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Gentiloni: “From EXPO to Libya, Italy no longer marginal” (Il Sole 24 Ore)

Italy’s voice remains strong and much appreciated within the international community. Not only thanks to the Milan EXPO, which has placed the spotlight on our country’s excellence, but also for our contribution to European integration and dialogue with Russia, as well as to the resolution of various crisis from Libya to the North African migrant exodus. That was Minister for Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni’s message in an interview for daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

A message in which he underscored the Renzi government’s 220-million euro plan to promote the Made in Italy brand both in Italy and abroad.

A day does not go by that you don’t point out the dangers of the Libyan crisis, the exodus of migrants in the Channel of Sicily and the threats associated with the expansion of ISIS toward Europe’s borders. Is the timeframe for a new UN resolution compatible with the seriousness of the crisis?

The UN’s timeframe for a resolution is not so long, even though the operation has a certain level of complexity. We will know in ten days or so whether the draft prepared by Italy, and presented (as pen holder) by the United Kingdom and on which France, UK, Spain and Lithuania have already agreed, will be accepted by the other 11 members of the Security Council, beginning with those permanent ones with veto power. From the results of Federica Mogherini’s contacts and ours, I do not see objections in principle from the United States; nor from Russia and China. Achieving consensus on a text is never simple.

Does the draft resolution explicitly mention using force on smugglers and boats?

It makes specific reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter on the use of force.

But the fact remains that Italy is being left alone in Europe to confront the exodus of migrants. The latest European Council did not change the situation but only decided to increase the Triton mission’s resources.

The EU Council of 23 April granted Italy’s request for the contribution of sea and air support from a dozen or so countries. The commitment to save human lives in the Mediterranean cannot be solely an Italian one. Additional steps are needed to strengthen reception since existing laws let European ships unload migrants at the nearest ports, i.e. Greece, Malta and Italy. We have saved 35,000 migrants since the beginning of this year, 10% more than last year.  Contributions to reception also need to be strengthened because that too is a European problem and the answer to it is not only Italian. The problem is destined to last for years, and to reduce its impact it is going to be necessary to stabilise Libya, which is the current floodgate for migrant traffic. Negotiations over the formation of a new Libyan government can succeed, but it has to be soon. The timeframe is limited: an agreement has to be forthcoming in the next 30 to 40 days, if not the violence and terrorism risks escalating.

Is the UK electoral outcome a bad sign for Europe?

The question of Europe was not the focal point of the British elections, but rather economic issues, regional dynamics and immigration. Cameron has promised a referendum on withdrawal from the EU within 2017. I hope and trust that the conservative government, referendum or no referendum, supports the UK’s remaining in the EU. Leaving would be a disaster for the British economy as well as for the Union. It is by now a proven reality that major nations such as the UK and Poland participate in economic integration even without being part of the Eurozone.

You will be in Moscow today to take part in the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Nazi Fascism, but will not participate in the military parade. Why not?

You cannot erase history, and the then-USSR’s contribution to liberating Europe from Nazi Fascism cannot be forgotten. The Italian government will not be participating in the military parade because we cannot pretend that the Crimea annexation did not happen and that the Ukraine crisis is ongoing. A position that we share with France. Chancellor Merkel will be in Moscow tomorrow.

It is a fact that many Italian and European firms are urging the sanctions against Russia be loosened, which may be discussed on Monday at the Farnesina during the conference on networks for the promotion of firms abroad. But as regards domestic reforms, isn’t there still much to be done to adapt the diplomatic network to the need for internationalisation?

Internationalisation is one of our diplomatic network’s top priorities. Our ambassadors are playing a leading role in the promotion of businesses along with other segments of the Italian system abroad. The Renzi government has set up operations involving the Farnesina and the Ministry of Economic Development for the promotion of Made in Italy. Our firms’ export performance is there for all to see. Italy has a major manufacturing surplus and maintains its share of the market better that other European countries. Resources are still insufficient for achieving what are ambitious goals, but the 2015-2017 3-year plan for the promotion of Made in Italy and the investments incentives we are working on with Deputy Minister Calenda includes 220 million euro.

Six months from now, what will remain of the investment in EXPO apart from its international showcase?

What will remain will be millions of visitors’ memory of a wonderful experience of Italy; the fruit of thousands of business and institutional encounters involving over 100 foreign countries, some of which with multiple pavilions, such as China’s three. The EXPO’s political message regarding the quality of food and sustainable agriculture will remain. A message that we will deliver to Ban Ki-moon on 16 October.