Europe and China. Italy and Brexit. Change and elections. France and the disputes. Isolation and diplomacy. And then an overarching question:
Does the Italian government actually realize what the seventh industrial power of the planet is risking by changing its alliances, isolating itself from the G7, upsetting the balance within NATO, taking its own separate stance on major international crises and taking a step closer every day towards the Asian and Russian quadrants while moving away from the non-negotiable values of the Atlantic Pact?
We have gathered a few questions, some doubts and some concerns about the direction, which in our opinion is a dangerous one, being taken by the ‘government of change’ on some issues that cut across geopolitics, economics and foreign policy, and in a long interview we have put them to the Foreign Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero, who agreed with sportsmanship to talk with Il Foglio, despite the rather marked distance between the position of our newspaper and the policy of the government. Our discussion with Moavero begins with some European issues and the first somewhat mischievous question that we address to the Minister concerns a rather central issue for a government that for months has not concealed its Euroskeptic attitude.
Minister Moavero, how would you explain to those who are still skeptical about Europe, even within your government, why in the long run Italy needs more Europe, not less Europe?
"Reasoning in terms of more Europe or less Europe is not the right approach to the matter. Today's Europe needs a major overhaul because there are a great many unresolved issues that have heaped up thus causing much discontent. The overhaul is necessary and can be done in different ways that can not be completely summarized by the idea of `more Europe 'or` less Europe' which only reflects the positions at the extreme ends of the matter. Traditionally, there has been a demand for greater cohesion with some even hoping for the creation of a federation at some point in the future. And after all, the word "federation" was present in the statement by Robert Schuman who initiated the European integration process. But in Europe there have always been two visions: one, in favour of transferring more powers from the States to the European Union, and the other which is against this idea: indeed, those who support this latter position often think that some powers and functions should actually be returned to the national governments. I do not think it is correct to attribute this vision solely to the political forces that we define as "sovereignist". It also depends on the general feelings of public opinion in the different EU countries. Suffice it to recall, for example, the positions of some Dutch governments, generally considered to be pro-Europe. The German Constitutional Court itself, in its crucial rulings on the Treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon meticulously indicates a series of limits to increasing the powers of the Union with respect to those of the States, and explains that the current treaties are in no way federal in nature and that a true European federation would required new and different treaties".
The reasoning, or rather the framework, is clear, but we insist further by asking Moavero: Today, which of these two lines is closer to the government you belong to?
"I believe that our government, just like almost all the governments of the EU states, deems that we urgently need to reform the way the Union functions. In particular, we are quite disturbed by Europe’s substantial inaction, motivated by the selfishness of various States, with regard to the issue of migration flows that have reached epic proportions. This is a significant example of Europe's failure, even in the presence of appropriate operational and decision-making tools. And when we were hit by the economic and financial crisis, it took the EU too much time to find a way out and, in any case, the measures taken have produced greater inequalities, both between countries and within individual countries. In respect of these problems we seriously need to question Europe’s effectiveness and its capacity for initiative. Community laws need to be integrated and to do this we need a convergence of political will among national governments that is often lacking, because there is very strong resistance and divisions tend to prevail".
The idea that a shared budget is necessary, and therefore also an EU Minister of the Economy, is a decisive issue for the future of Europe: does this government intend to carry on the battle for a single European budget?
"When we talk about the European budget today we risk confusing two distinct issues. The first is the ongoing negotiation on the long-term financial framework that sets the basic elements of the annual EU budgets for the 2021 – 2027 period. The second, regards the open discussion on the creation of an ad hoc budget for the so-called Eurozone. The political debate on the first issue is important because it concerns the resources required to make the Union and its public policies work, and therefore it concerns the givers and takers. It is often pointed out that Italy is the third net contributor to the European budget and people wonder whether we are paying too much. In this regard, we must not forget that, apart from the accounting balance proper, we draw huge advantages from the European single market of which we are among the most active users, given the importance of our economy in the various productive sectors and because our Country relies heavily on exports. This is not a recent advantage; indeed, a considerable part of the Italian economic miracle back in the Sixties was determined by the export of goods to the nascent European market that had abolished customs duties. In the context of the negotiation, we have raised the question of revenues that are composed, above all, of obligatory payments by the States. We argue that the EU budget should be fueled by genuine own resources, for example the EU should issue European debt securities, find resources in the market place to finance large investment projects of common interest, and establish European taxes to be paid only by the people who currently evade taxes by exploiting the highly advantageous tax schemes of some States.
