Relations between the two countries are close and built on an excellent foundation: shared experiences in their historical development (Germany and Italy are both “young nations”), the two countries’ position today at the heart of Europe and their membership of NATO and of the European Union, the large volume of trade and the broad spectrum of contacts (including culture, tourism, sport, social groups, trade unions). Efforts by both Governments to develop common positions on European policy focus on issues of fundamental importance, such as further deepening the European Union, framing European migration policy or European neighbourhood policy, and EU enlargement.
Government ministers and parliamentarians from both countries exchange views regularly and often meet at international conferences and European Council sessions. Close contacts are also maintained between the two countries’ heads of state. The Villa Vigoni Association on Lake Como is a forum specifically created to promote bilateral exchange, hosting numerous events on political, economic, cultural and scientific issues. Germany’s political foundations also play a major role in bilateral relations.
German-Italian economic relations have traditionally been very close. Germany is Italy’s most important trading partner by far, supplying 12.5 percent of the country’s imports and taking 16.4 percent of its exports in 2017. Conversely, Italy ranks fifth among importers of German goods and sixth as a supplier of goods to Germany. Accounting for more than 12 percent of EU agricultural turnover, the Italian farming industry is the third largest in Europe after France and Germany. In 2018, total bilateral trade was worth more than 127 billion euros, with a trade surplus of some 11.2 billion euros in Germany’s favour. There is fantastic integrated value-added with Germany: German milk is used for Italian cheese manufacture and Germany takes 52 percent of its annual fruit and vegetable products from Italy. The main German exports to Italy in 2018 were vehicles and vehicle parts, chemical products, machinery, foodstuffs and electrical goods. Italy’s principal exports to Germany in 2016 were machinery and equipment, followed by textile products (including clothing, leather and accessories) and chemical, pharmaceutical and botanical products. Of the some 367,000 overnight stays by foreign tourists, in 2017 Germans accounted for 20 percent. According to Germany Trade and Invest figures in 2018, German foreign direct investment in Italy amounted to approximately 33.2 billion euros in 2016 and was concentrated in the north of the country. Conversely, Italian direct investment in Germany was worth approximately 36.7 billion euros.
Alongside joint involvement in NATO, the EU (as part of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy), the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations, bilateral relations between the two countries’ armed forces have traditionally been close, including regular talks between the two countries’ defence ministers and the upper echelons of the different branches of the military, permanent exchange and training programmes for troops and close cooperation as part of international NATO, EU and UN missions. There is also close cooperation on armaments production.
Cultural relations between Germany and Italy are globally unique in their intensity. In no other country does Germany have as many cultural institutions as in Italy, some the very first of their kind:
- five scientific/academic institutions: the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Rome, founded in 1829; two Max Planck Institutes of Art History: the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, founded in 1913, and the German Institute of Art History in Florence, founded in 1897; the German Historical Institute in Rome, founded in 1888; and the German Study Centre in Venice, founded in 1972;
- four houses providing scholarships for artists: the Villa Massimo in Rome since 1913, along with its affiliated institutions, the Villa Serpentara and Casa Baldi in Olevano Romano and the Villa Romana in Florence since 1905; the European Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Montepulciano since 2001;
- two major Goethe-Institut branches (in Rome and Milan) and five smaller branches (in Genoa, Turin, Trieste, Naples and Palermo) as well as six Goethe Centres and 32 institutions licensed to hold examinations;
- three German Schools (in Milan, Genoa and – since 1861 – in Rome);
- the Casa di Goethe, a museum and exhibition space established in 1997;
- the Villa Vigoni, the German-Italian centre of excellence on Lake Como;
- the German-Italian Youth Exchange Office (Ciao-Tschau) in Rome (a Villa Vigoni project).
A globally unique dense network of nearly 38 German-Italian cultural societies (24 of them funded by the Federal Foreign Office or the Goethe-Institut) also enables cultural offerings and language work to reach the provinces.
The principal network for promoting German at Italian schools are the 34 partner schools (PASCH), including both the three German Schools, 22 German Language Certificate (DSD) schools, five partner schools under the supervision of the Goethe-Institut and six schools with bilingual sections (now called German-profile schools) including two DSD schools. In the 2014/15 school year, there were a total of approximately 376,000 students learning German at Italian schools (mostly as their second or third foreign language). Thanks to the Deutschmobile campaign, which was launched in 2011/12 and has since visited nearly 1000 schools, interest in learning German has increased.
Since 2004, a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Information Centre in Rome has been offering Italian students, young academics and professors advice on Germany’s higher education system, on study and research opportunities and on scholarships. In addition, the DAAD organises the award of the Ladislao Mittner Prize enabling Italians to study in Germany. Germany’s dominating attraction as a place to study and interest in the German labour market are reflected in the steady rise in the number of Italians studying in Germany (figures have doubled since 2010/11) or engaging in research (Germany leads the field clearly). The number of Italians learning German in schools and universities is also growing constantly.
Since 2008, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media have awarded the annual German-Italian Translation Prize alternately to Italian and German translators, the Italian Ministry of Culture also being involved since 2010.
The German-Italian Youth Exchange Office (an Internet platform with an office in Rome) was set up in 2009 with a view to promoting youth exchange between Germany and Italy. It is based at the Villa Vigoni on Lake Como and funded by the Federal Foreign Office and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This platform offers information on exchange projects, encounter programmes and partner organisations in Germany and Italy.