1. You are flying to Moscow again. What is the agenda of your visit? Do last year’s numerous high-level contacts between Italian and Russian authorities mean that the cooling of relations produced by geopolitical facts is now over?
I will be in Moscow for the 15th Plenary Session of the Economic, Industrial and Financial Cooperation Council, a multifaceted mixed commission that I co-chair together with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich, with whom I will tackle essential aspects of our bilateral relations in industry, energy, agriculture, cooperation in the aerospace sector, transports and cooperation between small and medium-sized enterprises.
To these issues we recently decided to add culture and tourism, to top up the range of services that Italy and Russia can offer not only to businesses but also to the two countries’ respective civil society organisations.
We have always had a positive and constructive political dialogue. Of course, we move within the perimeters outlined by the European sanctions, with which we agree and particularly support their political significance. This however does not mean interrupting our communication channels with Moscow, nor curbing the positive interactions between our economic systems. On the contrary, we have always been driven to seek innovative partnerships, perhaps in sectors not yet explored and in any case not covered by sanctions.
2. Trade between our two countries is growing but is not yet back at the level of 2013. What are the economic forecasts in conditions in which sanctions remain in place?
In the first seven months of 2017, our trade volumes increased 20% compared to the same period of last year. You are right in saying that we are not back at 2013 levels but for the first time we see a rebound in the downtrend that started in 2014: it is an extremely encouraging signal. Then there are sectors that are recording a particularly brilliant performance: not only the oil & gas sector, but also machines, the textile industry and chemical products. In the next few months, we confide that the trend in trade will remain positive and that, in parallel with the uptrend in commercial flows, we will also witness an increase in productive investments, which have never stalled in the last few years. Therefore, we confide in a quantum leap in our industrial relations, based on the sharing of know-how, technology and innovation.
The events that we have recently organised in Italy to illustrate the opportunities offered by the Russian market, such as the Italian-Russian Economic Forum that was held at the Foreign Ministry last July, show the trust that we place in the future of our commercial and industrial relations.
Naturally, at the same time we cannot deny that sanctions continue to represent an obstacle to a fully fruitful economic partnership. The persistence of European sanctions is linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. It is therefore not only necessary to work to strengthen our economic partnership through measures aimed at stimulating and supporting trade and investments, but we must also act to put in place conditions in which to remove the restrictive measures, starting from the implementation of the Minsk Agreements on Ukraine. In this perspective, it is essential that Russia take positive and constructive action.
3. Next year there will be a new cultural initiative of Russian Seasons in Italy and of Italy in Russia. Do we already know what the exchange programme will consist of?
Our solid friendship and the great harmony between Italy and Russia is also borne out by the mutual involvement in numerous cultural initiatives: we are convinced that culture represents an instrument to improve mutual understanding and, in this sense, capable of strengthening our all-around bilateral relations. The Russian Federation has recently announced the organisation in 2018 of the “Russian Seasons in Italy”: a festival with more than one hundred events in our Country, including large exhibitions, with the participation of the most important Russian museums (the Tretyakov Gallery, the Hermitage, Peterhof, the St Petersburg Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture). The events will also include photographic exhibitions on contemporary Russia, exhibitions to present national celebrative arts, tours by major Russian theatre companies and performances by the most prestigious Russian ballet companies. We are thinking of giving the initiative the character of an exchange, organising a similar initiative in Italy in 2019, in the wake of the success of “The Russia-Italy Cross-Year of Tourism” in 2014.
4. What can we learn from the situation in Catalonia?
The Catalan crisis teaches us that, by pushing processes out of the scope of constitutional order, a legitimate local government ends up by creating the very premises for its own failure.
5. The so much hoped-for rapprochement between Russia and the United States after the election of President Trump did not come about. Do you think that the present state of relations between the two countries could be dangerous for European security?
Dialogue between Russia and the United States is fundamental in many world scenarios, starting from the Middle East, and reverberates positive effects on global security.
We have always deemed it essential for Moscow and Washington to engage in a positive and constructive dialogue and we welcome any initiative to encourage it. I don’t think that now and in the recent past there have not been opportunities to discuss delicate and important issues so I think it is improper to affirm that there has not been a “rapprochement”. We understand that the context in which this dialogue is developing and the implications on domestic policy that often condition it end up by slowing it down in certain phases, but this is not sufficient to induce us to say that the genuine efforts by Russia and the United States to regain mutual trust are unproductive. This is why I see no danger for Europe’s security but only benefits.
With our American colleagues we have always had a consistent and common approach on Moscow. Together with the EU, they recognise that it is fundamental to keep a communication channel open with Moscow, albeit launching clear signals on Russia’s political choices that we can in no way endorse and for which both the EU and the U.S. have adopted restrictive measures and sanctions.
