Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this government does not lie so much in the fact that it is held together by two widely differing parties that, up to a week prior to swearing in, were bickering non-stop.
What is most misleading is that the face on the world scene of the disruptive and staunchly anti-establishment and EU-disapproving M5S-Lega Alliance is that of Enzo Moavero Milanesi, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs. He’s an independent championed by President Mattarella and, as he himself admits: “summoned, I think, because of my professional competence and experience in Europe”. Unlike Conte who, because of his eagerness to become prime minister, fell into the temptation to embellish his international curriculum, instead Moavero Milanesi would have had to whiten out some of his. Right, because the head of the Italian diplomacy was also appointed minister in the recent past. He was assigned a red-hot ministry – European Affairs – for one of Salvini’s and Di Maio’s favourite political targets: Mario Monti, for whom Moavero was also head of staff from 1995 to 2000, when the future senator for life, by courtesy of President Napolitano – who later bitterly regretted it – was EU Commissioner in Brussels, designated by Silvio Berlusconi. But perhaps precisely Monti’s parabola stands to show that crossbreeding is the rule in politics.
However, the minister won’t just play the sore thumb. “I try to put my international knowledge and experience at the disposal of the Government. The cabinet is young; you can see it in some of my colleagues’ dynamism, and a contribution by someone who has acquired practical experience can turn out to be useful.” No sooner said than done. He too is behind Europe’s latest turnabout on the issue of immigration: 450 refugees rescued at sea by Italy but not disembarked and transferred on safe ships while awaiting to be distributed among EU Member Countries. “Pursuant to previous agreements,” specifies Moavero, when commenting the letter that the Italian Government sent to other EU States calling for commitment, solidarity and sharing the task of receiving refugees.
Mr Minister, have you thrown down the gauntlet to the EU on the issue of immigration?
“I would say that we have reawakened Europe with motivated and justifiable actions and proposals. At the last EU summit, for the first time we succeeded to have written down on paper the outlines of a full-fledged common immigration policy. Let me recall that the famous Dublin Regulation only concerns the right to asylum. The EU was really absent on the issue of immigration and we succeeded to have them put down two basic commitments: to invest in the Countries of Origin of migrants, which interests our companies and combats human traffickers, and to build assistance centres in several EU States and along the routes taken to come to Europe. A twofold action that is bound to decrease migration flows.”
Good try but what about the facts?
“By decision of the States, European treaties do not provide for cogent instruments. However, we have gone from words to written commitments. Now we must move on to taking action.”
There are rumours that it was your decision not to have the rescued refugees disembark and to send the letter to the EU States...
“Through Prime Minister Conte, there is constant and tight coordination among the competent ministers: Salvini, Trenta, Toninelli and me. On Saturday we decided to send a formal letter to EU leaders in which we refer to the innovative conclusions of the end-of-June Summit and called on them to enforce them. They contain specific wording, like sharing and complementary actions. We asked our EU partners to move on and take action. The result is there for everyone to see: the responsibility over migrants coming via the sea is to be shared out between the different States before they land and disembark.”
How will the matter end? Not all the States agreed...
“It is already very positive that some did agree. This case is different from that of the NGO ships Aquarius and Lifeline, which were managed in an emergency management logic. Now we are acting under precise indications from the European Council, and therefore in a structured, albeit voluntary, institutional framework.”
And what about Salvini’s refoulements? Doesn’t the Brussels agreement include them?
“The initiatives of the Minister of the Interior do not contradict European agreements. These require that efforts be shared among Countries. The Summit gave rise to an EU policy orientation that is finally clear and we urge our partners to faithfully enforce it.”
But the EU is at the end of the tether, isn’t it?
“The truth is that, for decades, the unification process has been slowed down by all the governments, including Germany and France, which lack the political will to make progress towards the federation preconfigured by the founding fathers in the '50s and '60s. Today the EU is wading across the ford and, as we have learned from Western films, this is the worst possible position to be in.”
Is there a way out?
“Europe must ask itself if, in order to face the future, it is more convenient to stick to the national dimension or put in place a US-style federation. If we were to opt for the second choice, we would have to consult the citizens through a referendum.”
What slowed down the unification process?
“The growing mistrust among States led to losing the vocation to give prevalence to the community aspect. Misunderstandings have grown. For example, we and the Nordic States have widely differing views: we talk of migrants in the Mediterranean and they talk of sailing across the Arctic Sea. The sclerosis is too widespread and there are even amazing analogies between the decadence of the Roman Empire and that of the EU: internal quarrelling, sitting back to enjoy the acquired wellbeing, the difficulty to renovate, the issue of being invaded.”
