Even as the spread emergency bites into the flesh of Italian economy like an insatiable monster, from his privileged observatory in the foreign ministry in Rome, Giulio Terzi sees an Italy with a much stronger voice in Europe and well-equipped to weather the financial crisis – on one condition: that the reforms the government has enacted are completed and consolidated and, at the same time, that all Italians, from the top down, understand that there needs to be a change of mentality. And after 2013? “I think we are seeing a regrouping of the electorate along fundamentally moderate lines. I think this is the future of our country”.
Mr. Minister, the spread sent shivers again yesterday, and rumours of an Italian-French-Spanish initiative, later denied, were certainly no help.
«I believe what that was all about was a normal ministerial council meeting in which the desire was confirmed to go forward on the decisions of the late-June European Council meeting, nothing more dramatic. As for your question, the greater concern is to modify negative market expectations, which, although intangible, are nevertheless highly perceptible. What I expect, and would welcome, is that the euro-zone demonstrated its solidity and the sustainability of the measures taken by the latest European Council. We are on the right course and, if we are able to work on our decisions’ power to communicate, some difficult weeks do still await us, but the conditions exist for a calmer autumn».
And yet many are saying that without growth all is lost. How is your ministry concretely addressing that aspect?
«The reforms already enacted have painted an important picture, within which I would like to underscore the centrality of the foreign ministry. My ministry has a mission to sustain the internationalisation of the Italian productive system, as well as of services, finances and the banking system. We have made decisive progress and it is no accident that, over the past ten years, despite a practically static GDP, exports have grown at an amazing rate to a current €368 billion. So, the reality is not only an economic one, but that we are a ministry of growth, one that fosters growth. Hundreds of Italian business persons are involved in this and, despite the evident distress, when it comes to seizing opportunities the motivation is clearly very strong».
There it is Mr. Minister: distress. How do you respond to those who are saying that the sacrifices are pointless since the markets have thumbed us down anyway?
«I have no intention of justifying anything, but it is clear that we are sailing in stormy seas. Italians have to be convinced that the route we’ve charted is the right one, and that we have to hold to it by employing our entire capacity as a system. By investing, for example, in education; our young people need to understand that there are opportunities, and they are considerable, but that the axis has shifted from the concept of a sure-thing to an increasingly competitive situation.
This makes a change of mentality compulsory; it’s hard, I realise that, but it is also essential. That change of mentality that has to include the public administration as well. I would point out that the foreign ministry has been going in this direction over recent years and, at the present moment, we consider ourselves as competitive with our European and world partners even with reduced resources. We are counting heavily on our young people and their professional expertise».
Mr. Minister, is it true that we are dependent on Germany, that either Merkel softens up or Italy sinks?
«The German constitutional court will issue a ruling a few weeks from now and we are all confident that it will be in favour of a fiscal compact and the ESM. During the latest European Council, Germany concurred with conclusions pointing in that direction. Together with France, Italy deems that summit’s conclusions a success. The mechanisms for halting speculation are there, the euro-zone is equipped to confront it. What is important is to strengthen the political aspect of European homogeneity».
Homogeneity, Mr. Minister? So it isn’t true that Berlin is only looking after its own interests?
«I do not believe that Germany has any substantially different interests that those of the other euro-zone partners in ensuring the continuity of the euro and strengthening our economies. Germany is interested in the stability of the system, not in undermining it or, even worse, breaking it up».
So the upshot is that Germany is aware that the euro crisis could backfire on it?
«It is extraordinarily aware of that».
But will Europe manage put up a unified front against the financial emergency? And given its debt, will Italy find itself playing a role or just watching from the sidelines?
«Sincerely speaking, it seems to me that what went on in the European negotiations shows exactly the opposite. And it also seems to me that, despite Italy’s 123% debt, our credibility was broadly recognized and accepted in Brussels. The three- or four-way summits have confirmed that, and will continue to do so. The results achieved have been acknowledged by the ECB, the IMF and the EU, and are our passport to a prominent place in Community negotiations».
But is a passport enough, or is something else needed: a policy of continuity with the actions of the Monti government even after 2013?
«That is a political task, and must be the focus of the parties that form and their agendas. There is no Lloyds that can insure against eventual involutions, but I think we can be reasonably certain that no electoral outcome will ever bring back the kind of political forces that pushed the country to the brink of the abyss where we found ourselves last November».