Francesco Piccinini, editor of Fanpage.it, has interviewed Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio in order to take stock of COVID emergency in Italy, particularly of the situation of the compatriots who were abroad when the contagion started, and of countering measures to implement aiming at facing the economic crisis we are going through: “In the last two weeks, thousands of people have come back from abroad. I will give you some numbers: at the moment, we count 5 million people having an Italian passport who are enrolled in the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad, to whom we add those who are not registered. We are organising special flights to bring them back to Italy, but who is not resident abroad will have the priority. It is advisable that who has paid taxes abroad for years, legitimately contributing to another Country healthcare system, stays there and will be followed by our diplomatic network. We will bring back all the others little by little”, has assured the Minister.
“This is an unprecedented situation –reaffirmed Di Maio – a crisis has started in all municipalities all over the world at the same time, it is not a crisis limited to a specific place, as it used to happen in the past. But I would like to make an appeal: if you have at least one symptom of Coronavirus please stay where you are. What if you come back home infect your parents? As it has already happened to those Italians who moved from North to South. We also had some borderline cases: for example, some people left on 10th March for a safari in Africa, even though the Foreign Ministry had advised against, and now ask to be repatriated”.
As for the aid arrived to Italy from China, Luigi Di Maio has also talked about finding protection equipment: “We have received aid from all over the world, from United States, from Russia (9 flights from Russia), from China – from which we continue to receive sales, as I would make any distinction between donations and sales at the moment – also from European countries, such as Germany that is taking on many sick people. This proves that Italy is right to always maintain relationships with everyone. Our position in the world is not questioned. We have always been a bridge between East and West. I would like to recall Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s words, who has affirmed: ‘We cannot forget the Italian aid over the years’. Because solidarity and mutual help always pay and let us save lives right now”.
The Five Star Minister has listed all the challenges to come: “Yesterday President Trump has announced a coming aid for 100 million dollars. We have signed a contract with China for 180 million masks and the first stock is about to arrive. In the last weeks, doctors and ventilators have also come from Russia. We will remember all the Countries that are helping us, because without their devices we couldn’t have made it through. When everything is over, we will think of what is really strategic. I think of the internal production of these devices. Though, it is also strategic to invest on Healthcare, as the Countries that are best reacting are those who have invested more in this field. Unfortunately, in Italy we have not invested enough resources in Healthcare for the last 15 years”.
About the European Union issue, regarding the debate on possible debt sharing, the Minister has affirmed: “Italy asks to spend all the money that is necessary to help our unemployed people, our students, our elderly people, our entrepreneurs, our workers. In order to do that we need the support of the European Central Bank and, right now, we need to share risks at a European level, with the aim of sharing opportunities afterwards. We are facing a health and economic crisis, that will put a strain on our companies and we do not want to have European limits that will not allow us to help our people. The question is whether to be ready or to arrive late once again, but we cannot be late again. Also, because it is not Italy’s fault, this is a pandemic. Other countries are struggling. Negotiations will take long and will be the most difficult in our history. Prime Minister Conte is working to reach the best possible agreement.”
It is now too soon to say what will happen if we do not reach an agreement on Coronabonds –has said Di Maio – The Italian people has always helped the European Union, now it is time to legitimately ask for and demand help. We need new measures that are equal to the crisis we are facing. It could be an economic crisis worse than that of 2008-2009″.
Editor Francesco Piccinini then asked if the ESM is a sufficient tool: “Unfortunately, our generation has already paid the price for a crisis, it was 10 years ago. But what have we learned from that situation? You don’t overcome a crisis through austerity, though by investing and spending. The ESM, already, hasn’t work in Greece, it cannot work now. And then the ESM is the way to tell countries ‘we give you a tool, but you’re on your own’. Instead, we are proposing to European countries to share risks right now, to share opportunities in the future.”
With regard to the possibility of renewing the European Union after this shock, making it more ‘federal’, Minister Di Maio has said: “I think that the issue of reforming Institutions was already a need that emerged before this crisis, and, in fact, the ‘Conference on the future of the European Union’, which was to last two years, had been launched to discuss Europe’s assets. And I hope it will. But I don’t want this issue to be used to postpone interventions to get out of this crisis. Thus, we need to act now and then we will talk about future assets”.
The proposal to cut the salaries of parliamentarians and regional councillors, during the COVID emergency, is in the DNA of the Five Star Movement: “This proposal will certainly not save the world. But it is an act that can give a little more credibility to those who will have to lead the Country through an unprecedented economic and health crisis. If we see footballers cutting their salaries, it is unthinkable that politics or the better-off classes can maintain their status. If you ask workers and entrepreneurs to make sacrifices, you have to ask yourself the same. We do not want to cut pensions, the welfare state must be strengthened. Right now, 2.5 million people are eating thanks to the citizen’s income, accomplished by Five Star Movement one year ago”.
What would the scenario have been without the citizen’s income? The Foreign Minister has replied as follows: “These days we have set up a system that allows municipalities to distribute vouchers, which will allow families to go grocery shopping. Without the citizen’s income there would have been twice as many hungry people at the mayor’s door. Right now, if we want to face this historic moment with intellectual honesty, we must admit that we need an emergency income. A mayor has told me these days: ‘A father may not eat, but he is willing to do anything to get his child to eat’. We must prevent, avoid exasperation, and respond with appropriate measures, extending the target of the citizen’s income”.
Luigi Di Maio has then denied the background on the possible date to reopen non-essential productive activities: “The truth is that the scientific community will tell us when to reopen, completely or in part. There is a scientific committee that will tell the government when we can return to normal life. What I can say is that the more responsible we are, remaining home, the sooner we will reopen. If, on the other hand, we continue not to respect the rules– the figures from the Ministry of the Interior on the complaints prove it – we will extend the time of quarantine, which will have an economic impact obviously. For every month of closure, the International Monetary Fund has said, we risk a -5% of GDP in Europe. We must feel responsible not only for the doctors and the sick in intensive care, but also for the economic situation. But it will not be us politicians who say ‘open’ or ‘close’, the scientists will”.