Destinazione Italia, the 50-step plan drawn up by the government to encourage international investors to invest in our country must, in Foreign Minister Emma Bonino’s view, lead to a reduction in unemployment. “An example of our readiness to attract foreign investors will be to open a priority channel in granting visas to people planning to create an innovative business in Italy”. In the meantime, Europe needs to strengthen its federal structure and stop creating red tape that obstructs its citizens.
Destinazione Italia has already attracted considerable criticism: what are its goals, and what are its chances of success?
“The first goal is to attract inward investment, which translates into growth and lower unemployment. We don’t want to attract just financial capital, but skilled human resources as well. Destinazione Italia is an ambitious project that we can no longer delay if we want to be defined as a normal country that makes life easier for foreign and Italian investors.
It is vital to create a more welcoming environment for businesses, an environment with certainty and predictability in terms of law, taxation, permits and the justice system. An example of the change will be to open a priority channel in granting visas to people planning to create an innovative business in Italy.
This will be accompanied by projects involving the most dynamic Italians worldwide, who represent an intellectual asset that we can draw on. And we need to create increasingly close synergies between the economy and cultural diplomacy”.
What can our diplomacy do to support business?
“The Farnesina manages a network of 400 offices abroad. It can, therefore, make a major contribution by fostering the presence and international image of Italian excellence. We’re modernising the diplomatic-consular network and strengthening it with specialist staff. The aim is to reach more attractive markets, markets that are more complementary to the Italian economy”.
Can you put that in more concrete terms?
“Through its offices abroad, the Foreign Ministry provides information on political and economic situation and on social issues, in short, on anything that can encourage fruitful investment. The Farnesina provides various instruments and initiatives to operators, in foreign governments and international organisations, to support the interests of Italian enterprises in penetrating markets, winning contracts and bids, making investments and managing problems. And then there is the work of informing businesses of opportunities and problem issues in foreign markets: an enormous mass of information placed at our companies’ disposal”.
Recently, in spite of the spending review cuts, you’ve opened a number of missions in crucial regions for the presence of Italian business, such as Chongqing in China. Which regions are you focusing on?
“Definitely the highest-growth markets, in Asia, South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Persian Gulf. But without losing sight of the need to cultivate our links with the EU and the United States. We will also continue to follow events in the Middle East very closely. Today it’s a region in the grip of political turmoil, but one in which we have strong economic interests”.
What do you tell your counterparties to convince them that Italy is a country to invest in?
“I never tire of telling my counterparts that Italy has spheres of excellence in all economic sectors, excellence that we often don’t capitalise on sufficiently. We have a lot of ground to make up. And it is for precisely that reason that we’ve launched Destinazione Italia. In just a few weeks it will be translated into precise legislative provisions and, we hope, into a marked improvement in terms of transparency and making it easier to obtain permits to do business. As soon as I arrived in the Farnesina I set a priority for myself: to take firm action in the economic diplomacy sphere for the internationalisation not just of our businesses but of Italy as a whole, with its universities, cultural network, and social reality.”.
What do you think of the austerity debate in Europe?
“Certain signals suggest that the situation in the financial sector has improved compared with the most acute stage of the sovereign debt crisis.
But implementing austerity policies simultaneously in all of the Eurozone countries has not had positive effects on the real economy. The most direct consequences have been a weakening of internal demand and high levels of unemployment, especially among young people, in nearly all of the member states. That creates an urgent need to take firmer action to achieve a recovery of growth in Europe, with the focus on jobs for young people.
More generally speaking, however, we need to redefine the European economic model, to ensure that it is not seen purely as austerity and constraints. Rigorous policies cannot be considered as an absolute and unavoidable goal but as one of the factors needed if we are to achieve sustainable economic growth and prosperity for European citizens.
In my opinion, the only concrete response to Europe’s difficulties is the federal one. It’s the only solution to bring European citizens closer to Europe by reducing the risk of an over-representation of the populist parties and, at the same time, giving a new impetus to the debate on the future of the Union. On this topic, the forthcoming European elections are a historic opportunity that we must not fail to grasp”.
And what role can Italy play in Europe?
“Italy is one of the great founding members of the EU, the Union’s second industrial economy, and the third in terms of GDP. We’ve been key participants in all of the major stages of European integration, which have led to the creation of a region that today has over 500 million inhabitants. Italy believes strongly in European integration as the only option that can guarantee development and peace. We clearly cannot hide the challenges that await us on the road to a better European Union. An EU that is closer to citizens’ needs and concerns, more integrated to tackle the major challenges of our times (sustainable growth, development, the environment, migration, research and innovation). And an EU that is less intrusive in matters of detail that can be better addressed at the local level”.
An important milestone on the road ahead is the renewal of the European Parliament.
“That must be an opportunity for a major debate on the choices to be made on the future of Europe. We also intend, during the Italian Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2014, to reflect on the institutional framework of the Union. Europe must once again be seen as a source of opportunities and growth, and not just of constraints. Some of the initiatives already taken by the Italian Government in the European sphere in recent months – I’m thinking here of the European programme for youth employment – are focused precisely in that direction”.