Italians are being accused – worldwide – of spreading the Covid-19 infection, like or even more than the Chinese, and no-one seems to care whether it’s true or not, it’s what many people around the world are thinking and it won’t be easy to change their idea of us. No less than seventeen countries have closed their borders to Italian travellers and dozens of airline companies are reconsidering their flight plans to and from Italy, from Lufthansa to EasyJet, from Delta to American Airlines. We risk international isolation. Maybe we have already been isolated, and, to be honest, this is rather frightening. The Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, who yesterday afternoon was on the phone with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in this interview with La Stampa speaks about the plans the Government intends to put into place to tackle the effects of the coronavirus crisis and warns Italy’s international partners of «a strong response, in the event of any senseless boycotts against our country».
Minister Di Maio, the world is looking at us as a plague-ridden country. They see businesses closing down and a paralysed economy.
«We are engaged in tackling a delicate situation and time is of the essence. We are putting into place instruments and actions aimed at protecting businesses and the tourism industry. Today, I have called a special meeting on the export situation at the Foreign Ministry. We intend to allocate over 600 million euros to support our enterprises, money that will be used for a new strategy to boost Italian products and trade worldwide. Our priority is to support our economy».
From Israel to the Antilles, the number of countries that are closing their borders to us is unnerving.
«The worldwide circulation of fake news is seriously damaging this Country. Distorted information has been put out there at an alarming rate. This is why the Government has also approved a plan to sent out correct information and real figures abroad. The press too has a fundamental role to play, in this respect. I find irritating, of course, that some countries are denying access to our fellow citizens for no proven reason. We intend to respond to any nonsensical bias or boycotts, because Italy, and every single Italian, deserves and demands respect. At the Foreign Ministry we are taking the necessary steps to request the lifting of any unjustified boycotts. Furthermore, we have also clearly requested that these boycotts against Italy be included in the agenda of the next Foreign Affairs Council».
The US President Donald Trump has used a simple message to tranquillise the American people: no panic. In Italy, we’re behaving like characters in a disaster film, it’s all panic, panic, panic.
«From the onset, the Government, and the Foreign Ministry, have adopted a policy of ensuring maximum transparency, domestically and abroad. All levels within the institutions are duty-bound to provide correct and responsible information, communicating with the right tone. We are taking this crisis seriously and tackling it accordingly, putting the health of the Italian people first and foremost. We must also send out a clear signal to our businesses: the Government is working and is tirelessly engaged in putting into place all the necessary measures for reviving the economy in the shortest possible time. I’d like to remind you that, since last week, we are sending out detailed reports to our embassies, with the correct figures and information concerning the Covid-19 outbreaks in our country, which are then passed on to the foreign Governments».
On Friday, no less that 46 regional and national ordinances had been issued, without counting the many other decrees and circulars. No wonder people are ransacking the supermarkets.
«The President of the Local Government Association, Antonio Decaro, has called on local governments not to take any independent decisions and to ensure that all actions are decided in accordance with the national coordination body. The Government too is also actively liaising with the regional authorities. This is no time for arguments and contention. There’s absolutely no need for binge-shopping. We all need to act rationally».
32% of our GDP comes from exports, 10% from tourism and 20% from foreign investments. How can we protect these economic achievements?
«As Foreign Minister, I am committed to keeping up these figures. You are aware of the fact that I have transferred foreign trade matters to the Foreign Ministry, which will enable us to intervene with less red tape and to provide more useful instruments. How can we protect these achievements? By spreading knowledge of the beauty of Italy and the excellence of our products around the world. We need to show the world who we are».
According to the International Monetary Fund, a worldwide recession is on the horizon and the OECD has forecasted zero growth for Italy.
«I think we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Over the last few days the Government has launched the first useful measures for tackling this stage. We are also working on new measures to help businesses and, ultimately, the Italian economy as a whole. Every useful option will be considered and implemented».
Can the new wave of migrants on the Turkish border, combined with the coronavirus crisis, trigger the perfect storm over Europe?
«This week, an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council will be held to tackle this problem. In Europe we are working together and I can assure you that there is the intention to find solutions, not create new problems».
Is President Erdogan blackmailing the EU?
«There is no blackmail. We need dialogue to find solutions».
Is the coronavirus fear playing into the hands of the souverainistes and populists?
«Do you seriously believe that the coronavirus epidemic will be contained by certain souverainistes interested only in seeking the attention of the media? I think not. They are saying things at odds with what the regional presidents from their own party are doing. Now is the time for reason, not propaganda. This is the difference between certain parties and us: they like to play with words, we like to use reason».
In an interview with La Stampa the former Prime Minister, Mario Monti, declared: «The governments, in recent years, have been more focused on earning votes than working to achieve growth», with a reference to the “Quota 100” pension reform and the “reddito di cittadinanza” income supplement measures.
«I respect everybody and don’t respond to provocation. All I want to say is that our Movement is delivering on every single point of our election manifesto, regardless of the opinion polls. Our focus is on measures like the “quota 100” pension reform, the “reddito di cittadinanza” low income supplement, the anti-corruption law, the “dignity decree” and many more besides, not on gaining votes».
How is Europe reacting to Italy’s request to tackling the crisis with deficit spending for almost 4 million?
«Italy is one of the founding Countries of the EU and the EU is founded on the principle of solidarity. These are and shall remain the key principles of Europe and the EU will become even stronger when it automatically takes these principles into account».
Have you ever seen any Chinese eating live mice?
«Mr. Zaia has apologised for his rather thoughtless comments. I think China’s reaction to those words is understandable. Let’s talk about more serious matters».
Are you frightened of the coronavirus?
«No, but I do understand the fear of many Italians. We need to ensure public health and protect our economy, which is precisely what we are doing».
In France President Macron is advising people not to shake hands. Is this panic or common sense?
«Every country is free to take the precautions it thinks fit, as long as they’re scientifically justified».
What is your message to those who are calling for a national “antivirus” coalition government?
«Those who are trying to turn the coronavirus into an election campaign talking point are working against the good of the people and the Country».
Minister, one last question, as a politician from the region of Campania. Can we condone what happened last Saturday in Naples?
«Absolutely not. Of course, I sympathise with the grief of the family members, but condemn the violent actions committed at the Pellegrini Hospital, and cannot allow a law enforcement officer and public servant to be considered a criminal before the completion of the investigation. A tragedy such as this one is a failure for the Country as a whole».