“In addition to the necessary firmness, all diplomatic channels must be kept open in the effort to find a political solution capable of ensuring Ukraine its autonomy as well as Russia its role as a great nation. It would be a mistake to think the situation can be resolved through sanctions alone”, says Minister for Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni.
What is Italy’s role in the world?
“That of a pro-Europe, open-minded internationalist, faithful to Western values with a desire not to cloak itself in protectionism but to foster exchange; a country in favour of regulated immigration that participates in peace and security missions; and, not least, a country deeply concerned with the Mediterranean, and this is being asked of us by the Balkan and North African nations. Italian foreign policy has been consistent for 60 years now and our partners are well aware of that”.
At the helm of the foreign ministry for slightly less than two weeks now, Paolo Gentiloni has had to shoulder regional crises that have since taken another turn for the worse and are threatening increased instability. In a tour de force that on Wednesday brought him to Berlin, Paris and Madrid the new minister discussed Ukraine, Libya and the European economic situation. “With my colleagues Steinmeier, Fabius and Garcia-Margallo”, said Gentiloni in his first newspaper interview as minister, “I confirmed the very friendly and harmonious relations our countries enjoy. I had the distinct impression that by now there is full awareness that the problem of Europe is no longer this or that individual nation – we were long considered a risk – but involves the entire European economy. The responses in terms of recovery, investments, employment and growth must be shared ones, which, in part, is already implicit in the Junker Commission’s rules of engagement. We respect all the rules, but the problem of growth concerns everyone, including Germany”.”
The Prime Minister’s latest statements have, however, fueled the impression of an Italy less “pro-Europe no-matter-what” than in the past. How much truth is there in that?
«I think that Matteo Renzi is super-convinced of his pro-Europe stance, and by exporting that spirit has contributed to European stability. The way that Italy has managed to build consensus, and not only electoral, around an approach to European reform and commitment, has been good for the entire EU. I have noted great interest in our premier among both progressives and moderates. Tensions over individual issues must not be confused with the underlying substance. Just imagine what would have happened if the European elections had given results in Italy more similar to the 2013 political elections».
According to NATO, a strong Russian military build-up is under way along Ukraine’s eastern border. Secretary Stoltenberg told our newspaper that NATO was ready to offer Ukraine support. Are you worried?
«I agree with the two things Stoltenberg underscored: that Ukraine is not a member of NATO; and Italy is presupposing its future non-membership. The second is that a military solution does not exist. Certainly, there is concern about the risk of escalation. A strategy has been implemented, with measures and sanctions, with Italy’s consistent and transparent participation. I think it is clear to everyone, however, that along with the necessary firmness it is necessary to keep all diplomatic channels open and seek a political solution capable of ensuring Ukrainian autonomy, but also Russia’s role as a great nation. The majority of my colleagues are in agreement on this combination of firmness and dialogue. It would be a mistake to think that the situation will be resolved through sanctions alone. We will be discussing this on Monday in Brussels during the first Foreign Affairs Council conducted by Federica Mogherini».
Italy is not part of the anti-ISIS coalition. Is this not a change compared with the approach that once placed us on all international missions?
«Italy participates politically and in substance in the global anti-ISIS coalition. We are present at the meetings, send materials and arms and carry out reconnaissance flights. We do not take part in bombing missions; what’s more we couldn’t without a parliamentary mandate, but in reality there are very few countries that do. I would like to take the opportunity to underscore that we are one of the countries most present around the world in peace and security missions. We must have a deeper sense of purpose to play such an important role».
The Libyan crisis touches us more personally. What are we doing, apart from being the only ones under fire keeping our embassy open?
«We mustn’t resign ourselves to the country’s division becoming permanent and degenerating into civil war. UN envoy Bernardino Leon has a difficult task, but it is the approach to take and must be strengthened. The countries capable of doing so, Italy first and foremost, must seek to foster moderation and influence neighbouring or associated countries such as Egypt, Algeria, the Emirates and Tunisia. The UN also has to bring everyone back to the table, both Europeans and the regional actors involved. Leon cannot do this alone, shuttling back and forth. A full 140,000 of the 160,000 refugees fleeing through Libya this year landed on Italian soil. We have to move fast, time is running out. We are meeting with the countries involved next week in Madrid. ».
What do you intend to do for the Marines?
«As I said also to the Marines themselves, regarding their situation, the government ensures its maximum commitment both at the level of legal assistance as well as the political-diplomatic level».
The recent cutbacks impacted the foreign ministry. How do you intend to make the most of our wealth of diplomatic baggage?
«I came into a solid, professional and highly skilled ministry; we have a network that is not passive but intelligent. We are at the service of the institutions and all Italians around the world, but with precise foreign policy and economic priorities. We are not a amenity. With a clear sense of direction, we are, for example, one of the world’s top exporters, and we can do good. Naturally, there has to be stability, and I am the fifth minister in a little less than three years».