Marina Sereni, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Pd political party: "We need to review the industrial strategy with national security in mind. We must pay attention to certain stories."
“"We are living a peculiar situation; we pass form hours of total frenzy, consider, for example, the difficulties in organising the return of Italians abroad, to moments of relative calm since all non-essential activities have been suspended", Marina Sereni, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Pd political party said. Together with the Vice Minister, we tried to understand the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' agenda in these complicated days and of the relationships with partners and international "friends".
What are the main concerns of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at this stage?
We are focused on emergency management in several ways. Among these, there is undoubtedly the return of compatriots from abroad: workers, students, tourists but also individuals with special health cases. It is a challenging situation, but I must say that the diplomats of all our offices, in addition to the Crisis Unit, are doing their best.
Is this one of the points on which Italy is collaborating with the other countries of the European Union?
The need to tackle the Covid-19 emergency on a European scale is becoming increasingly evident and strong. But this is also very positive: cooperation will be the main topic during the European Affairs Council next week. Other countries are beginning to experience the same situation as us on the spread of the virus, and they too must deal with the return of their citizens from abroad. Let's think about Erasmus students: there are many Italians around Europe but also many European students in Italy. Allowing them to return to their respective countries is a mutual problem, and we are trying to facilitate the organisation of additional flights.
How do you rate the 750 billion-shield presented by the European Central Bank today?
Today's decision is crucial; we need to see how markets will react to it and what it means in terms of spreads for our country. It is a EUR 750 billion-bazooka in addition to the purchases that the European Central Bank already had planned. We have greeted it with great relief, and we believe that it is also the result of the work done by our government these days. But it is not the only crucial European decision. If on the one hand there is European coordination to tackle the emergency implementing the Italian model in the rest of Europe, on the other, there is the issue of the economic impact.
We must face a slowdown that will not only affect Italy.
The European Commission has made resources available - which are neither many nor new but is a budget designed explicitly for economic initiatives to support the coronavirus emergency. The Eurogroup has always given positive responses, and the latest meetings have shown that ministers are aware that they are taking significant actions. Such actions can be implemented with national budgets, and this is already clear since we are already beyond the Stability Pact.
Will that be enough?
It is vital for us and everyone that there is also a package of additional European resources. Our government has already put forward the proposal for coronabonds, i.e. bonds dedicated to the economic consequences of the pandemic. However, I do not rule out the possibility that we should also discuss the use of the resources of the European Stability mechanism going beyond the issue of conditionality.
Have some people too quickly accused our European partners of a lack of solidarity by flanking the matter of Chinese 'aids'?
This pandemic resembles a war because of its global dimension and virulence. And in war, there's always a part of rhetoric and narrative. The enemy for all is coronavirus. It is vital to bear in mind that it does not know boundaries; it represents a global challenge, and that cooperation at a supranational level is crucial. It is true also for the relationship with China, the country from which the virus originated and the first to experience a significant emergency. We are friends of China, and it is right to recognise their efforts to combat the virus. However, I think we should be careful about certain stories.
What do you mean?
It is legitimate for Beijing to claim its solidarity with us, and we can only thank them for that. But we must be careful of those who use this attitude of China to counteract an alleged European indifference, which is not real. Just think of the medical supplies that arrived a few days ago from Germany and France. Perhaps in some passages, there may have been moments of misunderstanding and underestimation with our European partners. Still, we need to know that we are linked to a common destiny with Europe and the West. The decisions of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Central bank confirm this.
What is our dimension?
The European dimension. Presently, we are fighting an everyday battle against the virus, and this European dimension will increasingly be the one in which we can also overcome the economic consequences of the infection. As for communication, therefore, those who have political roles, but also our public service and newspapers must be careful to see what Europe is actually doing. It is essential to acknowledge that, since February, Europe has made many important decisions in the right direction. I would like to mention the coordination on the health level and the joint decision to allocate resources.
Coronavirus is often referred to as the element that disrupts Europe. What do you think?
The first steps Europe has taken in recent weeks tell us that exactly the opposite can happen. But this challenge gives us the opportunity to review certain paradigms of globalisation. Let's think about the Italian and European industrial system. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what production we need to put back at the centre of our industrial strategy. For example, we are finding it difficult at this stage to find masks since we no longer produce them in the light of relocation to China.
We need a new industrial strategy that goes hand in hand with national security.
Given specific considerations of national security, including the protection of citizens' health, the liberal order can and has to be reconsidered. It does not mean overturning the parameters and values of the progressive system but introducing elements of correction. I do not believe that everything the market has done in these decades of globalisation has been positive.
The epidemic is also advancing in front of our shores. What is Italy doing?
We are monitoring the Mediterranean and the Middle East situation; the security and stability of Italy and Europe also depend on the security and stability of those countries. Now all governments are focused on the evolution of the pandemic. Considering this, the actions to contain the virus are themselves actions of peace and stabilisation. The sooner we can stop the virus, the sooner we can get back to dealing with normality. Conflicts also fall within such "normality". For the conflict in Libya - even more complicated after the resignation of the UN envoy Ghassan Salamé – it was necessary to start again from respect for the truce, from the interruption of external interference and the conclusions of the Berlin conference taken up by a UN Security Council resolution.