We insist on this point. Does the Italian government think that the budget of the euro area is a goal worth fighting for?
"There have been different hypotheses on the subject of the Eurozone budget. Initially, the idea was that it served to counterbalance the asymmetric shocks of the economic crises that do not affect every country in the same way. Instead, if we look at the recent Franco-German proposals, the Eurozone budget would mostly be used to support the structural reforms that the Union requires from its Member States to improve their competitiveness. If this is the main objective of a budget of the Eurozone, we need to think it over carefully, also because fostering such reforms should be of interest across the entire Union and not just the Eurozone. Moreover, in the context of the Eurozone, it is a priority to have effective tools to prevent and immediately counter the economic and financial crises, appropriately protecting the flow of credit and the banks and financial institutions in the interest of savers and entrepreneurs. At the level of the Union and its public policies and initiatives, we cannot continually postpone an articulated solution to the migration issue, including significant investments in the countries of origin of the migrants. Furthermore, sensitive issues such as security, including cyber and internet security, and the fight against terrorism and international crime need to be better addressed”.
The government of which Moavero is a member has often spoken about wanting to change the Dublin Treaty but the alliances built so far in Europe seem to be going in the opposite direction, namely leaving the treaty as it is still for a long time to come.
If changing the treaty is still a priority of this government, how will the executive of which Moavero is a member try to do it in the coming months?
"In these years of stalemate we have raised a political question that goes beyond this reform. The Dublin Regulation governs the granting of the right to asylum in the EU which is only a tiny part of the broad spectrum of issues raised by migration flows; for example, only about seven percent of migrants arriving in Italy have the right to asylum. The Dublin system places all the burdens on the migrants' country of first arrival: such country must welcome them, verify their identity, provide them with documents, establish if they have or do not have the right to asylum and, if they do not they must be repatriated to their countries of origin, provided that there are agreements to this end. These are burdensome and unfair conditions since they depend on geography and on the routes chosen by the traffickers of human beings. Changing the Dublin Regulation requires a majority vote which we do not have for now, but we must insist. Moreover, the solution for migrants is intertwined with the EU budget: if we want to reduce the flows we must improve the socio-economic conditions in the countries of origin and, therefore, allocate more funds for making the necessary investments ".
Is Moavero telling us that a possible solution to skirt around the Dublin rules could be to make agreements between individual states?
"It is more complicated than that. To say that only some countries can participate in migratory flows is really a last resort, it would be a defeat for Europe. With a philosophical attitude one might recall that even on other difficult issues it took the EU many years to reach a satisfactory result. A worrying aspect is that citizens think that the solution is a national matter: instead, without a European agreement, everything is more difficult. The EU Countries should stop defending their individual interests and start working together with honesty and fairness. Migrants should not be left in the hands of traffickers and, in particular, refugees who have asylum rights should be guaranteed dedicated and safe humanitarian corridors".
We point out to Moavero that, so far, with regard to the immigration issue Italy has often given the impression of working in the interest, first of all, of sovereign allies like Viktor Orban.
A mischievous question: shouldn’t it be appropriate to reiterate in every possible context that Italy has nothing to do with illiberal democracies?
How can this be explained to those who seem to have a special inclination for those illiberal democracies?
