copy the linklink copied!2. Italy’s policy vision and framework

This chapter assesses the extent to which clear political directives, policies and strategies shape Italy’s development co-operation and are in line with international commitments, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The new Italian co-operation law lays a strong foundation for principled and quality development co-operation. The three-year programming and policy planning document (PPPD) and policy guidance reflect the SDGs and help focus on populations at risk of being left behind. However, the PPPD’s annual renewal makes medium-term planning a challenge. Italy also lacks guidance on some of its top priorities, including migration and fragility. Furthermore, Italy lacks processes to ensure that programming and allocation decisions match its policy priorities. A more strategic outlook could further enhance Italy’s much-appreciated multilateral engagement.


copy the linklink copied!Framework

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Peer review indicator:

Clear policy vision aligned with the 2030 Agenda based on member's strengths

The co-operation law and the sustainable development strategy put principled and quality development co-operation at the centre of Italian foreign policy. Medium-term planning is a challenge.

Law 125/2014 provides a compass to guide Italian co-operation

The new co-operation law sets out a clear vision for Italy’s development co-operation. The rationale for co-operation is “to foster peace and justice” and to “promot[e] mutually supportive and egalitarian relationships between peoples based on principles of interdependence and partnership” (Republic of Italy, 2014[1]). Its primary objectives are:

  • poverty eradication, reducing inequalities and sustainable development

  • human rights, including gender equality, democracy and the rule of law

  • conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

In an important improvement on the 1987 legislation, the law commits Italy to principled, effective and high-quality co-operation. Key tenets include policy coherence for development; the principles of development effectiveness, including ownership, alignment and results-orientation; humanitarian principles; transparency; co-ordination; and local sourcing.

Finally, the law places Italian co-operation firmly in the context of international partnership. It refers to the Charter of the United Nations and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and obliges the government to indicate how Italy can meet its ODA commitments. Multilateral co-operation is the first mode of co-operation referred to by the law, underlining collaboration with the European Union (EU).

The law thus represents important progress, serving as a reference point for all co-operation stakeholders to drive change and strengthen accountability.

Italy’s National Strategy for Sustainable Development highlights co-operation

Development co-operation is an integral part of Italy’s National Strategy for Sustainable Development (Ministry for the Environment and the Protection of Land and Sea, 2018[2]). In 2017, the government adopted the strategy at the highest political level, after a broad consultation process. Development co-operation features prominently as one of five main chapters (Partnership), translating the 2030 Agenda’s ambition of shared prosperity and progress of all countries. The strategy elevates the status of development co-operation in domestic policy and ties it to national follow-up to the 2030 Agenda. The National Statistical Institute (ISTAT) publishes an extensive annual report on Italy’s SDG performance against all SDG indicators that integrate well-being indicators for each region in Italy (ISTAT, 2019[3]). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation (MFAIC) reports annually on development co-operation and, as good practice, also includes information on the contributions of actors other than the central government (MFAIC, 2018[4]). Reporting on Italy’s progress towards implementing the SDGs could be an opportunity to highlight links between domestic action and development co-operation, in order to reveal common challenges and policy coherence for development issues, and to share experiences (Chapter 1).

The programming and policy planning document has clear priorities, but does not facilitate medium-term planning

Priorities in the Three-Year Programming and Policy Planning Document (PPPD) are rather loose. Although the PPPD 2016-18 identifies 22 priority countries and territories (Government of Italy, 2017[5]) (Table 2.2), it highlights many cases for co-operation outside priority countries: co-operation funded by the Ministry of Environment; migration initiatives, including the Fondo Africa (Chapter 4); energy sector investments; stabilisation initiatives; and offering loans (Government of Italy, 2017[5]). Thematic priorities vary from sub-sectoral (cultural heritage, juvenile justice) to multi-sectoral (agriculture and water, environment and energy), and only few sectors are not considered a priority.1

The legal requirement to submit a new PPPD every year undermines its strategic value as a medium-term framework. For stakeholders it is not clear to what extent the direction given for any three-year-period is reliable. While the 2017-19 PPPD confirmed and extended the previous PPPD (Government of Italy, 2018[6]), there was no 2018-20 PPPD and the 2019-21 PPPD will again be a full revision. The first two PPPDs were adopted more than one year into the planning cycle, limiting their direction to less than two years. The limited strategic value does not do justice to the labour-intensive and consultative process involved in developing the PPPDs.

