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Address by the Hon. Minister Alfano at the Meeting of the Officers and Experts of the Guardia di Finanza on duty abroad

Farnesina, 12 February 2018

(The authentic text is only the one actually spoken)


Secretary General Belloni,

General Toschi, Dear Officers and Experts,

I have the great honour for the second consecutive year to welcome you to the Farnesina for the Meeting of the Officers and Experts of the Guardia di Finanza on duty abroad.

In the more than one year since I took office as Foreign Minister, I too have been able to appreciate on the ground – in my international missions – the extraordinary commitment of the “Yellow Flames” in the world. It is a centuries-old engagement supporting diplomatic missions: from the epic missions by Major Melloni in Africa in 1886 and Major Gemmi in Greece in 1900, down to the latest ones in Albania, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Haiti and Libya. 

A few days ago, in this same hall, we held the Second International Conference on the Countries of Transit, dedicated to the migration flows in the Mediterranean. In this context too, there is the crucial work done by the Guardia di Finanza, for example in Operation TRITON, which was later replaced by Operation THEMIS, which were conducted in cooperation with the European Agency FRONTEX.  In these operations, on the one hand we witnessed Italy’s solidarity with those who risk facing tragedy in the waters of the Mediterranean. On the other hand, we saw their great attention for the safety of our citizens. “Solidarity and Security” was the motto of the Rome Conference. Solidarity because we have the duty to save human lives at sea. Security because we have always acted with firmness and determination to identify and expel extremists who disrespect our values and liberties.   

In particular, at the Conference, I highlighted the centrality of our efforts to defeat organised crime and terrorist organisations that make a profit from the trafficking of human beings and other illegal trafficking. It is a commitment that is made possible thanks to the very close cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Guardia di Finanza, which is based on a sense of responsibility and concrete action.

Our day-to-day work, conducted together, is essential for peace and security, especially in a priority area like the Mediterranean: from combating terrorism financing to fighting money laundering, tax evasion and corruption, and to countering the smuggling of archaeological finds in areas of conflict.

Allow me to above all congratulate you for the excellent training and capacity building activities you are providing to the forces of the customs police, border police and finance police (at the School for the Finance Police in Ostia and the Training and Specialisation School in Orvieto). It is an expertise that our partners envy us for and that significantly contributes to institution building. This is our real challenge for the future. There are States that will have to be rebuilt, like Libya and Syria. We will have to be ready the moment the violence dies down. Mind you: we do not intend to export democracy but we want to provide the tools to make democracy immune to viruses.

Institution building and being aware of the good functioning of institutions are a cultural vaccine against totalitarianisms and corruption, which takes resources away from growth. The cost of corruption in the world is estimated to amount to more than 5% of global GDP. It is not only a question of ethics. We simply cannot afford for enormous resources to be taken away from development. Corruption deprives Africa of nearly 150 billion dollars a year. Therefore, the challenge is to assist our partner Countries in mobilising their domestic resources and become more effective in their tax collection, systematically combating corruption and tax evasion.    

Today Italy is in the forefront in international actions to combat corruption and all forms of deviance in public activities. The Italian model – from the perspective of legislative regulation and the functioning of the judicial and administrative system – raises great interest abroad. From this point of view, the Foreign Ministry, with the contribution of the network of Officers and Experts of the Guardia di Finanza, is developing an action that we have defined as “anti-corruption diplomacy”. On the one hand, it aims to promote bilateral and multilateral initiatives to support a legality-oriented economic environment, in which our enterprises may compete in conditions of transparency and equality, for example in international tenders. On the other hand, in order to safeguard the Country’s image and reputation with initiatives aimed at narrowing the existing gap between the perception of Italy abroad and the reality of our legal and economic system, in which anti-corruption measures are stronger than what is normally believed, both in Italy and worldwide. We have devoted a session of today’s meeting to make an in-depth analysis of these issues.

Also with a view to combating tax evasion and elusion, it is thanks to your contribution, in support of our diplomatic network, as well as in multilateral forums like the OECD, and at bilateral level, that we have entered into new agreements on taxation, double taxation agreements, enhanced information exchanges and cooperation between investigation and judicial Authorities. Without overlooking the cooperation of priority importance between the Foreign Ministry and the Guardia di Finanza to combat the counterfeiting of “Made in Italy” products on international markets. We have also dedicated one of today’s sessions to make an in-depth analysis of this issue.

At the same time, our most insidious common challenges include combating terrorism. Tomorrow I will attend the Ministerial Meeting of the Global Coalition against Daesh in Kuwait City (13 February) and, a few days later, the Munich Security Conference (16-17 February). Allow me to make a few considerations.

There is no doubt that we must be proud of our work within the Coalition. As its second-largest contributor, Italy has played an important role in defeating Daesh in Iraq and subsequently in Syria. But we know – only too well – that it is not enough to destroy terrorism at military level. After losing its territory, Daesh has gone back to operating as a transnational terrorist organization, and as long as it has the capacity to finance itself, it will continue to be a threat to our security.

In Kuwait City and Munich, I will therefore continue to stress the need to disrupt financial flows to Daesh and to other terrorist organisations. It is a commitment that Italy pursues, also thanks to the contribution of the Guardia di Finanza, both within the Coalition Counter ISIL Finance Group, that we co-chair together with the United States and Saudi Arabia, and within the Financial Action Task Force (GAFI/FATF).    

The issues mentioned up to now are themes that I have emphasised throughout 2017 and in particular during our seat on the UN Security Council and in the Italian Presidency of the G7. In 2018 we will have another important opportunity: our Chairmanship-in-Office of the OSCE and, also in this context, the very close cooperation between our diplomacy and the Guardia di Finanza will prove to be crucial.

Allow me to once again underscore the crucial role of the Guardia di Finanza in applying sanctions. We live in an increasingly complex “world of sanctions”. Greater use is now made of this instrument in coercive diplomacy. You help us to apply them correctly and thereby gain credibility and a leadership role at international level.

We also live in a safer world and Institutions have greater responsibility than in the past in reassuring citizens, not with words but through actions. And you know this well, because taking action is the essence of your mission. And you know equally well that in order to fight corruption or terrorism it is no longer sufficient to conduct joint operations; we need more training and more capacity building activities. Above all, you need to establish closer dialogue and deeper cooperation with your counterparts on shared values and fundamental liberties.  

By “cooperation” I obviously mean “cooperation built on trust”. Otherwise, cooperation remains something superficial and ineffective. Indeed, allow me to say that your primary goal abroad is to establish trusting relationships.

I greatly confide in you because opting for the armed forces means choosing to harbour the Italian flag in your hearts. And those, like you, who perform their mission abroad are also a fundamental building block of our foreign policy.

Let me conclude by renewing my gratitude for your important and widely appreciated work in the world.