Europe has responded strongly to the crisis, and I have confidence in Ursula Von der Leyen. Now it is up to the Italian government to prove to be capable of managing the challenge. At the age of 33, Luigi Di Maio lived many lives. In the latter, as foreign minister, he discovered that the cruel European Union has some merit. He cannot accept the ESM (European Stability Mechanism), to those 37 billion that would serve to restore our suffering health system and that Nicola Zingaretti covets with all his heart. But he does not reject it. He talks about it extensively, eluding however the weight of an answer that he gladly leaves for Giuseppe Conte. “The President of the Council of ministers believes that the Recovery Fund will be sufficient, and I do not doubt his words”. He says it with indifference, like a wicked footnote. “No, please, it’s better that I don’t intervene directly on the subject. So as not to weaken the negotiations.” In this interview with La Stampa the Foreign Minister speaks of many topics – of domestic and international politics – but above all the urgency of intervening on an economic system overwhelmed by the irreparable flows of passing days. And he calls for a fiscal reform that starts from the modulation of the IRPEF (personal income tax withholding).
Minister Di Maio, in the interview with La Stampa, Angela Merkel said: “Europe is making instruments never seen before available to countries in difficulty, but we expect them to be used”. Why do you keep saying no to the ESM?
“Look, I’ll tell you honestly what I think, that in this crisis Europe has responded. The ECB itself has given us great support by buying our government bonds. The instruments are now present, and we must acknowledge that. So, enough whining, it is up to the government to show that we are up to the challenge. President Conte continues to say that the Recovery Fund will be enough, and we believe him”.
Even Zingaretti, your ally in the government, says he has faith in Count. But he wants that money now. He explained it in a letter to Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“I would separate the EMF theme from the health theme. With Zingaretti I share the idea of a modernisation of a health system that must be public and accessible to all. But on the ESM, I repeat, there is no reason to express myself”.
What money can be used to reorganise the health care system?
“European instruments are essential, but so are the timings. If I need help Today and you give it to me in a year, it is useless. The health system must be supported now, and it should have been supported before. In the years of austerity, it was the EU that demanded cuts in healthcare. It was wrong, it must be said. Today I have no problem saying that we have full confidence in the work of Von Der Leyen. I also met my Dutch counterpart, and he seemed a sensible person”.
I still don’t know what money you’re counting on. “Recovery Fund aside, we have a lot of money that needs to be released immediately. It is like there are silos full but unused. Well, let us use them.”
The Finns retire after 46 years of work, the Austrians after 38, the European average is 36, the Italian average is 32. Why should the Frugal countries give us free money?
“Nobody asks for free money, and every country has its economic characteristics. If you’re asking me to do less than Quota 100 (a key measure of the 2019 Budget Law allowing early exit from the world of work for all those who have at least 38 years of contributions with a minimum age of 62 years) the answer is no. It is right to be loyal and respectful of other states. Still, it is also right to consider that Italians have suffered and that this crisis is nobody’s fault. We must ask ourselves if we want Europe to have a future.
What’s the connection between Quota 100 and the pandemic?
“There’s a matter that snakes through the air, and I don’t like it much. Some people are starting to say that it is necessary to work harder and take away workers’ rights. I think the opposite. Austerity has created damage and a strong anti-European feeling. Now things are changing. And I know, from my experience with the dignity decree, that when rights increase, so does work. I am not going back on that. And I am very pleased that Von der Leyen is making a sincere effort to tackle the crisis with expansive policies. But let me be clear: we will be incredibly careful how European money is used. We will not waste a penny. Our credibility is at stake here”.
You gave (or promised) a lot of money. Wouldn’t it have been more useful to invest in reducing the cost of labour and in a profound fiscal reform that would start with the cut in Irpef, as Governor Visco says?
“We didn’t promise a lot of money, and to do so would be a mistake. We took out Irap (Regional Income tax) in June, Imu (Property tax) for tourist real estate and then Tosap tax on the occupation of public spaces and areas). That does not sound like a huge amount of money to me. Of course, the time has come to activate contributions reduction tools for businesses. Entrepreneurs need to receive incentives. The export pact signed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has this purpose. We have to listen to the world that produces because it is the world that creates work”.
“For example, by insisting for the simplification of the procurement code. There are many entrepreneurs ready to hire and reopen construction sites. We will help them”.
And about Irpef?
“I agree with Governor Visco. Yes, we need a profound tax reform starting with IRPEF.”
I quote Angela Merkel again: unemployment can become political dynamite and therefore a risk to democracy. Is that a fear you share?
“There is a risk of social tensions, especially if you continue to use certain tones if there are those who are baiting the squares violently. It is essential to have a sense of responsibility. We represent the institutions; we are not at the bar. We must listen to the citizens, not be clowns”.
Are you referring to Salvini?
“I speak in general, when I meet my fellow foreign ministers, I notice the same dynamics. Someone rides this tiger, and it is in danger of devouring everyone. We are not in 2008. We have stopped the production to save the lives of our fellow citizens.”
Why is the Five Stars Movement afraid of migrants?
“There is a huge misunderstanding here. The M5S has always defended migrants. We have done so to fight against migrant business and the presentation of news as a spectacle. If you welcome someone, you have to give them a chance to integrate, to have a job. If the conditions in the country do not allow it, you end up only feeding social conflicts. Among other things, in recent days in Libya, I have obtained an opening from the authorities in Tripoli on the revision of the 2017 Memorandum. Italy is and will always be on the side of human rights”.
Minister, does Conte like Beppe Grillo more than you? “I proposed Giuseppe as President of the Council of Ministers twice, we have an excellent relationship, and we work very well”.
Once you were the Movement of Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. Today what Movement do you belong?
“Today, we are walking on our legs, at a time of extreme hardship for the country. The Movement is strong and united and can aim to rule for the next 20 years”.
You do not seem to be united, not even at the Senate.
“Certain dynamics have always been present in the Movement when I was the political leader and even now, and this proves that I was not the problem. But the majority is solid”.
Minister, do you like Venezuelan President Maduro?
“I have precise values of my own, I believe in democracy, debate and open confrontation. Italy is a country of the Atlantic alliance. I do not know where you want to take me with this question, but I tell you that I have already answered the false scoop of the Spanish newspaper. I also tell you that the Venezuelan people deserve free elections as soon as possible”.
And what does the Egyptian president at Sisi think?
“Egypt is an interlocutor that Italy cannot do without for its strategic interests, but my first thought remains Regeni. We expect a change of pace after the meeting between the prosecutors”.
Would it not be more honest to say: “While insisting on asking for the truth about Regeni, will we not break relations with Egypt and continue to sell weapons in Cairo?”
“Then it would be more honest to say that it is reductive to talk only about Egypt.”
Are you afraid of Egyptian military intervention in Libya?
“External interference in Libya must cease, and the UN process must be given impetus. There was a conference in Berlin where these actors committed themselves; we expect them to respect it. Operation Irini will serve to enforce the arms embargo”.
Is it conceivable a “Syrianization” of Libya and a division between Turks and Russians?
“It is a fear of many observers, but Libya is not Syria. For geographical reasons, it is necessarily our strategic interlocutor, and we are as strategic to them as the European Union is. Certainly, some countries will increase their influence. Still, I hope and work for the sovereignty of the Libyan people and the unity of Libya”.
You are now Minister of Foreign Affairs and have been Minister of Labour, Economic Development and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies. Having said that it has become impossible to question your resume, have you become a member of the caste?
“You become a member of the caste when you think of your interests instead of your civil service. I’ve always thought of the people in the country, even cutting my salary and escort.”