• First of all, I would like to thank the Ambassador of Egypt, His Excellency Ashraf Rashed, for organizing this meeting. I would also like to thank all of you, Ambassadors of the whole African Continent, for your presence here today.
To meet all of you in this prestigious Embassy, reminds us one more time of the tight bonds between Italy and Africa and among all the people of the two Continents, united by the Mediterranean sea.
I’ m particularly glad to take this opportunity to salute the presence in Rome in these days of the President of the Republic of Capo Verde, in order to attend the General Conference of FAO and to have bilateral talks with the Italian Government.
• We are at the eve of an Africa-EU Summit that has a great value, I might say an historical value.
In spite of difficulties and after 7 years from the first Summit held in Cairo in 2000, Heads of States and Government of the two Continents will convene together again. Italy is proud to have given a contribution to this event taking place.
• With this Summit, a new scenario of strategic cooperation will open between Africa and Europe. It will be centred on a shared vision on the four main objectives of a long-term partnership (to reinforce the Africa-EU political partnership, to promote peace, security and governance, to address global challenges and common concerns and to facilitate a people centred partnership). This partnership will find in Lisbon also a concrete field of implementation and the First Plan of Action will indicate eight Priority Actions where to concentrate our common efforts.
At the basis of the Euro-African strategic dialogue, there are two principles, which represent the corner-stones of the African policy of the Italian government: ownership and partnership. Two principles which are also the constitutive elements of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (the NEPAD), created in 2001.
• The international landscape of today is largely and deeply different from the one existing when we first met in Cairo, seven years ago.
The enlarged European Union of today is very different from the once 15 members Europe and it needs to pay a greater attention to more advanced forms of coordination and cooperation.
• Also, and above all, Africa has changed a lot.
The most evident sign of this change is in the political stature of the Continent. We see an encouraging progress in direction of a broader situation of peace and security. An objective decrease in the number of conflicts and an increase of electoral experiences confirm this perception. The relative diminution of internal tensions, especially if compared to a very dramatic and not so distant past, is also contributing to improve the general image of the Continent.
Africa has found in the establishment of the African Union an occasion to let her voice be heard inside and outside the Continent. It is structured to assume international responsibilities and to make the African Union a valid representative of its positions.
This does not mean that crises have disappeared. The Continent still presents relevant and critical factors in its political, social and economic profile. Situations such as those in Somalia and Sudan, tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea have a long way to go before solutions can be found. Still, I’m deeply convinced that in these last seven years important steps forward have been made. Thanks to this firm determination, Africa appears today to be a significant player in the planetary scene and better equipped to cope with its multiple and complex challenges.
• The development of Africa is a key point in the context of the new dynamism brought about by globalization.
In the past few years Africa’s growth performance has reached an average rate of almost 5%, and will be higher this year. Trade and investments are key engines of growth for Africa and, as it has been clearly underlined by the recent G8 Summit in Germany, Italy is convinced that it is high time to be confident in the economic empowerment of the Continent and to invest in the opportunities it offers.
• The Italian Government is following very carefully what’s happening in Africa and it is now moving on a different pace at all levels of its approach to the Continent, from emergency assistance to development aid, to the political and to the economic relations with all African Countries.
It is in this context that the growing number of official visits from Italy to the Continent has to be regarded. The visit of the President of the Republic to Ghana, the attendance of Prime Minister Prodi to the African Union Summit last January, the visit that the same President Prodi has planned for the coming spring to Southern Africa and the one that I myself made at the beginning of July in South Africa, Congo and Mozambique, together with the Minister of international trade, Emma Bonino. This is without mentioning the numerous trips made by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Sentinelli.
• The responsibilities we are currently having within the Security Council of the United Nations offer us an additional opportunity for structuring our political approach to the Continent. We are encouraged by the spirit of dialogue and of understanding existing between the Italian and African Delegations in that planetary Forum.
• In this respect I would like to stress that Italy’s perspective is always based on the respect of mutual interest, inspired by a transparent desire to contribute to the development of Africa and to the fulfilment of the basic conditions for reaching such result.
We are guided by the objectives indicated by the Millennium Development Goals and we are perfectly aware of difficulties many Countries are facing in maintaining the pace set seven years ago. This is one of the reasons which convinced us to increase our efforts in the field of cooperation to development, with particular attention to the healthcare programmes.
In spite of the well known limits to our budget, our Government has managed to invert in 2007 the downward trend in the expenditure for development aid, especially for Sub Sahara Africa, and to consolidate it in 2008.
No effort will be spared in the future to allow us to honour our engagements.
The decision announced during the last G8 Summit in Heiligendamm to devote 400 million Euro per year, for the next 10 years, to strengthen African capabilities to fight pandemics and the yearly contribution to the Global Fund against HIVAIDS, malaria and TBC, maintain us among the greater contributors in this sector.
• It is in this context that my Government has decided to respond to the demand emerging from the African Continent to be supported in strengthening its own capability to address the basic issues of peace and security, and to tackle the connected challenges
To this aim we decided to set up a bilateral Fund – the Italian Africa Peace Facility – in support of African Union actions in the field of peace and security and to assist this Organization in strengthening its operational institutions. As announced by Prime Minister Prodi, the Facility shall support African Union and sub regional Organizations efforts to prevent potential crisis, to promote solutions and to consolidate peace and reconstruction in post-conflict situations.
Funded with 40 million Euro, the Facility shall be operated paying due attention to the new Joint European Union-Africa Strategy and in coherence with the global approach of United Nations in the field of peace and security.
• We are also reserving an increasing attention to the economic potential of the Continent, being convinced that investments and trade are indispensable catalysts for growth and development of any Country and of any Continent.
This is the reason why on the occasion of my trip to South Africa I insisted to be accompanied by a large number of public and private investors. We shall follow the same strategy for reinvigorating economic and commercial ties wherever we notice signals of opportunity.
• Africa is at a crucial moment in her millenary history and, as pointed out by the President of the African Union and President of Ghana Kufour, Africa wants to make sure that her positions and her choices are clear to her partners in order to count on their support.
Together with our political and economic relations, we intend to increase also our cultural ties within the Continent. We intend to extend our already intensive relations with Mediterranean Countries to Sub Saharan Africa.
• We don’t underestimate the difficulties that still exist and the wide dimension of the challenges that stand before us. However, Italy is determined and ready to do its part, without unnecessary ambitions, but with the certainty that Italian diplomacy can and must work not only for Africa, but with Africa.
We count also on the wisdom and on the spirit of cooperation of all of you, as enlightened Ambassadors of the African Continent, for operating all together, in a joint manner towards a future of progress and of shared well-being.