The government is aware of these challenges and in response is preparing adjustments. The PPPD 2019-21 is expected to be clearer on objectives, more prescriptive on funding allocations and priority sectors, and ensure that reporting links to objectives. However, all stakeholders of the Italian co-operation system could reflect on how they can enhance the medium-term strategic value of the PPPD.

copy the linklink copied!Principles and guidance

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Peer review indicator:

Policy guidance sets out a clear and comprehensive approach, including to poverty and fragility

Italy’s policy guidance is particularly detailed on empowering populations at risk of being left behind, notably people with disabilities. However, Italy still lacks guidance on some of its top priorities, notably migration, climate change and fragility.

The picture on cross-cutting issues and leaving no one behind is mixed

Reducing poverty and empowering vulnerable populations are central themes in Italian co-operation policies.2 The PPPD focuses on some of these themes, such as inclusive education, universal health care, rural populations, as well as gender equality and youth. In addition to 2011 guidelines on the fight against poverty, Italy has detailed guidance on disabilities and on minors, and is in the process of updating its guidance on gender equality and minors (AICS, n.d.[7]).

Aiming to pursue a twin-track approach of targeted action and mainstreaming, the Italian Agency for Development Co-operation (AICS) has a growing number of gender focal points in its field offices, including Senegal. This enables Italy to ensure follow-up beyond the design stage of interventions, including project budget allocations3 and monitoring of results. The peer review mission to Senegal illustrated how Italy’s co-operation adds value with its focus on the inclusion of women, girls and children with disabilities (Annex C). Programming instructions are clear on the need to mainstream gender equality and youth, and evaluations must assess effects on gender equality, the environment and human rights.

In contrast, Italy lacks guidance on a number of its other priority issues (Table 2.1). This is particularly noteworthy for migration, where policy guidance for all stakeholders could also help improve policy coherence (Chapter 1). In 2017, AICS and the University of Tor Vergata produced a study “Towards sustainable migration: interventions in countries of origin”, but this has not evolved into actual guidance (Italian Centre for International Development and Italian Agency for Development, 2017[8]). Other important guidance gaps for cross-cutting issues are the rights-based approach and climate change, which is not addressed in the guidelines on the environment. As Italy focuses its co-operation on a number of middle-income countries and territories, it could also be helpful to assess to what extent existing guidance on the principle of leaving no one behind is clarified in these contexts.

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Table 2.1. Italy lacks guidance for a number of its priorities
Available guidance against priorities set out in the PPPD 2016-2018 and 2017-2019

Priority with guidance available

Priority which lacks guidance

Citizenship education (2018)

Migration and development**

Energy (2018)

Fragility, humanitarian-development-peace nexus*

Disabilities (2018)

Human rights

Humanitarian aid (2012 and 2016)

Governance, incl. juvenile justice

Water (2015)

Climate change

Health (2014)**

Private sector

Cultural heritage (2013)

Agriculture (2012)**

Minors (2012)*

Environment (2011)

Fight against poverty (2011)

Gender (2010)*

Note: * New guidance is currently being developed. ** The PPPD 2019-21 outlines plans for new guidelines

Source: AICS website.

Operational guidelines for engaging in fragile and conflict-affected states are needed

Italy has a long tradition of engaging in fragile and crisis countries, and all of Italy’s priority countries and countries of operation are among the top 40 fragile countries and territories in the OECD fragility framework (OECD, 2018[9]). Because many of the most violent current conflicts in the world occur around the Mediterranean region and because it is partially linked with the migration agenda, crises, fragility and inequality have become central to Italy’s development co-operation (MFAIC, 2017[10]). Italy designed a comprehensive strategy document for the Mediterranean region in 2017 (MFAIC, 2017[11]) that links the various elements and drivers of fragility, including cultural heritage preservation – a niche sector in which very few other members operate (Chapter 1). A second edition of the Mediterranean strategy is under elaboration and will be published in 2019. Guidance on operationalising this strategy could be useful to Italy’s programming staff. . Italy is drafting guidelines on the nexus between humanitarian aid, development co-operation and peace (Chapter 7), in line with the DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus (OECD, 2019[12]). Setting out in those upcoming guidelines some standard procedures, such as risk or conflict analysis, would help to improve the coherence of Italy’s engagement in some of the world’s most fragile contexts.

copy the linklink copied!Basis for decision making

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Peer review indicator:

Policy provides sufficient guidance for decisions on channels and engagements

Processes to ensure that decisions match priorities are insufficient. A stronger strategic outlook could further enhance Italy’s much-appreciated multilateral engagement.

