Address by the Hon. Minister at the 12th Conference of Ambassadors “Security and Growth: Challenges for Italy and Europe”- Farnesina, 24 July 2017
(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)
Mister President of the Republic,
Madam President of the Chamber of Deputies,
Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Undersecretaries,
Honourable Deputies and Senators,
Your Excellencies the Ambassadors,
It is a great honour for me to welcome President Mattarella. I would also like to address a heartfelt thanks to my colleague the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the Spanish Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, who will join us in the next session of this Conference.
Diplomacy, just like politics, is a mission. So the words used by De Gasperi to describe his relationship with politics can also apply to you: “Many, in politics, are only on a little excursion, like amateurs…but for me, it has been my mission ever since I was a boy.”
You Ambassadors are aware of the importance of living the diplomatic service as a vocation with a focus on the world. And, for our Country, opening up to the world is life-giving oxygen for our security and growth.
We chose “security and growth” to be the title of this year’s Conference of Ambassadors. Because “security and growth” are the daily subject matters of our diplomacy, they are what citizens ask for the most.
In a world in which “zero risk” is non-existent, the system adopted by Italy in these last few years has worked. We succeeded in combining solidarity and security. Solidarity, by saving thousands of human lives in the Mediterranean. Security, by acting with firmness in identifying and fighting extremists and terrorists.
In these security actions, diplomats play an essential role. In our collective imagination, diplomats are the “external portal” to our system. For example, when a catastrophic event occurs abroad, diplomats are the first to rush on the scene, to verify if there are any Italians involved and to offer their assistance.
In this last year alone, the interventions of the diplomatic and consular network to protect Italians abroad were more than 46,000 (data of 2016). I particularly remember with great joy the release and return to Italy of Del Grande, Provvisionato and the two journalists from the Republic of Congo, although there are many more Italians who are routinely protected and rescued through the action of our diplomats.
Diplomats however do much more than intervene in emergencies. Their actions are essential in preventing conflicts and in finding solutions to crises.
For example, to those asking to build walls and close borders, diplomacy patiently answers by arguing that security is not assured by putting up a drawbridge and that closing borders would ultimately end up pulverising the very foundations of the EU, namely the organisation that, more than any other, has assured security across Europe for more than sixty years.
Indeed, our Union is like a building constructed with the old dry stonewall technique, with blocks of stones arranged in such a way as to be self-supporting, without the use of binding agents. However, if you take away a single central stone, the whole construction crumbles.
Today our security is above all threatened by the deep gap between Europe and the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Over too many years, Europe and North Africa witnessed a breach between words and things, between promises and facts, between aspirations and achievements.
This gap was one of the reasons why in Europe we failed to grasp the reality of things in time, as well as the needs of North Africa’s changing society.
A gap between two continents that has engendered violent monsters among Islamic terrorists but that has also produced a dangerous fracture between reality and populist demagogy within Europe. A fracture that, unless we urgently remedy it, risks deepening and pulverising the achievements of seventy years of peace and prosperity.
This is why the mission of diplomats is essential, now more than ever. We need you to shorten the distance between the political, economic and cultural differences that separate Europe from Africa. Instead of walls, we are in desperate need of bridges! Let us not be deceived by the fact that the Mediterranean is only a small sea, where the two shores are only a few kilometres apart. We are geographically close but the Southern shore is still politically and economically far, very far, from Europe.
Only once we will have drawn Africa closer to Europe and have jointly extinguished the fires that burn along the Southern shore, which are cynically fuelled by populist parties, only then will we be able to say that we are truly secure. And only then will we have salvaged, from the attacks of populists, the most successful institutional experiment of modern history: the European Union. In order to do that, we obviously need to act together, doing away with the illusion that every State can isolate itself by building a national cordon sanitaire around its territory.
This is why, in the Rome Declaration of 25 March, in an attempt to relaunch the European project, we wrote: “We will act together”. It is especially up to us – Italians, French and Spaniards – to take the initiative to act together to reduce the political gap that has opened in the Mediterranean. A gap that fuels intolerance and discrimination: the greatest risk factors for the stability of the European Union.
