4. Giulio Andreotti dominated Italian politics for almost half-a-decade, despite not being Prime Minister for much of that time
Though he may not be very well-known outside of Italy, there can be little doubt that Giulio Andreotti was one of the most important political figures in post-war Europe. Quite simply, he dominated Italian politics for decades. Not only did he hold the office of Prime Minister for three separate terms, he was also believed to be running the country even when he wasn’t in office. Not for nothing was Andreotti described as Italy’s own Éminence grise, operating behind-the-scenes to shape Italian politics and society to his own liking.
Despite his humble background – Andreotti was born in 1919, one of three children of a Roman school teacher – he excelled at university and was a rising political star in his mid-20s. By the time he was in his 40s, he was the leader of the Christian Democrat party and then, in 1972, he became Prime Minister for the first time. He would hold the highest office in the land on two more occasions between 1976 and 1992. However, it was the power he wielded while he was in opposition or in another government post that led him to being called the true ‘power behind the throne’ of Italian politics during the 1980s and 90s.
In all, Andreotti was active in Italian politics for more than 40 years. During this time, Italy went from being a largely-rural economy into one of the biggest economies in all of Europe. Andreotti has been widely credited with overseeing this national transformation, using his connections in the Vatican as well as in politics to modernize his country. To his detractors, however, his power was often undemocratic. Moreover, ever since the 1970s, it’s been widely alleged that Andreotti’s associations with organized crime were closer than he ever disclosed. Andreotti, who was sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘Divine Julius’, in reference to both his longevity and the power he held in Roman society, died in 2013 at the age of 94.