Farnesina, 13 June 2017
(The authentic text is only the one actually spoken)
Representatives of foreign companies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you all to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Today we want to answer just one question: why invest in Italy?
The great economist John Maynard Keynes said that the social purpose of investments is to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance that envelope our future.
It would be worse still if we were to lose our future, as we risked doing after the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
For many years after the crisis - which was even deeper than the one between the two World Wars – the Governments in which I served, in the current Parliament, worked day and night to keep our economy safe.
If we had we not had the Euro during those years, the impact would have been even more devastating. The Euro saved us from a financial landslide that would have destroyed our economic foundations. The actions of the ECB defended our real economy against catastrophe.
What is more important is that, in Italy and Europe, we never lost hope in the future. Despite the additional shock of Brexit, current data confirms this:
As of this month, the Eurozone investor sentiment index is the highest it has been since 2007.
- Italy has started to grow again and we have increased our estimates for GDP in the first four months of the year to a level (+0.4%) that is higher than in the UK and the USA and level pegging with France.
- Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in 4 years.
We are happy about this positive data, which rewards the Government's activities, but this is no time to celebrate. We can and must do more.
I am convinced that 2017 can be the year of the Eurozone, if we maintain this course together with our European Partners.
Again in the first four months of the year, growth in the Eurozone was twice as high as in the USA.
I want to tell investors to have confidence in the future for Europe and Italy, not only because statistics are on our side today, but also because we are on your side in opening markets and defending free trade. These are values that we staunchly defended against protectionist drifts at the G7 meeting in Taormina.
The risks today are increasingly political and a lot less economic. Italy needs a political vision that is focused on long-term projects.
The quasi-electoral frenzy we have experienced in the last few days - concerning how and when elections should be held - is not helping. Investors want us to stay calm. When the time comes for an electoral campaign, so be it, but fuelling a climate of this kind for purely pre-electoral ends is harmful.
Allow me to remind you of the strengths of the Italian economy, which will be examined in detail during this event:
- First of all, it is important for investors to see Italy as a hub that links the EU market to the markets of North Africa and the Middle East, almost 800 million consumers.
- Italy is the third largest economy in the Eurozone and it is important to remember that Italian households are among the least indebted in Europe. There is a high propensity for saving, great potential for consumption and investments.
- Italy is also the second biggest manufacturing economy in Europe.
- Anyone investing in Italy will gain a truly unique know-how in strategic sectors like machinery, automation, robotics, engineering, fashion, design, food and agriculture; as well as green technologies, where we are the first in the EU in terms of the renewable mix (with a market share of over 17%).
- Anyone investing in Italy will be investing in an economy that is strongly driven by exports: we are currently G20's fifth ranking Country in terms of trade surplus in the manufacturing sector.
- Anyone investing in Italy knows that the cost of labour in Italy is the lowest of the big European countries, lower than France and Germany.
- Furthermore, our young people are highly qualified and have graduated from universities which have links with all the main European research, development and innovation networks.
However, as many people say, investing in Italy means investing in an "Italian global brand" that goes beyond the "national dimension". It is a way of life, style, well-being and cultural enrichment.
When I was in London, a few weeks ago, the Bloomberg Global Health Index was published, which ranked Italy in first place for health and well-being. Since then, I have been reminding investors that investing in Italy is also good for your health!
I was in London to support the promotion of Milan as a European financial hub after Brexit and also its candidacy to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA), a sector in which it is leader.
The Report which will be presented by The European House - Ambrosetti will illustrate how the Italian business environment has improved greatly in recent years.
Therefore, I would briefly like to recall the efforts made by the Government to achieve this result, reversing the trend and restoring the confidence of investors.
I'll start with the launch of the "Destination Italy" programme (2013), which made attracting foreign investments our main priority, driving a "systematic" reorganisation of the sector to attract investments.
Parliament approved the "Jobs Act", which introduced employment rules that are more flexible and adaptable to different economic cycles.
We accelerated civil justice, with specialised courts for corporations, incentives for extrajudicial proceedings, the new online civil trial and new bankruptcy provisions.
This forms part of a broader commitment to modernise public administration, ensuring the rule of law, simplifying authorisation procedures, speeding up payments and improving the attractiveness of the country's economy.
We have made the tax administration system more transparent and predictable, again to give investors greater certainty, but also to encourage interaction between the revenue authorities and taxpayers, based on reciprocal knowledge, dialogue and cooperation.
I acknowledge that the level of taxation in Italy is still too high, at a critical level that discourages investments. For this reason - since the beginning of this Parliament and in all the government posts in which I have served - I have always committed myself to cutting taxes. Our task isn't over and we need to do more. We need to do this in order to support growth and attract investments.
I also want to mention the Industry 4.0 Plan, which involves all stages of the corporate life cycle, to increase competitiveness, support investments, digitise production processes, enhance worker productivity and training, and develop new products and processes.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has done the lion's share in this overall effort.
I want to start by underlining the great effort made by the Ministry to promote greater institutional attention to investments, with a focus on coordinating the various ministries and the parties involved. Investments can only be attracted if we present a coordinated national economic system.
We have made visa policies more attractive for foreign managers:
- Business visas are issued by Embassies and Consulates within 72 hours but the aim is to reduce these times even further.
- Startup visas to encourage creative and innovative businesses interested in the Italian market.
- Investor visas to allow foreign entrepreneurs to live and invest in Italy more easily.
Last year, our representative offices handled 178,074 business visa applications, and I hope the number will increase thanks to these new types of visas.
A few weeks ago we created a Foreign Investments Office in the Directorate General for Cultural and Economic Promotion and Innovation. The new office will be a point of reference in the Ministry for multinationals and foreign companies looking to Italy.
Economic diplomacy has been my priority since my first day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in my missions abroad I always remind everyone that the doors of our Embassies, Consulates and ICE offices are wide open to investors.
But there is more: in addition to the assistance provided by Embassies and Consulates, we have created 7 new Desks in ICE offices to attract foreign investments in Istanbul, London, New York, Singapore, Tokyo, Dubai and San Francisco. An additional 2 Desks will shortly be opened in Beijing and Hong Kong.
I am glad that many have already noticed the steps taken by Italy. Not surprisingly, a growing number of multinationals are turning to our market again and we are back on the radar of the biggest sovereign and international funds.
Even the global indexes which sometimes penalise us because of the way they are structured have noticed it.
Italy has jumped from 16th to 13th place in the Foreign Direct Investment Index (published by A.T. Kearney) and now comes immediately after Switzerland.
And in the Ernst & Young European investment ranking, Italy recorded a 62% increase in investment projects between 2015 and 2016, second only to Sweden.
Indexes are not enough to give a detailed account of how Italy is growing with confidence in the future. I am very happy that today we'll hear the voices of foreign companies that have believed in our country: US company General Electric, China's Huawei and the US Ramius fund, which allowed the expansion of Linkem.
Let me conclude by saying that today I am also interested in listening to the expectations of foreign entrepreneurs investing in our country, to hear about what is not working and about the problems we need to overcome, while promising to always do my very best.