Strategies and guidance to steer country allocations and engagement are needed

Italy’s process for steering, comparing and arbitrating on allocations among priority countries could be made more explicit. Although Italy prepares an annual country plan for allocations (Programmazione annuale) approved by the Joint Committee (Comitato congiunto), this plan does not set out how criteria set out in the PPPD are considered in determining country allocations, and in particular how allocations would contribute to reaching Italy’s objectives (expected impact, risks, effectiveness). In a few cases, country strategies guide Italy’s engagement (Table 2.2). In Senegal, Italy decided to maintain the previous level of funding when the country strategy expired, and did so again in subsequent EU joint programming. More generally, the MFAIC’s 2019 planning instructions for embassies recommend using the previous year’s budget as the default to plan forward. For some fragile countries, Italy’s pledges at international conferences guide allocations (e.g. Syria, Iraq and Somalia). Within countries, the PPPD and programming instructions are clear on the need to concentrate on three sectors.

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Table 2.2. Italy has only few country/territory strategies in place
Overview of co-operation strategies for priority countries or territories and countries included in programming instructions

EU joint programming and Italy country strategy

Italy country strategy only

EU joint programming only

No country strategy and no EU joint programming

Burkina Faso





El Salvador






Bosnia and Herzegovina





West Bank and Gaza Strip








South Sudan



Note: * Not priority countries in 2018. ** Under preparation. *** Previous country strategy extended. In light of recent political events, Italy started strengthening bilateral relations with Eritrea in October 2018.

Source: Internal overview provided by AICS.

Italy does not have a pronounced regional approach. A regional strategy exists for the Mediterranean, which – as good practice – encompasses all fields of foreign policy. There are also regional strategies for West and East Africa. However, while Italy identifies regional challenges, its responses are generally country-by-country rather than regional. Outside Europe, Italy does not co-operate with regional organisations other than regional development banks and the Caribbean Community Secretariat. At the global level, Italy engages via its strong support to multilateral agencies (see below).

Guidance to select local implementing channels could be improved

Building on Law 125/2014, the PPPD 2017-2019 clearly recognises the different roles of Italian actors, and provides some guidance for choosing between them in implementing development co-operation. The Italian Government has established specific funding lines for Italian actors, namely civil society organisations, the private sector, as well as decentralised co-operation; however, it does not explicitly provide guidance on selecting these partners based on Italy’s intended objective (OECD, 2016[13]); (OECD, 2012[14]). It does not facilitate collaboration among these actors either, and thus fails to capitalise on its multi-stakeholder mechanisms (Chapter 5). While Italy’s programming instructions provide some guidance on selecting multilateral organisations (with a focus on effectiveness and those based in Italy), there is no guidance on selecting local partners in the field (however, the mission to Senegal clearly found that Italy works closely with the partner government, local NGOs and research institutions; see Annex C).4

Italy believes strongly in multilateralism and agencies praise its reliable and constructive engagement

Italy identifies clear priorities for its multilateral engagement. First and foremost, Italy focuses on strategic engagement with the EU, and is a significant contributor to, and growing implementer of, EU programmes (Chapter 4). It thus aims to enhance the weight and visibility of its own co-operation, while increasing efficiency, in line with its support to joint programming. Italy also ensures – through MEF – a significant presence in most multilateral development banks (MDBs), including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The international organisations hosted in Italy,5 in particular in its hubs in Rome and Turin, are another clear priority. For the remaining organisations, the PPPD thematic chapters identify which organisations are particularly relevant for achieving Italy’s contribution to the SDGs.

Italy advocates for effective multilateral co-operation. It actively promotes co-ordination of the MDBs as well as the Rome-based agencies, and joined the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) in 2017. Agencies provide very positive feedback on Italy, describing it as a constructive and supportive partner. However, the institutional reform of 2014 has created uncertainty for some multilateral partners as to responsibilities across the MFAIC and AICS (Chapter 4). Regular dialogue with priority multilateral partners might help clarify roles and engagement. Furthermore, a variety of ministries have funding lines for multilateral co-operation, translating into diverse board representation that requires inter-ministerial co-ordination (Zupi, 2018[15]). Special legislation underpins MEF’s multilateral funding from 2013 to 2022, and allows for multi-year funding to some entities, which is a positive development.6 Renewing this legislation would enable Italy to continue its reliable multilateral funding.

A stronger strategic outlook could enhance Italy’s multilateral engagement still further. Italy does not have a separate multilateral strategy, either global7 or organisation-specific. The recent framework agreement with IFAD on behalf of a variety of Italian ministries and agencies is an exception, and one that Italy can build on. The PPPD 2016-2018 had indicated the need for clear planning guidelines, but these have not yet been developed. A strategic orientation or strategy for priority organisations could guide Italy’s allocation decisions, engagement on governing bodies, and in-country co-operation.