"It can be explained by looking at reality. On the subject of migration, there are European states that are even against the reception of refugees. Italy, on the other hand, welcomes refugees. Let us not forget and let us not confuse things: it is important to avoid factors of undue attraction that induce many people to seek better living conditions, putting themselves in the hands of criminal traffickers who drag them into terrible tragedies. We need to be very careful when we speak about migration: attracting uncontrolled flows to Europe, even unintentionally, feeds many illicit circuits and those who arrive often end up in a market of exploitation and undeclared work. In any case, liberal democracy is the model in which the Italian Republic recognizes itself. It is written in our Constitution. As for international references, I myself have repeatedly emphasized that there are three pillars: the UN, the Atlantic Alliance and European integration".
Speaking of liberal democracies and non-liberal democracies we interrupt the thread of our discussion with the Minister for a moment to show him a special map of Europe. The map was published a few days ago by some newspapers; it gives a snapshot of the states that have agreed to sign the Silk Road (BRI) memorandum with China: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Greece. Apart from Portugal, the others are all countries that besides not being being members of the G7 are geographically more oriented towards the East than towards the West.
Is it just a coincidence, we ask Minister Moavero, that Italy has stepped into this playing field, thus breaking up the unity of the G7?
"The answer is banal and it comes from both geography and history. China lies to the East of Europe and it is normal that the countries of Europe that are closest to the east should also look to China. Isn’t this what the States of the Italian peninsula did before the discovery of America? In addition, among the great European economies, Italy is the one that suffers most from a negative gap in the trade with China. The memorandum offers a framework for potentially stepping up relations with China, as occurred in the distant and recent past of our country. All this, of course, must be combined with a rigorous protection of our national security ".
We interrupt the Minister pointing out that no one is questioning whether or not our country should enhance trade with China and improve business. What is under discussion is that Italy has signed an agreement which, as pointed out by NATO, by the European Union and by the US national security council, puts our very sovereignty at risk, especially on the telecommunications front.
Minister Moavero, is what has been done really normal?
"The memorandum is not an act that in and of itself entails legal obligations; it is a basis for possible agreements that are to be assessed and decided. It is obvious and imperative that the government should protect public security which is our duty towards our citizens and towards our allies. This is why the government has already expanded, with a legally binding act, the specific legislation known as the `golden power '. This provides a safe legislative framework. It is essential to understand that all security-related aspects have precedence and will always have precedence over business".
Have you really been unaffected by the strong reaction of NATO, the European Commission and the United States have which have all firmly condemned Italy's choice regarding the BRI?
"The concern expressed within the framework of NATO and within the alliance with the USA is a legitimate concern which is related to security aspects which we guarantee with our laws which were recently strengthened even further. In the case of the EU and the European countries, we need to face reality: there is no denying that the EU would respond better as a partner to China if it acted in a cohesive manner. But even here, the EU has not come up with a common and binding line of action with regard to China: on the contrary, each State maintains its own relations as it deems best fit and so there is intra-European competition in the dealings with Beijing. In any case, let it be clear, Italy participates in all the EU tables on China and it is in favour of a common line, provided it is well-balanced and realistic".
Can you tell us why our allies are not supposed to be worried about the possibility that a country like China may take possession of huge amounts of Italian data by hegemonizing the telecommunications sector via the 5G technology?
"No one needs to worry, because we are conscientious, motivated to protect our citizens and our businesses and to be loyal allies. I still invite everyone to carefully read the new ‘golden power’ rules. Why, unlike many other countries that signed the same memorandum, the Italian agreement was not signed by the Farnesina but by the Ministry of Development? "Because it is an expression of commercial intents and therefore, its content and political guidance falls within the competence of the Ministry of Economic Development. For this reason it was signed by the Minister of Economic Development who is responsible for foreign trade, a matter that is distinct from foreign policy in the strict sense ".
We insist: why was Italy the only country, a few weeks ago, to oppose the proposal to increase preventive controls on strategic investments?