So it is lucky that NATO exists?
“I have just returned from the Brussels summit with Donald Trump and I can guarantee you that NATO will continue to exist. It is essential for our security and today it is no longer a mere military alliance: it brings technological innovation and cooperation against international terrorism.”
But Trump is asking for money...
“He has good reason: the US pay much more than their allies, but the increase is planned to be a progressive. Of course, now that the USSR no longer exists, the Alliance must find a new balance. We have to stop only focusing on Eastern scenarios but also shift our focus on the Southern scenario of the Mediterranean. This is what Italy asked for and obtained at the Summit.”
Right, but it’s expensive. We have a controversy with the EU on the soundness of our finances: Brussels has asked us for a budget revision of approximately ten billion while Salvini plans to increase our debt to promote growth; how will the controversy end?
“Europe gives indications of this sort to everybody, not only to us. Italy has a large public debt which was a legacy from the '70s and '80s, when public spending skyrocketed, also to combat terrorism. But we have no problem of insolvency; in fact, our debt is starting to decrease. In the autumn we will present a Budget bill and discuss it with Europe. The solution will come from investment, especially private. Thanks to our savings, we have a great amount of wealth to invest.”
Does this foreshadow a property tax?
“Not at all, as far as I am concerned. Quite the opposite: we have to stimulate private investment so that everybody can contribute to the Country’s development. A free choice based on trust, investing our own money and not public money, not the money sifted through taxes and then redistributed, nor the fruit of deficit spending. We need a great collective mobilisation to guarantee utmost honesty and trust in financial institutions and enterprises.”
It sounds like wishful thinking...
“It already happened in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The point is rebuilding our self-confidence, like that of our grandparents, despite the devastation of war.”
Why did Italians vote for M5S and Lega in bulk?
“Because they, in their imagination, saw in these parties their own desire for change. I think that voters wanted to dismantle the system and to put their stakes on the newest thing they could find. Perhaps we are no longer the people in the Leopard.”
How do you see the anti-Europeanism of the sovereigntist Lega and of the M5S?
«Anti-Europeanism? Let’s look at the facts: for years Europe has been asking us to simplify rules, make schools, the justice system and the public administration more efficient and to protect the environment. These are all founding elements for our government. The narration on anti-European sovereigntists is misleading.”
From the outside, the M5S and the Lega appear to proceed in parallel, each one on its separate path. As an outsider turned insider how do you see them?
“They are easy to understand, better than might be acknowledged. They want to implement the coalition agreement. I don’t see any particular division; the government is united on the important decisions. Salvini and Di Maio can be natural competitors as party leaders but it is more of a competition between who can outdo the other than a sterile conflict.”
How long will this government last?
“Hopefully a long time because Italians need stability. Future deadlines must not be seen as a threat to the cabinet’s stability. The European elections of 2019 can be a time to check our being in sync with voters and not breaking up with them.”
Several political analysts have written that M5S and Lega will end up merging into a single populist party...
“They are not too distant on many topics but it is up to the two Deputy Prime Ministers to answer.”
A commonplace question: how does it feel to be first part of the most Europeanist and then of the most anti-Europeanist government in Italy’s recent history?
“The political phases are completely different. Monti had to tackle a terrible situation; the Country was under a speculative attack and risked bankruptcy. In an EU pervaded by asymmetries, the financial and economic crisis that burst in the USA also struck the euro, undermining its stability. The slowness in finding a solution at EU-level disappointed European citizens. The crisis started to wane when, precisely thanks to the action of the Italian government, the European Central Bank intervened and imposed a new monetary policy also on those who were recalcitrant like Germany.”
On the basis of your experience in Brussels, are you telling me that the EU worsened the crises of single States, putting Italy at risk of going bankrupt?
“I am only saying that if EU Member States had been more united and resolute from the very beginning of the crisis, it would have been much better. The EU is a strange unfinished creature which is ever-present if it has to tell you how to package butter but absent when gigantic problems like that of migration loom.”
You mentioned different phases: so, do we risk going bankrupt as the opposers to this government claim?
“There are emergencies, but different from those of 2011. Today we are not trying to rescue the Country but promote its relaunch. The times continue to be very complex. Globalisation puts everybody in competition, the technology revolution makes it possible to move billions with a click of the finger, climate change drives populations to move: these three elements raise challenges and opportunities. I think that now decisions must not be made in order to avoid the worst, as was the case for Monti, but to make a positive leap forward. It is now time to invest and venture out to build a better future.”