 2021, Mario Draghi, who it described as “a competent, internationally respected prime minister”.

One distinguishing feature of Draghi’s success is said to be the national recovery and resilience plan, backed by EU funds.

“For once, a broad majority of its politicians buried their differences to back a programme of thoroughgoing reform that should mean Italy gets the funds to which it is entitled under the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan,” reads the report.

Draghi unveiled the 222.1-billion-euro ($268.3-billion) programme back in April, pledging to address both the damage inflicted by Covid-19 and Italy’s long-standing structural issues.

The investment is part of the EU’s 750-billion-euro post-pandemic recovery fund – a figure that has now grown to €806.9 billion – intended for the whole bloc, with Italy set to be the biggest recipient.


The country intends to pump capital into economic recovery, job creation, research, public transport, the construction industry and renewable energy.

Another pillar of Italy’s acclaimed success in the ranking is its vaccination rollout, cited as one of the highest in Europe.

In another difficult year of the pandemic, countries in all corners of the globe have been put to the test with new variants, such as Omicron, and varying vaccine rollouts.

Some 85.2 percent of Italy’s eligible population over 12 years old have now been fully vaccinated, while over 13.6 million booster shots have already been administered, according to the latest official data.

In the graph below, Italy’s ranking doesn’t reflect the government’s figures as it has used different parameters to determine a full vaccination cycle.

However, it still ranks highly in Europe.

The report also stated that Italy’s economy is recovering after “a difficult 2020” and in fact, “more speedily than those of France or Germany”.

This is despite Italy’s public debt passing 155 percent of its GDP last year, with Brussels warning that it is still budgeting to spend too much next year.

However, Italy’s GDP rate grew by 2.6 percent in the third quarter of 2021 and ratings agency Standard & Poor has revised its outlook for Italian debt from stable to positive.

The Economist’s designation was welcomed by the Italian Embassy in the UK, who said they were “proud and delighted”  and would “toast to that with some Prosecco”.

Despite the positive developments, however, the report gave a word of caution about the new prime minister’s success: “There is a danger that this unaccustomed burst of sensible governance could be reversed. Mr Draghi wants to be president, a more ceremonial job, and may be succeeded by a less competent prime minister.”

Still for now, The Economist wrote, “It is hard to deny that the Italy of today is a better place than it was in December 2020.”

In fact, the annual accolade doesn’t go “to the biggest, the richest or the happiest,” but to the country that has made the biggest strides that year.

“Past winners have included Uzbekistan (for abolishing slavery), Colombia (for making peace) and Tunisia (for embracing democracy),” clarified the magazine.

It noted that many countries struggled in the challenging year of 2021.

“In many countries civil liberties and democratic norms were eroded,” reads the report.

They referred to the jailing of Russia’s main opposition leader, Donald Trump’s supporters storming the US political headquarters and the civil wars that took hold in Ethiopia and Myanmar.

“Yet amid the gloom, a few countries shone,” it added. It’s for this reason Italy was named ‘country of the year 2021’.

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For members


Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy's tourist season is expected to be back in full swing this year - but will there be enough workers to meet the demand?

Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy’s tourist numbers are booming, sparking hopes that the industry could see a return to something not far off pre-pandemic levels by the summer.

There’s just one catch: there aren’t nearly enough workers signing up for seasonal jobs this year to supply all that demand.

READ ALSO: Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?

“There’s a 20 percent staff shortage, the situation is dramatic,” Fulvio Griffa, president of the Italian tourist operators federation Fiepet Confesercenti, told the Repubblica news daily.

Estimates for how many workers Italy is missing this season range from 70,000 (the figure given by the small and medium enterprise federation Conflavoro PMI) to 300-350,000 (the most recent estimate from Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia, who last month quoted 250,000).

Whatever the exact number is, everyone agrees: it’s a big problem.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer

Italy isn’t the only European country facing this issue. France is also short an estimated 300,000 seasonal workers this year. Spain is down 50,000 waiters, and Austria is missing 15,000 hired hands across its food and tourism sectors.

Italy’s economy, however, is particularly dependent on tourism. If the job vacancies can’t be filled and resorts are unable to meet the demand anticipated this summer, the country stands to lose an estimated  €6.5 billion.

Italy's tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers.
Italy’s tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“After two years of pandemic, it would be a sensational joke to miss out on a summer season that is expected to recover strongly due to the absence of workers,” said Vittorio Messina, president of the Assoturismo Confesercenti tourist association.

Different political factions disagree as to exactly what (and who) is to blame for the lack of interest from applicants.

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

Italy’s tourism minister Massimo Garavaglia, a member of the right wing League party, has singled out the reddito di cittadinanza, or ‘citizen’s income’ social security benefit introduced by the populist Five Star Movement in 2019 for making unemployment preferable to insecure, underpaid seasonal work.

Bernabò Bocca, the president of the hoteliers association Federalberghi, agrees with him – along with large numbers of small business owners.

“What’s going to make an unemployed person come to me for 1,300 euros a month if he can stay sprawled on the beach and live off the damned citizenship income?” complained an anonymous restauranteur interviewed by the Corriere della Sera news daily.

“Before Covid, I had a stack of resumes this high on my desk in April. Now I’m forced to check emails every ten minutes hoping someone will come forward. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.” 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season.
Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

Five Star MPs, however, argue that the focus on the unemployment benefit is a distraction from the real issues of job insecurity and irregular contracts.

There appears to be some merit to that theory. A recent survey of 1,650 seasonal workers found that only 3 percent of the people who didn’t work in the 2021 tourist season opted out due to the reddito di cittadinza.

In fact the majority (75 percent) of respondents who ended up not working over the 2021 season said they had searched for jobs but couldn’t find any openings because the Covid situation had made it too uncertain for companies to hire in advance.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Others said the most of jobs that were advertised were only for a 2-3 month duration, half the length of the season (again, due to Covid uncertainty), making it not worth their while to relocate.

Giancarlo Banchieri, a hotelier who is also president of the Confesercenti business federation, agrees that Covid has been the main factor in pushing workers away from the industry, highlighting “the sense of precariousness that this job has taken on in the last two years: many people have abandoned it for fear of the uncertainty of a sector that has experienced a terrible time.”

The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector.
The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

“I said goodbye to at least seven employees, and none of them are sitting at home on the citizen’s income,” Banchieri told Repubblica. “They have all reinvented themselves elsewhere; some are plumbers, others work in the municipality.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: Mass tourism is back in Italy – but the way we travel is changing

To counteract the problem, Garavaglia has proposed three measures: increasing the numbers of visas available for seasonal workers coming from abroad; allowing people to work in summer jobs while continuing to receive 50 percent of their citizen’s income; and reintroducing a voucher system that allows casual workers to receive the same kinds of welfare and social security benefits as those on more formal contracts.

Whether these will be enough to save Italy’s 2022 tourist season remains to be seen, but at this stage industry operators will take whatever fixes are offered.

“The sector is in such a dire situation that any common sense proposals much be welcomed,” the Federalberghi president Bocca told journalists.