The (temporal) borderline is set for 15 June, when other (physical) borders can be crossed “to restore tourist flows and help the northern regions, including Trentino and South Tyrol, which have suffered the most from the pandemic”. A restart together (“We are opposed to exclusive bilateral agreements”), but “with uniform rules so as not to disorient tourists” says Luigi Di Maio, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who in recent days has been working tirelessly to permit and easy management of the borders.
Minister, cross-border regions, and regions with a tourist vocation – such as Trentino and South Tyrol – are calling for a rapid reopening of borders (internal and external) to encourage tourist flows. What is the schedule for the reopening?
“We are working to achieve this very result. Minister Franceschini is also working assiduously. We have opposed bilateral agreements between individual States; they are against the spirit of the European Union and countries like Italy could be disadvantaged. In the last summit with our German, Austrian, Greek, Slovenian, Cypriot and Maltese colleagues, we made this noticeably clear. It has been the first step in the right direction. We must unblock the flow of tourists and allow tourists from other states to arrive in Italy without facing problems. Teamwork among the European states is key. And I am reiterating this to all the foreign ministers that I am in contact with daily. We are fully aware that tourism in Italy moves a large slice of the national economy, and we cannot afford to remain isolated. The Northern regions, including Trentino and South Tyrol, are those that have been most affected by this emergency and have suffered tremendously. I will fight to get them back on their feet again soon. The summer months are particularly important for shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, artisans. The summer must mark the restart of our country”.
The reopening of interregional mobility should take place on 3 June, although the rules are not yet clear. The idea that every Friday, based on the RT index, you will decide in which regions it is possible to travel and where people can go may discourage tourist bookings and negatively impact on the economy. The discussion is open. What is your stance?
“I believe that our country must start in the name of unity. No region must be disadvantaged. The data must be analysed accurately, and it is crucial to monitor the contagions. Immediately afterwards, it is important to outline a roadmap. To date, 3 June is the date that will unlock internal mobility in the country. Finally, people will be able to move from one region to another. But we must remain alert. The majority of the population have demonstrated to have a great civic sense, and this has allowed us to anticipate the reopening of shops and companies. This is the way forward”.
South Tyrol and Trentino have had a tough fight in recent days with Austria, which has declared that it wants to keep the Brenner Pass and the other access points to Italy closed even after 3 June. Have you talked to your Austrian counterpart, Alexander Schallenberg? When do you think it will be possible for the free movement of people throughout the EU?
“I have spoken to my colleague Schallenberg several times in these days. The last time was on Monday when we agreed on how important it is to work for the free movement in Europe. As a result of my talks with the other States, 15 June is considered the most reliable date for the restart. As far as we are concerned, if internal data continue to maintain this trend, Italy will be ready to host European tourists from mid-June. Establishing common rules in the regions is vital. We are determined to speed up this process. However, it is not very easy to provide guarantees abroad if there is a not similar approach in the Italian regions that can disorient tourists. However, Austria is firmly intentioned to cooperate and, therefore, to allow German tourists to cross its border to get to Italy”.
What if he keeps the Brenner blockade?
“Let me be clear: if there are blocks or closures, Italy will not remain silent. Tourism is fundamental for our country; we are working night and day to unblock the situation, but, as I said, much depends on the domestic situation”.
In case Austria and other EU countries decide to step out of the restart, how will you move? Do you consider the Austrian position to be a position dictated by the desire to speculate on the tourism market?
“It is normal that every state to try to play a game in its favour but doing it at the expenses of other States is not acceptable. If we want to talk about competitiveness, we must be fair. Otherwise, Italy will speak out, and we have a lot to say. The interest of our country, and the survival of regions that had to face a severe health crisis, are at stake. We must give them the tools to deal with an economic crisis. I take the concerns of some northern governors seriously, and I want them to know that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the government are their allies. Let us play together; let us play as a team and bring home the result.
The other topical issue is Health. The gradual reactivation of tourist flows will also increase the risk of contagion and the resurgence of the virus. How do you think these risks can be contained?
“Health is the priority. During this phase, we have never improvised, and we have always followed the indications of the Scientific Committee. The task force’s recommendations have been added to such indications. Every step of the government has always been taken with caution and analysing the data. Some rules must be followed: from the use of protective devices to the social distances. It is vital to avoid even mass gatherings. We have to follow such rules carefully”.
With Austria, there have also long been problems with road haulage and the limits that Vienna imposes on passageways. Where are we?
“Even during the pandemic crisis, traffic across the Brenner Pass never stopped. I discussed the issue of transport and the passage through Austria with my colleague Mr Schallenberg on Monday. Certain limits imposed by Austria on road haulage are linked to ecological problems and have nothing to do with coronavirus. We are conducting a constructive dialogue on this issue both bilaterally and in Brussels; I am confident that a win-win solution can be reached within a reasonable time frame.
You recently said it is necessary to lower taxes. It seems to be complicated in this situation of crisis and public debt.
“There is no other option, I’ve been saying this for several weeks. And I am glad that Minister Gualtieri and President Conte have also reiterated that we must go ahead with tax reform. The crisis has negatively affected Italians: families, entrepreneurs, artisans need a breathing space to move forward. It is crucial to lowering taxes; this is the only way to be able to restart. We will do it using the money from the Recovery Fund.
In the management of the pandemic, there has been a clash, also, between regional presidents and government, there are different visions. How do you analyse it?
“I will never judge the governors nor the mayors. They have found themselves on the front line facing an unprecedented emergency, and no one can dare to point the finger at anyone. They saw the suffering in people’s eyes. I have said many times that, especially at this stage, we must transcend political divisions. All together we must support Italy and its territories”.