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Moavero: Make Euro great again (Il Foglio)

From Turkey to the Euro. From Europe to the budget bill. From immigration to the Fiscal Compact. From European elections to the sensitive issue of the reliability of a country like Italy. Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero is very well acquainted with the positions of Il Foglio on the ‘Government of Change’ and is also very familiar with the criticisms that this newspaper often addresses to the leading players of Italy’s first populist cabinet but, thanks to a sporting and constructive spirit, he accepts to have a chat with us and focus on several issues that are also divisive within the Government. Our conversation with Minister Moavero starts with current events and an important foreign policy news that was highlighted by all journalists yesterday: the financial crisis of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey which swept across European economies yesterday, including Italy (the credit spread rose to 267 basis points yesterday). We ask Mr Moavero what the sudden fall of the Turkish Lira (which plummeted to 13.5 percent against the dollar) can tell Italy and Europe and the minister’s answer comes loud and clear: “The first thought that comes to my mind is that of solidarity with an important country that is also a crucial actor in the trade and financial equilibria in the Mediterranean. A critical situation such as this is bad news for everybody and urges us all to be dutifully close and to keep an attentive eye on the possible short-term consequences of the fall of the Turkish Lira. What is going on in Turkey must make us ponder over a particular point that also concerns our continent: being inside a solid area like Europe, meaning thereby an area capable of having a strong single currency in several different States and of creating a protection network among those States in case of problems, is an advantage. By contrast, having a currency that exclusively refers to its domestic framework may not offer as many guarantees in the face of a financial crisis and of speculative attacks. What is happening in Turkey should be carefully evaluated by those who continue to doubt whether to have a currency like the euro is positive or not; for me it certainly is.” The Foreign Minister’s words bring us closer to Italy and to reason over an issue that cannot be overlooked by the Government of Change: the euro makes Italy less exposed to speculative attacks than the countries that do not have the euro. But, Il Foglio asks, is Italy really doing all it can to avoid making its citizens again go through a situation similar to the one experienced in 2011? “I witnessed that phase from close up as well as the efforts made to contribute to putting Italy’s finances back in order and I think I can say that 2011 has nothing in common with 2018. The situation of 2011 cannot be reproduced for at least two reasons. The first concerns the nature of that crisis, which was global and international and not of a single country. The second reason concerns the instruments that Europe did not have at the time but now has in order to tackle serious difficulties, especially thanks to the progress made through the action of the European Central Bank. If we want to be more specific, it should also be said that, compared to 2011, the most critical elements that continue to persist in our Country are linked to two basic weaknesses of the Italian economy: its high public debt and low growth rate. It is at least twenty, twenty-five years that all the governments have been in some way trying to overcome these problems and the current Government too has taken on the challenge of acting on these two fronts in order to keep speculative attacks at bay, should the case so require: less public debt, more growth. And, if I may add something, also more investment. Italy is a country that bears an unprofitable expense in terms of the interest paid on the accumulated public debt and must therefore urgently start encouraging investments again. I never only speak of public investments, which are important and will play a key role in the next Budget Bill, but I am referring to something that I consider to be more important: our capacity to encourage Italians to believe and invest in this Country.”   

“In order to do this – and we all know that Italy is a country with a large stock of private savings – it is necessary to work on a point that must become a priority for us: boost the sentiment of confidence.” However, we point out to Minister Moavero that the attempt to improve the sentiment of confidence in our Country is not doing too well right now. Compared to last March, the credit spread has risen by 150 basis points and this increase in the spread will weigh the next Budget bill down by approximately four billion euros. In addition, as pointed out by the Bank of Italy, investments for several tens of billions of euros are leaving our Country and nor are the Stock Exchange indexes too encouraging: -10% since the government was installed. Minister Moavero knows the problem and puts it down as follows: “I don’t think that when we speak about the spread, we are talking about something abstract that is remote from our lives. The credit spread indexes, just like Stock Exchange indexes, need to be carefully monitored because if the spread grows and the Stock Exchange falls, it is very bad news for all us Italians, for our savings, investments and our loan repayments. I perceive the problem: it is an issue not to be underestimated even if I think that it mostly depends on the climate of uncertainty that has taken shape in Italy during and after the 4th of March elections up to the instatement of the government. It is understandable that a phase of uncertainty can be followed by one of disorientation and we must work well in order to improve people’s perception of our reliability. If a Country is not reliable, it is unlikely to receive solid investments. This is what Italy needs now: not touch and go investments but investments that can give our Country new and real growth prospects.” And how does Minister Moavero, who was part of the Government that brought the bill in Parliament in 2012, see the Fiscal Compact? Is it a burden for Italy or a guarantee of reliability? “I think that the Fiscal Compact has now turned into a neutral instrument. I wouldn’t say it is an obstacle to growth and it serves to provide sounder guarantees to a Country’s public finances and its abolition would certainly not bring about any benefits. It would also be necessary to understand what the person wanting to abolish it has in mind. The simplest way of dodging current European regulations and of proposing changes thereto is to obtain the other members’ consent or exit Europe which, as the case of the United Kingdom has shown, is not exactly a good idea.”

