Golden Power designates the set of measures that can be taken by the Italian government to intervene in the interest of strategic sectors of national importance, such as defence, high-tech, telecommunications, energy and transportation. These measures thus prevent, inter alia, that strategic businesses operating in these sectors are taken over or significantly influenced by the acquisition and participation of certain foreign governments and companies. In Italy, the Golden Power was introduced by Decree-Law n. 21 of 15 March 2012 (D.L. 21/2012), converted into Law n. 56 of 11 May 2012. More recently, also in the context of Covid-19, the legislation was amended and expanded by Decree-Law n. 23 of 8 April 2020 (the so-called ‘Liquidity Decree’), converted into Law n. 40 of 5 June 2020.
In recent times, the reference to Golden Power has gained traction, due to debates surrounding the establishment and execution of 5G services and data protection concerns. Golden power prerogatives thus allow for government intervention in the alleged interest of protecting the data of users. Indeed, given the risks ensuing from an improper use of data with implications to national security, article 1-bis of Decree-Law n. 21 sets forth that services of electronic communication based on 5G technology are considered ‘activities of strategic relevance’ for the purposes of that regulation. Recent events stress the relevance of Golden Power in Italy. In March, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi imposed certain obligations in the supply contract between Fastweb, ZTE and Askey with the view of mitigating the risks to national security ensuing from the agreement. More recently, Mr Draghi imposed a veto to prevent the acquisition by a Chinese company of 70% of LPE, a highly specialised semiconductors manufacturer based in Lombardy. This measure was justified also given that LPE is the only Italian company active in the sector, and its high-technology products can be used for different strategic purposes, including artificial intelligence and 5G technology. Moreover, Italian Minister of Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti has declared that the scope of application of golden power should be expanded to fields not currently covered.
These developments happen in the context of increased polarization that has marked the international scenario in recent years, in particular concerning the opposition between China and Western countries. The Chinese geopolitical expansion has been marked by its central role in global supply chains (as made evident during the Covid-19 pandemic), foreign direct investment initiatives and technological influence. Against this backdrop, governments have taken protectionist measures to ensure that they retain sovereignty over strategic fields, and the Golden Power prerogatives are one aspect to be closely followed.