He smiles beneath the blue mask with a stylised Italian flag. The operation was clearly a political success and Luigi Di Maio knows it. He was able to bring together at the Foreign Ministry Cabinet ministers from Italia Viva (Teresa Bellanova) and the Democratic Party (from Dario Franceschini to Roberto Gualtieri and Paola De Micheli), plus Paola Pisano and Gaetano Manfredi. They all spoke after him and they all praised him for this 1 bn euro export plan.
When he leaves the room after the conference, and before facing the press, I'd like to ask the (hardly) former head of the 5 Star Movement if today's event was more about scoring points, a trial of strength engaged with Prime Minister Conte, whose own forthcoming convention is beleaguered by problems.
Di Maio, who has become very glib-tongued indeed since being appointed Foreign Minister, smiles again and weighing his words carefully, so as not to appear too caustic: «The upcoming convention is an important event towards getting our economy back on its feet, because now more than ever we need concrete solutions». The key words here are obviously «concrete solutions». Those which, to date, have been rather lacking from Mr. Conte's post-Covid19 rebirth project, at least according to several Democratic Party leaders.
Instead, the event staged in the marble halls of the Foreign Ministry is altogether a different kettle of fish: a 6-point plan for businesses, involving over 100 trade associations, seven government departments, based on a far-reaching promotional campaign for reviving "Brand Italy".
A «pact» that appears to reconcile - at least in the field of exports, awaiting further concrete solutions - this piece of the government with the business community, which, moreover, had recently blasted Mr. Conte, absent at today's event and represented by his diplomatic advisor Pietro Benassi. In attendance - albeit in silence - Carlo Bonomi, president of the Confederation of Italian Industry and hyper-critical towards the government.
One cannot help feeling that this is a sort of exercise in one-upmanship by Mr. Di Maio, because of the number of ministers attending and certain comments. «This plan is strategic for our country», says Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri. But Di Maio himself eschews any mention of competition. «Today, we have presented a very important pact for relaunching Brand Italy». But is there or is there not a degree of contention with the Prime Minister?
«Allow me to say that we have all worked together as a team, with humility and quietly. This is the model we need to adopt to rebuild our economy, because collaborative teamwork is the only way to get this country back up and running again». Well, it doesn't get any clearer than that. We are a model. And perhaps this activism has struck some rather sensitive chords, because throughout the whole day the Prime Minister doesn't have the time or wish to share the event on Facebook or Twitter. Of course, it's perfectly useless to quiz the Foreign Minister about it. «The key word here for us all - Mr. Di Maio stresses - is "commitment". We are making over 1 million euros available to large, medium and small businesses».
Before the event Di Maio stops and talks with Dario Franceschini, the most senior Democratic Party member in the government, and with Stefano Bonaccini, the President of Emilia Romagna and another senior Democratic Party figure at this juncture. A sign that the conference is, yes, about export, but that domestic policy is also prominent on the agenda. Also because of the "stone guest".
In the background, tourism, integrated promotion, with projects focusing on contemporary art, cinema, publishing, design, innovation, to enhance the visibility of entrepreneurs and creatives. There's also mention of the agri-food, pharmaceutical and infrastructure sectors. On his way out, Di Maio remarks on «The many ideas arising from the discussion».