A few days ago, Minister Moavero, ended up in the middle of a controversy with the Government’s two leading parties, the Lega and the Five Star Movement, at a ceremony to commemorate the Italian victims at the Marcinelle mine disaster with the following comment: “Let’s not forget that Marcinelle is also a tragedy of immigration. Let’s reflect on it now that so many people are coming to Europe. We do not underestimate the difficulty of managing such a phenomenon but let us not forget that our fathers and grandfathers were migrants.” Minister Moavero smiles and speaks of the incident: “On that occasion, I wanted to pay homage to the memory of our fellow Italians who died in the mining disaster of 62 years ago and the message that I tried to convey aimed to stimulate a moment of reflection, which I probably failed to get through. On the one hand, to recall how, after the Marcinelle tragedy, Europe decided to pass the first social policies that later assured the workers of the European Community greater, albeit insufficient, protection because the EU’s social policies have remained unaccomplished and we would need more solidarity, as we would also need more solidarity from Europe when we speak of migrants today. The second message was linked to something simpler: on migrants we need rules, we need solidarity, we need rigour but also humanity.” We ask Minister Moaverowhat, in his opinion, Europe lacks on the issue of immigration and the Foreign Minister answers the question by first mentioning “Schengen” and then “Dublin”. “I think that it is no longer acceptable that a European country be left alone to bear the brunt of the migration issue. Does Europe exist or not? And since I believe in Europe, I think that Europe has the duty of considering the migrants coming into a country not as an issue to be addressed by a single country but as an issue to be addressed by all of Europe. The problem does not only concern Italy but it also concerns the other countries more exposed to the migration phenomenon such as Spain and Greece and I think that if Europe truly believes in itself, it must behave consistently and accept our proposal: any migrant arriving in Europe does not arrive in one Country but arrives in Europe, in a community, and the ensuing burden must be shared, both in terms of controls and of relocations.” Putting it in a nutshell, Mr Minister: if we do not change the Dublin Regulation, is there a real risk of Schengen falling through? “The two things are not necessarily connected although it is true that the rigidity of that treaty puts Schengen at risk. I am proud of what Italy did at the latest European Council and I think that something might finally change: the burden is not only for one Country but for all countries to bear.” We point out to Minister Moavero that even the claimed “success” at the latest European Council has not changed a thing and that, as long as Europe’s solidarity is based on voluntary actions, it will be difficult to see Europe make a bigger show of solidarity. “The word ‘voluntarily’ is an expression that needs to be explained and, when speaking of migrants, the voluntariness does not arise from a European Council but from the wording of European treaties, which do not provide sufficient binding instruments. The point is clear: the voluntariness cannot be changed, the binding instruments are insufficient and what must change is how the problem is approached. Europe must be self-consistent and I think that we are on the right path.” Is it the right path the one taken to achieve this objective hand in hand with countries such as Hungary, which dream of increasingly unburdening themselves of the problems of immigration on Italy? “The countries belonging to the Visegrad Group are not cooperative and this is a problem for all EU States. Sometime in the future, we could even think of establishing a cooperative effort not only based on the redistribution of migrants but also on a better redistribution of economic burdens, but I refuse to think that Europe is willing to transform solvable problems into unsolvable problems: the issues to be tackled today are no more dramatic than the ones tackled when the European Communities were created after World War II and those who believe in Europe must make an effort to try to achieve the goal of greater cooperation.” And should this not happen, we ask Minister Moavero if it is possible to reason on the issue of migrants in terms of a two-speed Europe. Minister Moavero answers: “It’s possible; what is important is that Europe have a cooperative speed.” Our conversation with the minister winds up with a final consideration on a crucial deadline for Europe which coincides with the European elections next spring. Europe could then have a populist-driven Parliament led by the parties that have turned their Euro-scepticism into a point of strength and we ask the minister if, for a Europeanist on loan to a populist Government, a populist Parliament represents a risk or an opportunity. “I think that democracy must always be respected, regardless of the decisions of voters and I think that if European people vote in that direction, it will be good to do our best to convert this choice into an opportunity. Europe is stronger than it seems and I am sure that respecting, and not ignoring, the will of the people is the only way of reclaiming the dream of a stronger, more united and more solidarity-based Europe.”          

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