The future of Italy's economy and the social costs of austerity have taken centre stage as Italians prepare to go to the polls next week for an election in which the outcome is far from certain.
Here are a few facts and figures on Italy, the third biggest economy in the eurozone after Germany and France and a founding member of the euro area:
GDP: Gross domestic product shrank by 2.2 percent last year, according to official estimates released this month, and the economy has contracted for the last six consecutive quarters making this the longest recession in 20 years.
The government forecasts the economy will shrink by 0.2 percent this year and then grow by 1.1 percent in 2014 and by 1.3 percent in 2015.
UNEMPLOYMENT: The unemployment rate rose by 0.1 percentage points to a new record-high of 11.2 percent in December, even though the proportion of young people aged 15-24 who are unemployed dropped by 0.2 points to 36.6 percent.
AVERAGE MONTHLY SALARY: 1,410 euros net in 2011
ECONOMY: Italy is the eighth biggest economy in the world in GDP terms. Its economy is based mainly on small- and medium-sized enterprises concentrated in the centre and north. Large industry accounts for around a quarter of GDP.
Italy is strong in fashion, design, furniture, cars, farming and metal working and is one of the biggest exporters in the European Union. There are profound differences between the northern and southern halves of the country.
PUBLIC DEBT: Total government debt was 1.898 trillion euros in 2011, equivalent to 120.1 percent of gross domestic product -- which puts Italy behind only Greece in the eurozone for the highest debt-to-GDP ratio.
PUBLIC DEFICIT: The deficit was 3.9 percent of GDP in 2011 but Italy has a healthy primary surplus -- the budget balance excluding debt servicing costs.
INFLATION: 2.8 percent in 2011 (Istat)
POPULATION: 60.6 million inhabitants on January 1, 2011
President (head of state): Giorgio Napolitano, a former Italian Communist Party official elected in May 2006.
Prime Minister (head of government): Mario Monti, installed in November 2011 at the head of a technocratic cabinet.