This site uses technical and analytics cookies.
By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies.

Address by the Hon. Minister at the 15th Forum of Dialogue Italy-Spain

 (The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)

I am first of all very happy to greet my colleague and friends Minister Alfonso Dastis, President Enrico Letta – whom I’m calling president also because for me that is what he is in his several capacities, including that of President of the Council of Ministers when I was the Vice President – Honourable Josep Duran I Lleida, our Ambassadors, entrepreneurs and friends of the Italian-Spanish Forum of Dialogue.

Of course, Alfonso, if we had wanted to choose a date to make this Forum interesting for the media, we couldn’t have chosen a better or more important date in view of what has happened in Spain. Just know that we agree with the statement of the European Commission; we have at heart Spain’s constitutional unity and we identify with the words of President Sergio Mattarella. We agree with Prime Minister Rajoy’s decision to call on all the parties involved to resume dialogue.

I would like to make a few considerations following up on the speakers who have preceded me from the world of business, the voice of those who profitably and productively experience their life in the trenches in the relationship between Italy and Spain. I remember an important evening that Ambassador Sannino organised at the residence of the Italian Ambassador in Madrid precisely when the new Spanish Ambassador was being accredited here in Rome, with the attendance of a large number of businessmen. At that event, they gave me an extraordinary sensation: the sensation that these businessmen never for a second stopped feeling Italian, although they were at the same time proudly Spanish. Perhaps this sentence could be turned around to say: these businessmen to some extent now felt Spanish because their investment had instilled in them a great passion for Spain, without however ever dislodging from their heart or from their passports their Italian national identity.

All this does not surprise me at all, because Italy and Spain share a dialogue that comes from afar: it is the dialogue between two Mediterranean peoples that are not only united by a common sea but also by a history, an identity, and a religion that they share to a very large extent. Allow me to also make a personal consideration: I am Sicilian, Italian and European. The three things do not contradict each other. In my Sicily, at the heart of the Mediterranean, Spain had an extraordinary influence over five centuries, from the rule of the Kingdom of Aragon to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the dynasty of the Bourbons. In the ‘80s, the great Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia said that “for a Sicilian, to go in Spain is a continuous upswell of historical memory, a continuous surfacing of ties and correspondences” and that “it is sufficient to see the names: of towns, of streets”. If you go to Sicily, you find towns named Rivera, Aragona, Barcellona… Pozzo di Gotto.    

We have a common identity because it is a Mediterranean identity; this is why I think that the same thing happens when a Spaniard tours Italy. Walking through Palermo or Naples is like walking through the streets of Seville. Just think that the Milan darsena was commissioned and built by a Spanish governor in 1603. 

Perhaps it is no coincidence that precisely Sicily was chosen as the venue for a key meeting between Italy and Spain in 1986: a bilateral governmental meeting in Taormina. It was thirty-one years ago: the Italian Prime Minister was Craxi and the Spanish Prime Minister was Gonzalez. The communiqué released by Palazzo Chigi that I fished out of the records says: “the summit assumes a symbolic, in addition to substantial, importance because the talks will focus on the situation in the Mediterranean”. Today, just like then, the dialogue between Italy and Spain has a symbolic in addition to a substantial importance because it expresses the convergence of two important Mediterranean Countries on the need to put relaunching Europe and the Mediterranean back at the top of the agenda. I would like to add that there is now a personal touch in this dialogue because I think I can consider my colleague Alfonso Dastis not only a foreign minister and a great career diplomat, but also a friend: with him I had the opportunity of exchanging opinions during the most critical moments since we both became foreign ministers. We consulted each other on the solutions to pursue.   

These talks – because I consider these to be talks between companies, representatives of civil society and members of Government – are occurring at a very delicate time not only for Spain but for all of Europe. During the last decade, several factors have converged to put to a severe test the continuance of European ideals and institutions. In Italy we had the largest and longest economic crisis since the end of World War II: from 2007-2008 up to only a few months ago, which means that it lasted even longer than the second world war, an extremely long crisis and the most serious one in terms of refugees and immigrants. It also concerns Europe: think how many of them reached Germany in 2015. Right now, in Germany, there are more than 1.5 million refugees.

It has been the biggest crisis since the end of World War II and a threat to the security of our peoples and our Countries. The cities under assault are too many to list and the list of casualties and of the cities struck has grown even longer during the past few days. For the first time ever, a member of the European club has decided not to enter but to exit its gates. It is the sum total of a refugee crisis, an economic crisis, terrorist attacks on our capital cities, followed by Brexit.  