It is with this enterprising spirit that Italy has returned to Libya. We were the first to reopen our Embassy because the stability of Libya is key to our security in the Mediterranean. Italy supports the unity of Libya and, in recent months, has intensified its cooperation with the Presidential Council chaired by Al-Sarraj while, at the same time, maintaining open the channels of dialogue and humanitarian cooperation with Eastern Libya. The fact that today Minister Le Drian is here in Italy, for his third visit in a month, is indicative of the extent to which Italy and France work in synergy in fostering the stabilisation of Libya. And we are both convinced that the fragility of Libyan institutions, of which we Italians are bearing the highest cost, could have a devastating impact on other bordering States. The stakes are high and so are the risks for Europe’s security unless we are capable of defusing in due time the threats posed by the obscure powers of the mafias, traffickers and terrorists that are proliferating in some of the region’s most fragile States. There is a clear interest to raise the level of cooperation on security between European Countries and those bordering with Libya.
It was on the basis of this awareness that I asked our diplomacy to wield all the instruments available to also orient NATO southward and to launch with determination the European Common Defence project, which cannot but look South.
And without waiting for Brussels to take action at its own pace, at the Foreign Ministry we developed and put in place new initiatives such as: the Africa Fund (worth 200 million euros) and the Rome Conference on the Transit Countries of Migration Flows. Allow me to especially thank Ministers Le Drian and Dastis for their staunch support in favour of the Transit Countries, which we outlined together in this very hall twenty days ago.
It is a Strategy that aims to reinforce Libya’s southern borders with Niger, Chad and Sudan, where we are well represented by “Border Ambassadors” who work in the front line and out of the limelight.
With this same spirit, we also changed the pace of Development Cooperation: Italy’s Public Development Aid rose from 0.14% of Gross National Income in 2012 (2.1 billion euros) to 0.27% in 2016 (4.6 billion euros), essentially doubling it. We are proud of this result and we will do our best to salvage these resources in favour of civilisation and security from being axed out of the budget.
Among our many commitments, let me mention Iraq: from assuring the security of the Mosul Dam to the provision of school supplies to the schools closed down by Daesh with a view to favouring the return of religious minorities in September. And, along these lines, at the Foreign Ministry, we have set up the Observatory on Religious Minorities and the Freedom of Religion. Because culture, education and “pencil points” are the most effective weapons against terror.
It is a line that we also affirmed at the Security Council, with the support of France. With Resolution 2347, the Security Council adopted the first resolution to protect cultural heritage in areas of conflict.
The other mission of diplomacy – and theme of this Conference – is growth.
Multilateralism, as you well know, is the realm in which we affirm universal values and liberties that are innate to every human individual. It is the arena of our most important battles in favour of human rights, of the most vulnerable persons, of the equality of women, of the protection of children and of persons with disabilities.
Multilateralism however is also the vital lymph of international trade.
Unlike populists, I believe in free trade. Therefore, I think that protectionism can never be the right answer, especially for an exporting Country like Italy, which counts on open markets in order to grow.
Over sixty years the EU, the largest multilateral project in the world, created conditions to favour our trade and prosperity. Belonging to the biggest trade bloc – consisting of 500 million consumers – makes us more competitive against other large economies like the USA and China. And it protects us against attempts at unilateral protectionist measures that other Countries abstain from adopting for fear of possible retaliations from Europe.
The European Union is a “club”, membership to which offers: 1. Peace; 2. The conditions for economic wellbeing; 3. The defence of human rights; 4. Freedom of movement; 5. A single currency that facilitates life, travel and business; 6. Help when one of the members is in difficulty: think of the recent earthquakes in Italy; 7. The freedom of living and working in any of the Countries of the club. 8. Now people no longer have to pay roaming fees for telephone calls from one European Country to another. And the membership fee to this “club” for every European citizen is less than the cost of one coffee a day. These are considerations that I was happy to also see circulating online, in a chat line between young people.
Of course, not everything works at its best in Europe. We, in these past few years, have said Yes to investment policies and No to the grey bureaucracy of austerity that has kept down growth. But let us not forget that the euro has guaranteed the value of our citizens’ homes, savings and pensions. If we ever left the euro, we would run the serious risk of halving the value of the Italians’ wealth.
Furthermore, the euro has defended us against the financial crisis and offers us very low interest rates that enable us to pay our mortgage and finance our growth.
