Changing Italy’s mind in 26 hours
This was one of The Syria Campaign’s most successful rapid response projects. In 2014, Italy opposed a proposed EU ban on the sale of aviation fuel to Syria. In just 26 hours we managed to persuade Italy’s then-Foreign Minister Francesca Mogherini to reverse her country’s policy on this critical issue. This campaign worked for three reasons: targeting, timing, and Twitter.
The campaign began with the intel that Italy was planning on supporting the sale of fuel to Syria, which the EU hoped to ban as part of a broader sanctions package. Knowing that this fuel would be used to power regime warplanes, we began calling contacts in Brussels to find out if reports of Italy’s resistance were true. Once it was confirmed that they were, we sprung into action and asked our email list of supporters to email and tweet Mogherini to get her to change Italy’s position. As Mogherini was about to take a high-profile job with the European Commission we knew that she would be particularly sensitive to any public pressure, which could suggest that she was out of step with the position of other European countries on such a critical issue.
Media, including Bloomberg and European Voice (the EU’s biggest weekly, now part of Politico), picked up the story and it began to gain traction on Twitter, including from the actor and activist, Mia Farrow. Presumably surprised by the public’s reactions, Mogherini snapped back at Farrow, saying that Italy was supporting sanctions on Syria. After we replied that the issue was Italy’s support for the sale of aviation fuel to Syria, Mogherini said, again on Twitter, that Italy did not support this. Her tweet rang true with what we were hearing from our contacts in Brussels that Italy had finally agreed to support the fuel ban.
A Brussels insider emailed us and said, “your campaign has had a big impact” while a journalist remarked to us, “interesting what a bit of publicity can do”. In total 3,655 people emailed Mogherini (in addition to all of those who tweeted her). The campaign proved tremendously popular among our audiences and is a brilliant example of how a quick and targeted response can bring about real, life-saving change. We had confirmation of this on 14 November 2014 when an official from one of the governments involved in the talks told us that our campaign had been “decisive” in shifting Italy’s position. The government official told us that they had gone “all the way up the line” but were unable to change Rome’s mind. Instead, our campaign did.
What we learnt
Public pressure can sometimes unlock change that insider advocacy cannot.