«It is right for the European Union to intervene when a member Country violates the rules of the Alliance or fails to abide by Rule of Law principles. I don’t think that it’s mandatory to be soft-handed, it is necessary to be impartial; there should not be first- and second-class Countries in how they are treated. »
Is any reference to the vote in Brussels a few days ago, when Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) and Lega voted against freezing EU funds to Hungary while Forza Italia voted in favour, purely haphazard?
«Forza Italia voted in line with the PPE, of which it is a member, to confirm the resolution that links the allocation of cohesion funds to Budapest to the respect for human rights. I know Orbán well and I think that, since he left the PPE, he is no longer himself. But we must be careful because punishing a Country ends up punishing its people. Europe must go forward united, defending its values, but it cannot lose Hungary along the way. »
What do you mean when you talk of the need to be impartial?
«Europe was far from being hard-handed with other Countries such as Slovakia and Malta when the killing of two journalists led to the resignation of the two socialist prime ministers of the time. »
Is there too much realpolitik in enforcing Community principles?
«I don’t believe in the theory that Italy, like other Countries, must line up with the strong in Europe instead of with the weak for reasons of convenience. Italy must be a key player and promote the European democratic integration process among all the States. »
So, there is no division within the Italian government majority on its EU Community foreign policy as the opposition claims?
«The problem of Europe is not a problem in Italy, but it is a problem of the Union and it consists of the lack of European Community leadership. There are many national leaders but none of them have yet been able to replace the Kohls, the Aznars, the Berlusconis, the Mitterrands, the Merkels…»
And what about Meloni?
«There is great interest around Italy and its new centre-right government. Abroad people are realizing that we will remain in office for five years and so they want to meet us, understand…Meloni has her own idea of Europe that she wants to affirm, while we of Forza Italia have a long Europeanist tradition. One thing is certain, and it is that if someone in Italy hoped to win the contest at home by attacking our government from abroad, they must rework out their maths. Markets have rewarded our budget and so has the European Union. We are not on the brink of the abyss as our adversaries had predicted during the election campaign. »
How to be at the centre of the world, or at least of the Old Continent. The éminence bleu-grise (because of the colour of his party’s logo) and only coordinator of Forza Italia, Antonio Tajani has been appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs with a portfolio for Foreign Commerce, in one of those periods in which it seems that the history of the planet can change any moment because of the reconfiguration of geopolitical balances, international relations, even borders…With the instinct of a high-profile former journalist, the Deputy Prime Minister, another role he holds, knows it only too well: “It is time, also for the European Union, to put politics ahead of everything else,” he explains, “it is time to stop prevalently dealing with accounting, agriculture, and finance. The war in Ukraine will determine epochal changes so either the EU changes and becomes a key player or it will be destined to being marginalized. New powers are emerging. Not only China, but also India, Africa…»
The harmonization of taxes, a common defence, a single migration policy, this is what is on Tajani’s mind as former President of the European Parliament, former Vice President of the European Commission and former EU MP for five legislatures, when he asks the Union to make a quantum leap because “it is time to deal with big issues, go from solidarity to a real union, as was the case with the Recovery and Resilience Plan. »
But is Brussels mature for the transition?
«It has to be, otherwise it will have the future of a clay pot. We must put a stop to egoisms. »
Where must we begin, Mr. president?
«For example, from agreeing on a price cap on gas. I hope that the next meeting will come up with a better solution than the compromise proposed this last week which is unacceptable for us. »
Do we need the agreement because the war is far from ending?
«The situation in Ukraine is getting more complicated; I don’t see signs of a de-escalation of the conflict. We are all committed to obliging Putin to sit at a table to negotiate peace, which cannot come about without defending the independence of Ukraine. »
What could be the breaking point?
«Right now it’s not in sight. We are struggling to keep a corridor open for peace, an operation that cannot occur without supporting Ukraine. »
In Italy, ever-larger factions of the opposition struggle to stop us from sending weapons to Zelensky: can it be a problem for the government?
«Absolutely not. A decision has already been passed by the Parliament and, in any case, before taking any other decision, the Chambers will be heard. The majority will vote unanimously. The opposition’s anti-Atlantic stands are unjustified because they end up making the people’s struggle for freedom less effective and raise problems for Italy in their international alliances. »
The opposition also speculated on the government’s recent diplomatic crisis with France over the migrants on the Ocean Viking…
«There has been a lot of media hype on that crisis. »
Nonetheless the French Interior Minister attacked us in Parliament, saying that Italy is inhuman and defined us an enemy Country…
«The words uttered by Macron over the weekend, expressing friendship and great solidarity for the tragedy of Ischia, confirm that the relations between Italy and France are not going through a crisis and have not been suspended. Italy has never attacked Paris over immigration, it simply put the problem of migration flows to the attention of Europe, as it cannot only be ours, especially because the inflows are not only from Africa. Last Friday’s EU Interior Ministers meeting in Brussels marked a success for us because our complaints were heeded. »
The fact remains that we are the first border with Africa. What can we do immediately?
«Go back to Berlusconi’s doctrine, which was later resumed also by the left, through Minniti: we must finalize agreements in the place of origin of immigrants. First, we must work to achieve stability in Libya, which has been led into chaos too lightheartedly by we know who. »
At what point are we?
«Lagging far behind: I see a fragmented Europe on the Libyan front and on a common migration policy. Too many particular presences and too many general absences; a lot of tactics but no strategy. »
Do you have a project in mind?
«We have to start investing but not only in Tripoli, also in sub-Saharan Africa. At the conference of Italian Ambassadors next 21 and 22 December, I would like to present a plan to train Africa’s future ruling classes here in Italy: have youths come study in Italy so that, when they return home, we may have privileged interlocutors who speak our language. In twenty years’ time, Africa will have almost two and a half billion inhabitants and we cannot abandon them to starve or take them all in. Other foreign powers have started to mobilize long ago; we must avoid a new colonialism and build solid alliances. The first step is to create mixed societies, through a new diplomacy for growth, that build infrastructures at our expense and later give us in exchange raw materials at a low cost. »
Must we slow down Chinese colonialism?
«For us China is an indispensable commercial partner but also a systemic competitor. Let’s not forget that it is a Country under an authoritarian regime. »
Is India too a systemic competitor?
«No, India must increasingly become an important interlocutor after USA and the EU, which remain our principal allies. »
Why did you go to the Balkans with Minister Crosetto last week and why will Prime Minister Meloni be going to Albania in a couple of days?
«The Balkans must become the new Libya. They are very close to us, they are crossed by significant migration flows and are a place of interest and influence for non-allied powers. We must preside over the situation to strengthen democracy in those Countries and avoid the worsening of new crises between Serbia and Kosovo: the situation in Ukraine makes these Countries even more unstable. »
In Pristina we have a thousand Italian troops…
«Yes, but we intend to boost our presence also economically. We are organizing two business forums in Serbia and Kosovo to bring our companies down there and enable them to work. »
What is the end goal?
«Montenegro, Albania and Serbia are candidate Countries for accession to the European Union. We must accelerate the integration process to avoid them from coming under the sphere of influence of non-EU Countries. We need a European-wide effort and Italy can lead it. »