Corriere della Sera has said that starting from today Italy has on its doorstep an elected Islamic leader in the most populous and influential Arab Country. How did you receive this fact? Do you think the Italian-Egyptian long friendship will face any challenges?
The election of Mohammed Morsi is a historic step in the process of democratic consolidation in Egypt. We welcome the free and transparent outcome of the presidential elections. We were pleased with the significant turnout which shows the engagement of the Egyptian people in the political transition, as well as their maturity and strong civic passion at this critical juncture in Egypt’s history. President Monti personally congratulated the new President, stressing the expectations of the international community for a swift transition to democracy, based on the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the rights of religious minorities. As for the friendship between our two countries, its strength extends not only to our respective leaderships but also to our two peoples, deeply rooted in history and centuries of an intense relationship, which will certainly continue unabated in the future.
In the past few months the Italian government has always kept an open dialogue with all key stakeholders of the Egyptian political scene, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other emerging parties.
As I said in a message posted on twitter a few hours after the results were announced, the election of Mohammed Morsi is a further illustration of the progress towards a successful democratic transition and will contribute to strengthening the ties between our Countries. Italy is determined to continue supporting Egypt’s socio-economic development. We are convinced that a prosperous and democratic Egypt will offer new opportunities for a further consolidation of the already excellent bilateral relations, and will represent a fundamental factor of stability for the whole region. We are open to engaging with all political actors who adhere to the basic principles of non-violence, democracy and the respect for human rights.
The military council in Egypt has kept vast power in the complementary constitutional declaration. Will Italy keep a channel of contacts and dialogue with the military council when coming to the bilateral relations or the regional developments?
Italy attaches the greatest importance to the principles of democracy and separation of powers, as well as to the duty to respect the rule of law and to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion or belief. We fully support Egypt’s democratic transition and we stress the need for a full and swift hand-over to civilian authorities. As I said before, we are willing to keep an open and constructive dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders in order to consolidate and enrich the democratic process in Egypt.
Ganzoury dismissed government has long complained that none of the financial assistance declared by the G8 in Deauville, was paid to Egypt. What is the cause of delay? Are you ready now to pay help to Egypt in this critical stage?
Since its launch, the Deauville Partnership has been a framework to upgrade and prioritize the coordination among International Financial Institutions and the Multilateral Development Banks. It is not a secret that, on some issues, results have been lagging behind expectations, but several joint facilities have been put in place and are now operational, in sectors such as infrastructure and SME support. Italy is working in close coordination with its European and international partners to ensure an effective flow of finances stemming from the Deauville Partnership. We deem it absolutely crucial to prevent a further deterioration of the financial situation, and to this end we are providing our support to the successful conclusion of loan negotiations between Egypt and the IMF. In bilateral terms, Egypt has always been at the forefront of Italian assistance. At the moment, we are already committed to a number of projects, specifically focused on SMEs support and capacity building, and social policy initiatives for a total amount of around 16 million euro (of which 13 in soft loans). Up to 45 million euro in further soft loans have also been made available from Italy to Egypt and we await the new Government to show us their priorities in order to proceed. It is also worthwhile to mention the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding for grant support, worth 10 min euro, part of which still needs to be allocated, and the commitment by the Italian Development Cooperation to finance a new Program of Commodity Aid (assistance to the Egyptian Budget) worth 20 million euro. In this regard, Italy is ready to launch negotiations with the new Egyptian Government. Finally, and – let me stress – last but not least, during President Monti’s recent visit to Cairo, Italy launched the third phase of the Italian-Egyptian Debt Swap Initiative, for a total amount of 100 million dollars. This initiative, which has exempted Egypt from returning foreign debt to Italy, has greatly relieved the financial burdens on the Egyptian State Budget. It is the first scheme of this kind put forward by a Western Country in Egypt since the beginning of the Revolution.
Since the advent of Monti government, Rome has stressed many times the need to a new European policy towards the Mediterranean, what do you think the premises of this policy should be in the light of the election of Morsi?
The extensive changes taking place at its borders and the democratic shift throughout the Southern Mediterranean have highlighted the necessity for the EU to elaborate more tailored and effective responses in dealing with rapidly evolving partners, making the case for a comprehensive review of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, many efforts have been made to lay the foundations for a “New Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity for the South Mediterranean”. Italy is, nonetheless, encouraging the EU to go beyond the work already carried out and to look at a more global and integrated approach, which takes into account the overall needs expressed by each country as well as the potential of regional integration, whilst developing synergies with similar supporting initiatives by other international actors. In this context, the election of President Morsi and, more generally, the inception of an extensive democratic transition, pave the way for a reinforced relationship between Egypt and the EU. The Union is indeed ready to offer stronger political cooperation, closer economic integration and greater financial support to partners effectively engaged in democratic transition. A durable partnership, nonetheless, entails co-ownership as a precondition for actual political responsibility of both sides. The new democratic Egypt will have to broaden its dialogue with the EU Institutions, so as to pursue a joint definition of programs and benchmarks. Italy will stand by Egypt’s side to ensure that the EU political and financial engagement concretely lives up to the country’s newly identified needs and expectations. The organization of an EU-Egypt Task Force would, in my opinion, be an ideal tool to enhance the effectiveness of European assistance and to further promote economic cooperation.
What do you think the repercussions of the election of Morsi would be in the Middle East?
The election of the Egyptian President following a competitive campaign is a milestone for Egypt and the region as whole. Egypt is a key actor in the Middle East. It is essential that the country does not lose its traditional balanced and proactive role in the region and renews its commitment to the goal of building stability, peace and prosperity in the region, as it has been able to do – even in this turbulent transition period – in Libya, Syria and Sudan. Italy fully supports Egypt’s prominent role in Africa and the Middle East, which needs to be preserved. Over the last decades, the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel has been one of the main factors of stability in the Middle East. Maintaining an effective cooperation between the two countries is crucial to ensuring peace and stability in the region, and it is our profound hope that the constructive dialogue which we have witnessed in the past is kept alive.