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Gentiloni: “EU to be renewed against domino effect” (Il Messaggero)​

“The night seemed to get off to a good start with a victory for ‘Remain’. Instead we woke up to this most unpleasant surprise. David Cameron made a mistake when he proposed a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should or should not leave the European Union, but now the vote must be respected. Great Britain is to ​initiate the separation procedures as soon as possible as laid out in Article 50 of the Treaty.” After yesterday morning’s meeting at Palazzo Chigi, Foreign Affairs Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, flew to Luxembourg where he had lunch with his (still 27) colleagues. British Minister Philip Hammond was not present. “In his stead was an undersecretary who introduced the discussion with an earnest and regretful tone. He was, visibly, exhausted….!”   
Minister, did you expect this rift to be caused by Great Britain?
“Considering the last few days, in particular the performance of the Stock Exchange and financial markets on the day before the referendum, and tragically also the possible effects of Jo Cox’s murder, there was widespread optimism that ‘Remain’ would prevail. Now all we can do is take stock, with regret, of the outcome and tackle the issue of how we react? It is not enough to defend what we have or say: well, the United Kingdom has left, let’s the 27 of us go ahead. Here, we can’t say: business as usual.”
What needs to change in Europe?
“The European Union is still the European Union, even with 27 Countries. It has 440 million inhabitants, it is the great result of the work done by generations of people. But what has happened must not be played down. The United Kingdom was not just one of the 28, it had great bearing. I am thinking of the financial markets and of its importance on the international scene. The first issue is how to manage the separation process and the second is the future, the design of a new architecture for the Union”.
Why should Great Britain leave the EU as quickly as possible?    
“This is the main message that with the French and German Ministers we have addressed to the British: there is a procedure that regulates the exit from the Union and we expect London to activate it promptly.”
But why?
“A referendum was held, the will of the electorate needs to be respected and we cannot spend too much time on unknown ground concerning if, when and how to separate. Lingering in unknown territories would, on the one hand extend the instability of the markets, and on the other weaken the EU at a time when Europe needs strength and clarity: in other words, it would not be a good thing to drag on discussions on how and when to file the divorce papers. I do hope that some of the statements made by the UK government on the timeframe for the exit are the outcome of the understandable uncertainty caused by the shock of the defeat.” 
What would the time frame be?
“Since it is not an expulsion procedure, it is up to the country that has decided to leave to inform Brussels on its decision. The separation procedure is regulated by the treaty and the stakes involved are a great many and are important given the bearing they have on trade, on the relationships between the citizens and on other aspects. But it is up to the British government to initiate the procedure.”    
Matteo Salvini has in mind a referendum to change the treaties and propose that Italy should leave the EU…
“The rule that referendums cannot be used to amend the treaties is a constitutional rule, hence these statements are mere propaganda. But over and above the threats to use the referendum as a weapon, I certainly will not underestimate the risk that the British example may affect other countries including Italy. This is such a high risk that a strong and clear message needs to be sent out confirming the soundness of the EU edifice.
Regarding some of the European dossiers, recently Italy and Great Britain were on the same page. What now?
“This is a role that is bound to grow which means that now we have more responsibilities. Before there were four main players, now there are three.”
Will the slap on Europe’s face by British citizens help the requests Italy has been making, for instance with regard to flexibility?
“This is the challenge we will be facing in the next few months. There is a building with 28 tenants, one leaves … The building is still standing but it needs some renovation, otherwise it will become more and more inhospitable. Europe is evidently suffering from the lack of common policies on growth and on immigration, and Italy has made some concrete proposals on both fields. As to the institutional architecture, there are different levels of unity and integration: countries with a single currency, Schengen countries, and others. On Italy’s initiative, the six founding countries have started a series of meetings, the next will be held in Berlin tomorrow [Editor’s note: today for readers], not to cry out in the desert, but to propose joint policies on economic growth and on migration on the one hand, and on defining a Europe structured into concentric circles on the other, namely a Europe capable of giving meaning and democratic legitimacy to different levels of integration.”
What did you speak about with Philip Hammond?
“Philip Hammond fought to remain with the EU, and I acknowledged his efforts, but unfortunately the result cannot be denied. It is bitter to note that the referendum was an initiative taken by the prime minister who then lost it. We spoke about the time it will take to initiate the exit procedure”. 
How will things be different for Italians who study and live in Great Britain?
“In the short term, nothing. In the next two years, that is a reasonable time frame for defining new relationships between the European Union and this special third country, namely the United Kingdom, we will be holding discussions on this. One of the core issues of the negotiations will be how to regulate the movement of people and the new trade rules. We will defend the businesses that operate in the UK and the people who work there, and we will work out advantageous solutions for both sides. The rights acquired by our fellow citizens will however be preserved.”
Many people now suggest that the domino effect will not only cause the European edifice to collapse, but will affect the October referendum in Italy, that is to say the Brexit will induce more people to vote ‘no’ at our referendum on the Constitution….
“I do not see the connection. If anything, in the dislike for the EU there is an intolerance of its red tape and poor decision-making capacity. The referendum goes in the direction of streamlining bureaucracy, reducing the number of parliamentarians and clarifying the relationships between State and Regions.”