[7] AICS (n.d.), Linee guida e documenti di programmazione (Guidelines and Programming Documents), AICS,

[6] Government of Italy (2018), International Development Cooperation: Three-year Programming and Policy Planning Document 2017-2019, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Rome, (accessed on 12 April 2019).

[5] Government of Italy (2017), International Development Cooperation: Three-Year Programming and Policy Planning Document 2016-2018, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Rome, (accessed on 12 April 2019).

[3] ISTAT (2019), Rapporto SDGs 2019: Informazioni Statistiche per l’Agenda 2030 in Italia (SDG Report 2019: Statistical Information for the 2030 Agenda in Italy), Istat, Rome, (accessed on 7 May 2019).

[8] Italian Centre for International Development and Italian Agency for Development (2017), Towards Sustainable Migration: Interventions in countries of origin, ICID and AICS, Rome, (accessed on 7 May 2019).

[4] MFAIC (2018), Relazione annuale sull’attuazione delle politica di cooperazione allo sviluppo (in Italian), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Rome, (accessed on 27 May 2019).

[11] MFAIC (2017), The Italian strategy in the Mediterranean. Stabilising the crises and building a positive agenda for the region, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Rome,

[10] MFAIC (2017), Three-year Programming and Policy Planning Document, 2017-2019, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Rome, (accessed on 24 May 2019).

[2] Ministry for the Environment and the Protection of Land and Sea (2018), Strategia Nazionale per lo Sviluppo Sostenible (National Strategy for Sustainable Development), (accessed on 9 April 2019).

[12] OECD (2019), DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, OECD Legal Instruments, (accessed on 10 April 2019).

[9] OECD (2018), States of Fragility 2018: Highlights, OECD, Paris, (accessed on 11 April 2019).

[13] OECD (2016), Private Sector Engagement for Sustainable Development: Lessons from the DAC, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[14] OECD (2012), Partnering with Civil Society: 12 Lessons from DAC Peer Reviews, OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, (accessed on 1).

[1] Republic of Italy (2014), Law no. 125 of 11 August 2014 - Unofficial translation, (accessed on 12 April 2019).

[16] Republic of Italy (2012), Legge 24 dicembre 2012, n. 228: Disposizioni per la formazione del bilancio annuale e pluriennale dello Stato (Legge di stabilita’ 2013) (in Italian), Gazzetta Ufficiale.

[17] Republic of Italy (2005), LEGGE 23 dicembre 2005, n. 266: Disposizioni per la formazione del bilancio annuale e pluriennale dello Stato (legge finanziaria 2006) (in Italian), Gazzetta Ufficiale, http://LEGGE 23 dicembre 2005, n. 266 Disposizioni per la formazione del bilancio annuale e pluriennale dello Stato (legge finanziaria 2006).

[15] Zupi, M. (2018), L’Italia e la cooperazione multilaterale (in Italian), Centro Studi di Politica Internazionale, CESPI, (accessed on 9 April 2019).


← 1. Notably transport. However, a large ODA allocation for a transport project in Libya is foreseen in the 2021 budget of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.

← 2. In the absence of more detailed guidance, the 2017-19 PPPD explains that leaving no-one behind: “means targeting the most vulnerable groups of the population, focusing on the least developed countries, as well as fragile States and conflict countries, without forgetting the poor, excluded and marginalised in middle-income countries that, despite the progress made in terms of economic growth, still face significant challenges like inequality and vulnerability at both an individual level and collectively.” (Government of Italy, 2018[6]).

← 3. In Ethiopia, the co-operation framework requires 5% of the budget to be specifically reserved to ensure gender-sensitivity.

← 4. There is also no guidance for triangular co-operation. Italy has some limited trilateral co-operation, for instance with Brazil in Ecuador and Bolivia.

← 5. Italy hosts international organisations or sub-entities in particular in Rome and Turin, but also Bari, Brindisi, Florence, Perugia, Trieste and Venice. Rome hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Development Law Organization.

← 6. The Budget Law 228/2012 (article 1, paragraphs 170 and 171) provides for an annual envelope of EUR 295 million from 2013 to 2022 for multilateral spending, notably multilateral development banks, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Global Environment Facility (Republic of Italy, 2012[16]). Law 266/2005 authorised a total contribution of EUR 504 million to the International Finance Facility for Immunisation, and defined annual tranches for 20 years until 2025 (Republic of Italy, 2005[17]).

← 7. Though the MFAIC’s Directorate General for Development Co-operation (DGCS) did have guidelines covering its own multilateral engagement over 2013-2015.

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2. Italy’s policy vision and framework