Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu,
Prof. Fabrizio Saccomanni,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we are celebrating a historical date: the 10th anniversary of the Italian-Turkish Forum. A decade in which our governments, our enterprises and our civil societies have harmoniously worked together to expand and deepen the friendship between Italy and Turkey.
I am proud to be able to warrant the great commitment of the Governments that I took part in over at least half of this decade, towards achieving the strategic objective of a solid and diversified partnership with Turkey in the Mediterranean, in Europe and in the world.
I think you know how much I have Turkey at heart and how closely I followed and encouraged it in its evolution. I even found myself in a live television broadcast in July 2016, the date of the coup and, right then and there, I reminded the Italian public opinion of how strategic Turkey was for us and for Europe: in terms of growth but even more in facing challenges such as the migration crisis, fighting terrorism and eliminating the risk of foreign fighters. I did not hesitate to distance myself from the coup and was very relieved to see the large crowds of people mobilising against that undemocratic attempt to bring about change.
Now Turkey is still strategic. And it will continue to be in the future. As it has been in the past. Because the friendship between Italy and Turkey has its roots in antiquity. We could even quote myths and legends such as the story of Aeneas, who was predestined to be the founder of Rome and the symbol of the bondage between the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Anatolia. Our peoples were united under the Roman Empire, of which Constantinople was both its Western (330-395 AD) and Eastern capital, which later gave birth to the Byzantine Empire.
And modern-day Istanbul bears a special symbol of our friendship: the Tower of Galata, which was built by the Genoese in 1348. At the base of the tower there is an epigraph recalling when the Genoese handed over the keys of the building to Sultan Mohammed II. This was precisely the place, the district of Pera, that saw the birth of the oldest community of Italians abroad: the community of the Italo-Levantines, which is still present in the city today.
Among them was musician Giuseppe Donizzetti, the brother of the more renowned Gaetano, who wrote the anthem of the Ottoman Empire. And I don’t know if this is true or not but my staff, who are all football enthusiasts, tell me that some Italo-Levantines were among the founders and initial supporters of the Galatasaray, which derives from Galata and whose colours are curiously yellow and red, just like those of the Roma football club.
The history that we share, together with the same geography and a common cultural heritage, combine to nurture our deep-rooted Mediterranean nature. I really do believe in a “Mediterranean identity”, which in turn goes to strengthen our “European identity”. Because Europe, in an era of great change, in order to regain leadership, must become aware – now more than ever – that its destiny is written in the Mediterranean. Only a Europe with an eye on the Mediterranean will be able to find the key to its prosperity and security.
And this is another reason why I would like to recall that Italy always looked with favour at Turkey’s EU adhesion negotiations. It is an element of continuity in Italian diplomacy, which works side by side with Turkey’s diplomacy in many different contexts: from the UN to NATO, from the OSCE to the Council of Europe. Our choice is clear: we want a fully democratic Turkey in Europe. But in order to achieve this objective, we need far-sighted leadership on both sides.
The time has come for Europe to do some sincere soul-searching. In the recent past, we praised the “Turkish model” because of its economic success and its capacity to wed Islam with democratic values. But then we abandoned this stand and completely turned our back on its EU adhesion negotiations. It was an incoherent behaviour on the part of Europe that needs to be converted into a clear and linear approach for the good of Euro-Turkish relations and of stability in the Mediterranean.
Only a few days ago I was in New York to preside over the UN Security Council meeting on the challenges to peace and security in our Mediterranean Sea. I reminded the members of the Council that the Mediterranean may seem to be a little sea, almost as big as a large lake if seen on a world map, in which however great part of global security is at play. Because most of the world’s crises arise from the enlarged Mediterranean: the spread of Daesh, the instability of Libya, the conflict in Syria, the danger of the return of foreign fighters, the new crisis in Lebanon, the fragile situation in the Balkans, the migration crisis and I could continue… These are all dynamics that are unfolding at a relentless pace at only a few miles from our coasts. Italy and Turkey are inevitably involved and suffer the impact of these tensions and vulnerabilities.