6. Many wonder how Italy, up to now, has managed to avoid acts of terrorism. What is the situation and how is security guaranteed?
Italy is as much a potential target of terrorists as any other European or Asian country engaged – like we are – in combating the threat posed by Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other organisations. The reason for which Italy has not been targeted by a serious terrorist act up to now is to be found in the extraordinary protection and prevention untiringly assured on a daily basis by our Police and Army Forces. I too, in my former capacity of Minister of the Interior, signed several expulsion decrees for foreign citizens engaged in recruiting fighters or in spreading the propaganda of violent extremism. However, allow me to make a specification: no matter how effective our prevention model has proven to be up to now, it would never be wholly effective outside the context of international cooperation, which we must aim to make even stronger. In this sense, we think that our partnership with the Russian Federation is key in combating terrorism.
7. Italy is about to wind up its presidency of the G7. What results can you cite? Do you think that this format has confirmed to be topical and that there will shortly be the conditions to return to the G8 format?
The Italian Presidency of the G7 took place in a particularly complex cycle, characterised by an intense global agenda, concomitance with election processes in the most important member Countries and the new positions taken by the United States on several issues of great relevance, which were previously characterised by a unitary, or at least converging, approach. Regardless of this difficult scenario, it was possible to achieve undoubtedly substantial results that, in consideration of the premises, were surely not taken for granted.
Among the most important results of the Taormina Summit we must list the Declaration on fighting terrorism and violent extremism, which has represented a quantum leap in the G7’s commitment on this issue. The Interior Ministers meeting of last 20 October made it possible to delve into the details of the terms of the cooperation between G7 partners in this important matter. Among the most relevant results of this action is the cooperation established with major global players in the digital world, with a view to developing technologies aimed at promptly detecting and eliminating from the Internet terrorist contents and disseminating an online alternative to the terrorist narrative.
In Taormina, as in the preceding Foreign Ministers Meeting in Lucca, we reaffirmed the unity of the G7 with respect to the major areas of crisis and instability: Syria, Libya, Ukraine and North Korea.
On the issue of international trade, the reaffirmation at Taormina of the G7’s commitment to counter protectionism was particularly important, as well as of the necessity of an international system of rules, with specific reference to the role played by the World Trade Organization.
Equally relevant – especially from Italy’s point of view – is having enshrined in the final Taormina communiqué some fundamental points on the key issue of migration, including the need for a global and coordinated approach, based on the principle of shared responsibility and the need to establish partnerships with the Countries of origin and of transit.
Another leitmotif in the activities of the G7 this year concerned the need to respond with economic and social policies to the concerns in those sectors of society that, often without reason, fear being excluded from the benefits of globalisation: the response – offered by the Roadmap to reduce inequalities approved by the G7 Finance Ministers Meeting in Bari and endorsed by the leaders in Taormina – is that we need to use all the instruments available to assure that economic growth is not only strong but also adequately inclusive.
On the issue of climate change, we were obliged to come to terms with the United States’ revised position, which is in contrast with the compact support of the other partners Countries for the full and prompt implementation of the Paris Agreement. In the Summit Communiqué we had to necessarily take stock of this objective difference of positions. Nonetheless, it is important that the other G7 Countries firmly confirmed the commitments previously made on the matter.
Another important aspect was the focus placed on the opportunities and the effects of the Next Production Revolution which, in Taormina, translated into an action plan for Innovation, Competencies and Labour. These were also the themes of the Innovation Week in Turin that, from 25 to 30 September, scheduled three ministerial meetings on Industry/ICT, Science and Health. For the occasion, there was also the first meeting of the engagement group "I-7 Innovators’ Strategic Advisory Board on People-Centred Innovation" that was launched at the Taormina G7 Summit to develop guidelines on the new challenges posed by innovation.
Other extremely relevant themes that were addressed in ad hoc ministerial meetings concerned health and gender-related issues, the latter being the theme of a specific Roadmap approved at the Taormina Summit.
Particular attention was also focused on the stability and sustainable development of Africa, a transversal issue that was reflected in various forms and aspects both at the Summit and in several ministerial meetings. Suffice it to recall the Summit’s outreach session, which was entirely devoted to the African continent and to the commitment made by G7 leaders to increase their joint support for food security and nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For the future, the common goal remains to re-establish a deep-reaching and constructive dialogue at global level, leveraging on the important contribution that Russia can offer. It is therefore essential to not spare any effort to remove obstacles and create the conditions for this to take place. On our part, we are willing to grasp and follow up on any positive step that Russia may take.