All this happened in less than ten years. From this point of view, Spain is one of those countries that deeply believes in European ideals and our work with Spain is crucial in order to be able to end this decade by asking ourselves what has changed in the set-up of institutions and political movements. In essence, a new distinction has been established: between those who think that Europe is the main part of the problem and those who think that Europe is the main part of the solution. Italy and Spain are proudly and staunchly located in this latter part of the pitch: the half of the field of those who think that, faced with the complex scenario of today’s Europe, and having to face such extraordinary macro-political variables, Europe continues to be an essential part of the solution and not of the problem. This distinction is spreading across the electorate, because when an economic crisis combines with a refugee crisis and the refugee crisis combines with a security crisis in European capitals, the context of all this is called “fear”. When people are faced with fear, they react in two different ways. The first is to consider Europe as the institutional place to “blow up” in order to solve the problems; the second is to consider it as the institutional place to reinforce and consolidate in order to solve the problems. Italy and Spain, from this point of view, walk together with an extraordinary conviction: whether you come from Tallinn, Palermo, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, or Paris, you are European and this belonging to an extended homeland makes you richer and safer.

We have experienced Europe as an extraordinary growth process. I belong to the first generation of Europeans who have only known peace; my father, who was born in 1936, experienced war when he was a child and the same is true for my grandfather and so on up the generations of my family: they all experienced war. My generation is the first to have only experienced peace and, at the same time, the prosperity deriving from an extraordinary choice of unity. This morning we named a room of the Farnesina after a great Italian ambassador, Egidio Ortona, who contributed to implement the Marshall Plan. I reflect on how the millions of people killed by European compatriots, never stood as an obstacle to making peace, walking together, and transforming Europe into a great Club. A Club in which there is no death penalty, there is freedom of movement, where European citizens can study in any Country, the free market is protected, and where now we don’t even have to pay for cell phone roaming, and much more. When you join this Club, peace is understood as a right and all this costs less than one euro a day.

This is the membership fee of this Club called Europe: less than one euro a day. This is the fact that I want to recall on the day in which entrepreneurs, the men and women in the trenches, reason on how to work together. I can say what you have already partly stated, namely that our trade volume is excellent, 40.5 billion euros, our exports to Spain rise 6% and Spain’s exports to Italy grow 5%, our economic cooperation is in an extraordinarily positive phase that still has room for improvement: we are both in our reciprocal top-5 trade partners.  

Allow me to thank Enrico for inviting me and for having organised this meeting. I have come to reaffirm the key element that seems to unite Italy and Spain today: we are Countries that have faith in Europe and have a sense of the common destiny of the European people. We are staunchly convinced that if we must respond to our people on their fear of the crisis, their fear of bombs, their fear of what is different from them, we can answer by saying that without Europe we would be poorer, less prosperous and less secure.

When we speak of Europe we also speak of the cooperation between intelligence services. When people build stone walls it becomes unimaginable to not also put up firewalls that block the exchange of information, making us less secure. And when we are obliged to put up our defences against the risk of neo-protectionism, one thing is to defend ourselves with the strength of 60 million Italian consumers and quite another to defend ourselves with the power of 500 million European consumers, thus having the capacity to react to the risk of customs duties. When we speak of the ongoing radical change in geopolitics, we are precisely speaking of the force of 500 million consumers and free citizens who reside in the largest space of legal order and liberties known up to now in history.

This is our Europe today. And Italy and Spain share a dual common destiny: the destiny of Europe and a natural Mediterranean vocation. It is a concept that I am personally very fond of. The Mediterranean is small compared to large oceans. Shut your eyes and imagine the world map: the Mediterranean is small, it’s as small as a lake. Giorgio la Pira used to say: “It is like the continuation of Lake Tiberias; yet, once again, that lake is where the destiny of the world unfolds”. Conversely, it represents 500 million consumers and a very large portion of global GDP, a large portion of maritime traffic and a very large portion of oil trade.    

All this translates into a Mediterranean vocation: we have two very strong reasons to stay together and we proved it when, together, on 6 July at the Farnesina, we tried to optimise our management of the flow coming from the Countries of Africa, through agreements with the Countries bordering with Libya.   

Before winding up, allow me to express my thanks to the organisers of this Forum of dialogue, because this is the road we must continue walking on. We sometimes hear people speak of axes within the European Union, to establish equilibria within its borders. I think that you can configure all the axes you want but if there is a bond, a connection, a link – as we would say in modern terms – well, that is the historical link that binds Italy and Spain and that no one will ever be able to delete, as it expresses itself in thousands of guises.

A few days ago, I went to New York to commemorate History and the part of heritage left to humanity by Cristopher Columbus, at the foot of his statue, precisely when certain values are questioned, and this is exactly what came to my mind: the common influence that we still have today. My thoughts drifted to Venezuela, but I could also mention other countries. The national identity of Italy and the national identity of Spain, almost merged into one, determine a large portion of the national identities of many Latin American countries. All this is what binds us together.  

Sometimes a sea divides and sometimes it unites. I think that between Italy and Spain lies a sea that unites and I think that this dual vocation, European and Mediterranean, is at once the history and the destiny not of two countries or of two governments but of two peoples. I think that the economic dialogue that we are promoting, also through the talks with business people, reminds us of a great lesson to be learnt from history: “When goods don’t cross borders, Soldiers will”. This is another task we must meet today: strengthen the economic ties between these countries with a clear destiny on their horizon and in which peace and prosperity walk hand in hand. It is with this hope that I participated in this meeting and I am convinced that this is the very same wish expressed by all of you and all of us. Thank you.

You might also be interested in..