The Mediterranean recalls our historical responsibilities. And the interaction between our two Countries can also act as a driving and balancing force in fostering regional security and stability: from combating terrorism to the migration crisis, to which Turkey is making a major contribution by hosting more than one million refugees (on the basis of the EU-Turkey Agreement of 18 March 2016) and by cooperating in defeating the horrific business model of human traffickers.
The impact that Turkey has had to offset in order to face up to the Syrian crisis is enormous, not only in terms of refugees and migrants, but also and above all, in terms of the risks to its security. This is why we are in together in this challenge to support the UN-led political process. And we will also stay united afterwards, when it is time to work together to rebuild Syria. By that time, the regime will have stopped committing indescribable atrocities and a transition phase will have begun.
Our Cooperation policy has always been inspired by immediacy and concreteness. I remember an episode when I was Minister of the Interior. It was in the autumn of 2014 when we suddenly found ourselves before a challenge: the so-called “ghost ships” full of Syrian refugees along the Turkey-Italy route. Well, we had to immediately solve the problem and we quickly put an end to the phenomenon.
For Italy, Turkey is a strategic partner both because of its geopolitical position and for its economic vitality. And the Italian-Turkish Forum is an instrument to project our economic partnership in the future. I will only mention some priority areas.
First: cooperating in the energy sector. Energy is one of the key issues in the strategic dialogue between Italy and Turkey. This is what I think: we must be increasingly ambitious and establish a big energy “hub” in the Mediterranean on the way to Europe. The aim is still that of diversifying energy sources as an unavoidable factor of energy security. A perfect example of this is the Italian-Turkish Southern Gas Corridor (TANAP-TAP) that we must continue to build on by taking a regional approach: from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Basin.
Second: enlarging the EU Customs Union to Turkey with a dual goal: not only to boost trade but also investments in sectors excluded from the agreement up to now. Turkey is already Italy’s third largest extra-EU partner, after United States and Switzerland and ahead of Russia. But we think that there is still a largely untapped potential.
Today, more than 1,300 Italian companies operate and invest in the Turkish market. They are large groups like our Unicredit, which has strongly believed in Turkey and has been facilitated by the Country’s financial stability: its public debt is below 30% of GDP and its tax policy is attentive to growth.
And then: Eni, Enel, Salini, FCA and Ferrero, without forgetting a dense universe of SMEs which transfer know-how, the capacity to innovate and competitiveness. Some of these companies have promoted projects of utmost importance: to my mind comes the third bridge on the Bosporus built by Astaldi, which is not only an extraordinary work of engineering but also has a strong symbolic relevance: it bridges two Continents.
It should also be recalled that Italian enterprises consider Turkey the “bridge” between the Mediterranean and Asia. Investing in Turkey means opening a door to the markets in Central Asia and in the Caucasus, where Turkey’s presence is strong. For example, in the sector of infrastructure and construction in Countries like Turkmenistan.
Third: intensifying our economic partnership in other strategic sectors: in addition to infrastructure and construction, I am thinking of areas like the financial, industrial, agro-food, new technologies and defence sectors.
Fourth and last point, which I have already marginally referred to: I strongly believe in the potential of our joint cooperation in Third Countries, spanning from North Africa to the Balkans, the Middle East and the Gulf. It is a cooperation that could take the shape of Italian-Turkish consortia participating in calls and tendering of contracts, facilitated by joint economic missions and also by the new co-insurance agreement signed this year by our respective export credit agencies.
But allow me to conclude by touching on the issue of cultural cooperation: a theme that is particularly dear to me and that – as I said at the beginning – has united our two Countries not over the years but over the millennia.
Culture was the fulcrum of the OSCE Mediterranean Conference held in Palermo (24-25 October). In Palermo, Italy launched an ambitious cultural programme for 2018: “Italy, Cultures, Mediterranean”, envisaging 500 new initiatives, which will involve the whole region, with a special focus on Turkey through forms of cooperation that will be singled out by our Cultural Institute in Istanbul.
Indeed, we intend to enhance the role of culture to continue protecting and developing our common Mediterranean identity. I take this opportunity to express the wish that we might soon define the Final Cultural Cooperation Programme, which will give even greater momentum to our cultural relations.
It is up to us to leverage culture as an instrument of inclusion and connection and promote the Mediterranean as a space of mutual respect and positive cross-fertilization between peoples, languages and religions.