Today we have finally come out of that crisis. In the Eurozone, the so-called “investor sentiment index” is at its highest since 2007. The Eurozone grows at a rate faster than the United States. And Italy too has gone back to growing at a fast pace. We are very satisfied at the latest data on the Italian economy published by the International Monetary Fund, as they confirm that we have succeeded to put Italy back on the right track.
Italy’s economic diplomacy contributes to this growth. We have proven its impact with numbers: the value of the support given by Embassies and Consulates in the adjudication of tenders and contracts to Italian companies abroad amounts to more than 1% of GDP, according to an independent survey by Prometeia.
Economic diplomacy opens markets: the closer ones, like the Western Balkans Countries, with their 20 million consumers, which we want to integrate into the EU as soon as possible; and the farther ones, like China and Mongolia. We have deepened our penetration into the vast Chinese market and we have “conquered” the land of Genghis Khan starting from last year, opening a new Embassy led by a young and dynamic Head of Mission.
Economic diplomacy is an all-around commitment. I will just mention the latest successes obtained by Italian companies abroad with the support of diplomatic offices: an important contract for the construction of a gas pipeline connecting Russia and China; the delivery of the first tranche of Italian frigates to Qatar, the adjudication of contracts for the railway system of Buenos Aires and the metro in Sidney, the concession of an area for the exploration and exploitation of a hydrocarbon block in Oman, the recovery of 1.3 billion euros in funds allocated for the rehabilitation of the ILVA steel plant. And, in the meantime, I have assigned our diplomats many more tasks, such as following the case of Charlie Gard and having The Sun take Naples off its absurd ranking of the most dangerous cities in the world.
However, in these last few months, I noticed that not all entrepreneurs are aware of what the Foreign Ministry can do for them. So, I too “hit the road”: Milan, Turin, Padua, Treviso, Udine, Pescara, Florence, Naples, Ancona, Bari and Bolzano, through the initiatives “The Farnesina Meets Companies” and the “Roadshow of Internationalisation”, precisely to inform on our instruments.
What I am asking of you today, dear Ambassadors, is to do the same: do not wait for entrepreneurs to come to you, but go to see the entrepreneurs!
The novelty of this Conference of Ambassadors is not the
B2B (Business-to-Business) format that Ambassadors often organise for companies but an A2B (Ambassadors-to-Business) format. To this effect we have organised a long list of A2B meetings for tomorrow, to meet the specific requests of businessmen.
And I am happy that these working sessions will close with business meetings in Milan, to which I too will accompany you.
Dear Ambassadors, foreign policy has changed pace and is obliged to constantly make decisions. It no longer matters where one is but what one does. It is no longer important to be sitting behind a desk because formats are now different and variable but it is essential to have ideas, be enterprising and, above all, have a spirit of initiative.
In these times of speed, if you stay idle, the vacuums will inevitably be filled by someone else. Numerous recent examples show that this rule, which diplomacy shares with physics, has also been confirmed in foreign policy.
These are the convictions that guide my choices.
If I have to choose between building a wall or a bridge, I will always opt for the bridge, because it is the road towards dialogue and security.
If I have to choose between protectionist custom duties and free trade, I will always opt for free trade, because it is the road towards growth.
And, obviously, I will always opt for diplomacy, supporting its mission and values against the instincts of anger and the senseless clamour of populists.
Allow me to close with an anecdote very dear to Leonardo Sciascia, a writer from my own homeland, which he used when referring to a great Spanish artist who built his fame in France: Pablo Picasso. When Picasso painted the young Gertrude Stein, he portrayed her as an aged lady, even if equally attractive. To friends who pointed out that the portrait did not look like Stein, the Master would answer: “it will”.
I do not have Picasso’s foresight but I am sure that if in Europe we act together, if we succeed in unifying our vision and concrete efforts, if we narrow the gap in the Mediterranean, we will be able to achieve very ambitious objectives and hand down to new generations a European Union that is more mature but, above all, more secure and prosperous. Also because, if compared to the centuries that followed the adoption of Europe’s first democratic Constitutions, the European Union is still a young 60-year old that I like to imagine even more beautiful and fascinating as it matures.
Now, it is a great honour for me to pass the floor to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella.