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GENTILONI «Growth and defence: we must react and take strong decisions. It is our last chance».

Minister Gentiloni, former Italian Ambassador to the U.S., Giovanni Castellaneta, warns that with Trump at the White House Italy and Europe will no longer be able to count on the USA as in the past years. Are you convinced of that too?

“We will cooperate with the president-elect. The U.S. is our number one ally. It is difficult now to understand the extent to which President Trump will be different from candidate Trump. Personally, I don’t believe that America will fall back into a 1930s-type of isolationism, which was then only stopped by Pearl Harbor. I rather imagine the United States being more focused on their own economic interests.”

With a fallout on the relationship with the EU and with Italy…

“Not only; potentially also on relations with China and other partners. But one thing is to say ‘America first’ and promise to bring back jobs and another thing is to revolutionise international trade relations. The level of interdependence is such that it would hamper the success of unilateral actions: China owns a decisive portion of America’s debt. I am more worried by political and cultural consequences that cannot translate into immediate economic or diplomatic decisions. We have lived through years in which some people went to the point of describing national sovereignty as being made obsolete by multinationals and integrated global communications. Today I’m afraid we’re heading in the opposite direction, with hyper-sovereignism spreading in various areas of the world. This is a worrying perspective for those who, like me, believe that globalisation will positively evolve into an integrated liberal world, provided that it is capable of bridging many of the existing inequalities.”      

With Trump we would need a more compact and stronger European Union.  

“The European Union has received two wake-up calls: Brexit and Trump’s election. A reaction occurred but it was partial and shy. Some little steps have been taken in the direction of a European defence system, towards no longer considering economic growth policies a heresy and on migration policies. These decisions were decisively or exclusively driven by the Italian government in an attempt to pull the European Union out of its most serious crisis in 60 years.”

We need more stamina, greater determination.

“To use a euphemism…if this crisis does not produce a strong reaction, it risks becoming Europe’s last stop. At that point stamina will no longer be enough.”

Trump, Putin, China. Europe looks like a clay pot.  

“It is divided and risks becoming irrelevant, as Helmut Schmidt warned. But the point is not worrying about Trump. It is having policies on defence, immigration and economic growth, capable of giving credibility to the EU’s role in the world. If we only rack our brains over Trump we are completely off track. If we work on coming up with answers, we would be doing our job.”

What are the steps to be taken towards a common defence system?

“After Brexit, together with Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti, I proposed a Schengen-like agreement for Europe’s defence, of which the Italian government has always been the staunchest supporter. After 20 years of chitchat something is finally moving. Some progress was made at last Monday’s Foreign Ministers meeting. But we can do more: Italy, France, Germany and Spain could rely on the articles providing for the permanent cooperation to be made stronger among a select number of countries. In the upcoming few weeks, the Foreign and Defence Ministers of these countries will hopefully meet again to take tangible decisions.”

Trump sees NATO almost as a “gift” of the U.S. to Europe. Are you alarmed by the possible consequences?

“NATO is not an American charitable organisation but is a cooperation between the two shores of the Atlantic. Our most challenging NATO mission in the last 15 years has been in Afghanistan, organised on the basis of the article that provides for the joint defence of a Country under attack. That Country is the United States: this commitment has been very costly not only in economic terms but also in human lives, including for Italy. I’m recalling this not because I want to present anybody with the bill but to remind us all that 70 years have passed since the Americans liberated Europe and the scene has changed. Of course, Europe’s defence must be enhanced.”   

Do you fear a Trump-Putin axis in the Middle East?

“Italy would be the first to rejoice over a more fruitful dialogue between the U.S. and Russia. But I don’t think that a radical change is possible in America’s policies in that theatre. In Syria, for example, I don’t see a strange Washington-Moscow-Damascus-Teheran alliance as probable. In this case too, let’s give the Trump Administration time to take office and take charge of the foreign policy.”

Europe remains unpopular among Italians: only 38% think that the EU is beneficial for Italy. In the meantime, Mr Renzi is using harsh and controversial tones with the EU. Isn’t this harmful?

“I don’t like this use of adjectives. I think that Italy finally has a role in Europe’s dynamics. From the time of Barroso’s presidency, Europe has taken a weak role and a harmful road for Italy. For years we refrained from reacting, also because we were tackling a very serious economic crisis. The present Government has improved the economic situation and has acquired the right to speak up in European decision-making, as in the immigration crisis and the Fiscal Compact, which we were forced to endure during the last ten years, and that we are now trying to correct.”

Surveys say that the No vote will win in the referendum. Does this worry you?

“In the U.S. and across Africa and Europe, there is the idea that Italy is laboriously climbing back on top. Not everybody is an expert in Article 70 of the Constitution: they see the risk of stopping the process of reforms and economic recovery. But I am optimistic and confide in the wisdom of our voters, who will thwart this risk.”  

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