First India, then Abu Dhabi. Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tajani, is back from yet another mission abroad and on the eve of the next ones in Bosnia Herzegovina and Israel. A relentless diplomatic action to mend relations, create partnerships, relaunch Italy’s role in the world. From the economy to gas routes, from peace building in Ukraine to immigration.
Minister, let us start with India and the Emirates. What is your assessment of the results achieved?
«Very positive. There is a great desire for Italy in the world and much consideration towards our country, our government and our Prime Minister. Credibility that we want to use to serve the interests of 60 million Italians. If exports increase, public debt decreases»
«The signing of partnerships with two important countries like India and the Arab Emirates is an important change of pace. There are many areas: energy, climate change with the Cop28 Conference, investment and exports of our companies. There are new opportunities: innovation, agribusiness and food security, environmental sustainability, space. There is also the Emirates’ interest in laying an undersea power cable between Italy and Egypt»
How much is the Emirates’ market worth?
“In 2022 the business volume was 7.4 billion euros. Italy is the eighth world partner and the first European one. In the Emirates there are 600 companies with Italian shareholdings in the sectors of transport, energy, infrastructure and financial services. Numbers that we want to increase»
Is there also a renewed diplomatic channel?
«’specially on the Mediterranean with respect to migration flows»
Let us talk about immigrants. In the Cutro shipwreck were there mistakes in the rescue operation chain?
«I trust our law enforcement agencies, the Guardia di Finanza and the Coast Guard. There is also an investigation by the judiciary that will ascertain what happened, but we must not criminalise our men who went to sea. Everything possible has been done, we are on the frontline to save human lives».
The opposition called for Piantedosi’s resignation.
«I say this as a journalist: it is no news anymore. Every day they ask for the resignation of a different member of the government: it happened with me, too, on the part of the Five Star Movement. It is just propaganda».
Has the government been a bit absent since the tragedy?
«Absolutely not. Mnister Piantedosi went straight to Crotone, on the first day».
With a few statements that triggered controversies….
«Substance counts, not statements. Piantedosi is an excellent Minister. The government has been present there. We have always been committed to the migrant issue. In the European Council of Foreign Ministers, in the meetings with Blinken, in the talks on Libya, Tunisia, Egypt. Every day we work on this».
After the pressure from Prime Minister Meloni, but also from the Mediterranean countries, what do you expect from the EU?
«Greater involvement, because Italy alone cannot tackle all the problems of the Mediterranean. We have talked about a Mattei Plan, which is indeed a Marshall plan for Africa. Europe must invest more in projects in those countries, so as to avoid people being forced to leave. Interventions for peace in the sub-Saharan region, on climate change, on the fight against diseases and terrorism».
In Italy a flow decree is enacted every year, in which the number of legal immigrants is established. Do we need a similar measure at European level?
«’Establishing European flows, by the EU, would be fundamental. Also with a series of agreements with States and reward mechanisms for those who are more virtuous».
Please explain further…
«We would increase the quotas of legal immigrants for those States that better fight the phenomenon of irregular immigrants, by turning back or not letting the smugglers’ boats leave».
Would this also prevent tragedies like the one in Cutro?
«’Certainly the fewer irregular migrants are, the more lives are saved. But this is an issue that must be tackled at the root. The criminals must be fought vigorously by removing engines from the smugglers’ boats, but also by working to support the economies of the countries which are most in difficulty».
Which is to say? What else?
«To take action for the stabilisation of Africa. Because wars create new exoduses. We asked the Emirates for help for Tunisia and Libya, where they are influential. As to Tunisia there is also aid from the International Monetary Fund. I talked about it with Georgieva and Blinken. I went to the USA: a billion dollar loan is important. Ambassador Teresa Castaldo, Director General for Development Cooperation, was also on a mission to Tunis: Italy will commit 100 million euros for cooperation. As to Libya, political talks have resumed. We are in contact with all parties, in a mediating role».
This also applies to Ukraine. How do you judge the very first contact between Lavrov and Blinken?
«Everything that goes towards dialogue is positive: the risk of an escalation must be averted, with the Russian threat of the use of nuclear weapons. Italy is on the frontline in supporting Ukraine and seeking peace, it being understood that a just peace cannot mean the surrender of Ukraine».
What about Lavrov on Berlusconi?
«There is no doubt that Berlusconi is a credible person and that he has always been on the side of the West. He was very disappointed with Putin. He wanted the spirit of the Pratica di Mare Summit to continue. He wanted to continue to have China as a competitor. He wanted to bring Russia towards the West and he had succeeded by also blocking the invasion of Georgia with Sarkozy».
Moldova, the situation between Serbia and Kosovo: do you fear other conflicts as in Ukraine in the NATO area?
«I hope not. In Bosnia Herzegovina, where I am going on Friday with the Austrian Foreign Minister, we hope it will be possible to open another stabilisation front. In the Balkans, Italy is back in the limelight, there is no longer just France and Germany».
What will you do about the agreement with China on the Silk Road?
«We are evaluating the situation. We have good relation with China. There are many forms of collaboration. We must have good relations with everyone, but India is increasingly becoming a strategic partner of Italy in that area».
What about the appointments of the partly State-owned enterprises?
«Berlusconi and Forza Italia are in favour of confirming Descalzi at Eni».
What can you say about the Italian victory regarding the automotive sector with the postponement of the stop to combustion engine cars?
«We are working to save 70,000 jobs. Ecological transition is fine, but companies must be given time to adap».
What about the ECB interest rate hike?
«It worries me because then we risk stagnation. I hope it will not go ahead, also because, unlike the USA, our inflation is due to the war and to rising energy costs».