"As clarified by a statement by the Under-Secretary Geraci of the Ministry for Economic Development who represented Italy on that occasion, this regulation provides for an exchange of information between the state bodies that oversee direct foreign investments and we considered it to be too mild. We are not against it, but if the EU wants a true common policy for such investments, it should have much more vigorous regulations, perhaps along the lines of our ‘golden power’ model".
Minister Moavero, do you realize that also on the Chinese dossier Italy has taken a step forward to isolate itself from its traditional European allies?
"The EU is not such a close-knit and cohesive union that one might unquestionably claim that some states are isolated from others. In the first place, situations vary considerably depending on the matters being discussed. Furthermore, to use a metaphor, today 'Europe is more like a group of islands, an archipelago, rather than like a fairly uniform entity as some people would want it to be".
Minister, excuse me, but what side is Italy on today?
"We have regular contacts and meetings with the Mediterranean countries and with the Balkan countries. This year, we signed innovative structured consultation agreements on foreign policy issues, with Belgium and the Netherlands, with regular quarterly meetings and systematic contracts; we are about to do the same also with Luxembourg. I would like to point out that this means that four out of the six original founders of the European Communities are working closely together. The other two founding countries are the well-known, almost indissoluble, Franco-German couple that have been a separate entity since the very beginning of the European integration process The fascination that frequently induces some countries to hope that the couple can be enlarged does not really work out in the end. For our geographical position the most natural synergies are with the Mediterranean and, for historic reasons, with the three co-founders of the Benelux Union, without forgetting that there are other possible convergences on certain matters with many other European partners, as happens regularly with the variable-geometry approach in the negotiations within the Union".
And regarding isolation: what does Brexit teach to those who theorize simple solutions to very complex problems?
“Brexit is teaching us a lot: it is no coincidence that Hitchcock was born in England and was a great European director; we could never have imagined more suspense than we are experiencing with Brexit. The great complexity of the situation shows that the years that Great Britain spent in the EU have not passed in vain. We can now fully appreciate the high degree of interdependence that there is between the member countries of the Union, all of them. The EU is like the air we breathe: it is there, it is necessary, even if we do not see it. The British thought they could keep all the advantages of the Union, especially free access to the European market. At the same time, they wanted to do away with the issues that caused the exit vote, related in particular to the freedom of movement of people. But it is very difficult to split up the components of the EU. The element that is creating the biggest problems is the Irish question, which can turn around decades of peaceful coexistence achieved thanks to painstaking efforts. Brexit is teaching us that severing positive and pervasive ties is difficult and probably wrong, because the breadth of the EU free market is a great factor and an accelerator of growth and employment ".
Nigel Farage has asked Italy to veto the extension of Article 50. What will Italy do?
"I am convinced that this is not in Italy’s interest and the government has confirmed this position".
We interrupt the flow of the conversation with Minister Maovero by reading the tweet of a RAI journalist, Giancarlo Loquenzi, who a few days ago effectively summarized the ambiguity of our government also on another important topic of international policy: Venezuela. Tweet by Loquenzi: "Yesterday a Russian plane carrying 100 soldiers landed in Caracas to support Maduro's regime.
Can you remind us what side we are on? "
"Expressing the issue in this way - says Moavero - is not exact. I formally said in Parliament that Italy does not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s election as president of Venezuela, while it does recognize the legitimacy of the elections for the National Assembly. We have not explicitly recognized Juan Guaidó as president because that is an internal matter of Venezuela. Furthermore, we are not at all sure that contributing from abroad to the struggle between two personalities is the best way to favour the process of reconciliation, avoid the escalation of conflicting trends and hold new and legitimate elections as soon as possible. This is why we have been more cautious. And we have explained it to our allies ".
About alliances: In September Italy renewed the sanctions against Russia. Will it do so again at the next opportunity?
"Italy has always renewed them. The sanctions against Russia are not a way to pick on Moscow, they are a tool, a means, not an end. They are a measure recognized by international law to be applied when faced with force or violations".