Italy’s diplomacy is facing up to the challenges of globalisation in order to defend national interests, promote Italy’s “soft power” and improve the presence of our products in the Far East, Africa and Latin America. Italy intends to remain loyal to the three great pillars consisting of the United Nations, NATO and EU without however creating a breach in Europe’s relationship of solidarity with China and Russia. These are the thoughts expressed by Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi in this interview to the Sole 24 Ore. The Minister expresses his opinions ahead of the 13th Conference of Ambassadors, which is opening today with opening remarks by the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella.
The Conference of Ambassadors will provide the opportunity to reflect on the role of our diplomatic network in defending national interests, a concept repeatedly brought up by the ‘yellow-green’ (translator’s note: Lega-5 Star Movement) majority. Do you see more elements of continuity or of discontinuity with Italy’s past foreign policy positions?
In my opinion, our foreign policy has three pillars of reference represented by three complex international organisations of which the Republic has long-sightedly been a member since the very beginning. The first pillar is the UN and its connected multilateral system. The second is NATO, a military alliance between States that share the ideals of liberty and democracy and that hinges on the special friendship with the United States, a strategically important ally and our third-largest trade partner. The third pillar is the European integration process, spanning from the original Economic Community to the present-day European Union, whose scope has been greatly enlarged. I see European integration as a sort of “Phase 2” of our national unification, somewhat of a completion of our Risorgimento, as Giuseppe Mazzini had intuitively envisioned. These three Organisations keep the value of their ideals intact. However, their operational outlook greatly depends on the capacity to reform them and Italy must contribute to the process with constructive initiatives.
Global challenges and the new multi-polar world are radically changing the way of doing foreign policy and even the very role of Ambassadors. What are, according to you, the changes that are having the greatest impact? And what are the priority actions and renovations on which Italy’s foreign policy should focus?
We are in a phase of radical change in the contexts and relations that depend on foreign policy; a phase that is peculiar because of the unusual and constantly fast-changing dynamics. The term “globalisation” helps us to single out the main driver of our current times but it is not sufficient. There is greater interdependence and an unprecedented immediacy and fluidity, especially in investments. This is the reason why I think that Italy’s foreign policy should act to find autonomous lines of action consistent with our priority interests. I will mention three: turn Italian ports into the final destination and “Gateway to Europe” of the long maritime shipping routes that start in the Far East (Japan, South Korea and China) and cross Southeast Asia, now in its full economic boom. The second line of action concerns Africa, our good relations, old and new, with its States and the complementarity between their fast-growing and our mature economies, but that still have much to offer. The third line of action leads us to nurture our relations with the Latin American Countries with which we have close cultural affinities and which are now highly dynamic.
When talking about Italy, reference is often made to our leadership in the so-called “soft power”. How can we transform it into a competitive advantage in our dialogue, also political, with our principal partners?
Allow me to give you some figures: Italy has the world’s eighth-largest GDP, the seventh-largest manufacturing industry and the fifth-largest manufacturing trade surplus; in these last two rankings, we are second in Europe. This means that our industry is highly competitive and that free trade is vital for us. We must continue to put our stakes on the quality of industrial and agricultural products, invest, innovate, patent products, boost our service sector in key areas of activity and modernise the relative infrastructure. Moreover, in order to succeed in the world, it is essential to be perceived as an appealing and reliable negotiating counterparty. And this is where the positive image that we enjoy comes to play a key role: we are usually not seen as being despotic, nor as aspiring to be domineering and our products are instinctively associated with being pleasant and are appreciated for their high technical quality. In addition, our having been a crossroads of culture and art for centuries is also very helpful.
The crisis of multilateralism, 75 years after the Bretton Woods Agreement, configures unprecedented scenarios with the two dominant superpowers, the United States and China, increasingly confronting each other in a multi-polar situation in which Europe appears to be in great distress. Doesn’t Italy’s recent position in favour of China and Russia risk undermining European solidarity?
Italy’s position on China and Russia is not at all different from the European Union’s. There is much talk about it but the facts prove that our positions are aligned; indeed, on taking a closer look, other EU States have long been having closer relations and larger trade volumes with these two Countries than us. I have said this before but maybe it is useful to repeat it: we are staunch and loyal allies of the United States and, if faced with concerns of security, we have absolutely no doubt that the Government’s duty to its citizens is to give these utmost priority over other interests, albeit legitimate, of a commercial or economic nature.
Italy’s leadership role in the stabilisation of the Mediterranean is acknowledged by principal international players. Doesn’t placing most of the focus on the migration issue risk overshadowing the rest of the work that is being done on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean?
I wouldn’t call it the “migration issue” because large migration flows are one of the most relevant phenomena of these past few years. Within the European Union, it is an extremely divisive issue, and Governments are divided instead of cooperating with a spirit of solidarity. Italy has put several ideas on the table, some of which I proposed myself, with a view to achieving an orderly management of migration. Italy is located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea: whatever happens there is crucially important for us. There continue to be tensions and conflicts: in the Middle East, in North Africa and particularly in Libya, in the nearby area of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. In the light of our geographical position and the role that we are entitled to, it is our duty to facilitate and promote balanced solutions and, to this end, favour an inclusive dialogue. The goal is still that of peace and stability although, once again, security comes first.