Italy is being left alone as the guardian of Europe’s borders, affirms Spokesperson for Forza Italia and Member of Italy’s Delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Deborah Bergamini. In a frank interview with The Worldfolio, Ms Bergamini provides a unique insight into Italy’s role in the region and its relationships with the EU, its huge potential given the right infrastructure, and how it could be a highly valued member of the US Security Council.
What role does Italy play in the Mediterranean and in the joint effort with the United States to provide peace and security in this region that has become highly unstable?
Italy is an essential player that seeks the preservation of stability and the expansion of prosperity within the Mediterranean area. We are placed in a strategic – and at times problematic – position in the center of the region. However, after centuries of diplomacy and relationship building, Italy has gained the reputation of being an extremely serious and reliable country.
Since the beginning of its history, Italy has spearheaded stability in the Mediterranean. We are deeply concerned about the migration emergency, in which the European Union is not being helpful. In fact, I consider that this crisis shows the critical situation the EU is going through, as it continues to lose popularity among the citizens. As a consequence, Italy is being left alone as the guardian of Europe’s borders. We do not receive support of any kind; there is nor money nor resources sent to us.
The pressure of immigration is only getting stronger with the opening of a second front in the north. People do not only come to Sicily from Libya and other North African countries, but also from Albania through Apulia. Italy’s stability is under threat. And the situation got worse with the failure of the Arab Spring and as we experience today the results of a wrong approach, especially towards Libya. If you ask me how I feel today, I would say that during the last few years the Mediterranean situation has been handled in a disastrous way. A huge disaster.
From a logistics and infrastructure perspective, what can be done in order to take advantage of Italy’s strategic position in the Mediterranean as a bridge to northern Europe?
That is a great opportunity, but we need much more resources to be allocated for infrastructure development. We have problems with our digital infrastructure, as well as with our ports and our physical infrastructure. The geography does not help our country’s connectivity, as we have the Alps and the islands and Italy is long, straight and narrow.
Still, I truly believe we should do more to take advantage of our location with all the business opportunities that come through the Mediterranean.
The opportunity is also coming from the south of the Mediterranean...
Absolutely! We are losing great business in trade in the south of the Mediterranean, which is being taken by foreign companies, mostly from China. This is only possible because we are late. The help we are supposed to receive from the EU is actually creating more problems for us, due to excessive bureaucracy.
Moreover, the digital infrastructure is a priority for the communication within our country, especially as 98% of our production is made by small and medium enterprises. We need to be better connected because the lifeblood of our economy is our creativity, our flexibility and the capacity to innovate. We know what quality is, we are global innovation leaders in different sectors. We have an exceptional tradition in terms of handicrafts.
Do you think the TTIP will be effective? Will it open more opportunities for American investors to tap into the Italian market in order to develop the infrastructure it is lacking?
I hope so. That is the reason why we are working on the TTIP. We are working to be more attractive in the future, but we are still facing many challenges. There is too much bureaucracy; our justice system is too slow and it does not grant the level of certainty and speed that foreign investors seek; and as I’ve already mentioned, we need more investment in infrastructure.
Foreign investors can invest in real estate as much as they can invest in our companies, with high level of quality of innovation capacity for relatively low prices. We need more foreign investors, but under a different system. Many companies that settle here commit themselves to keeping the jobs local, but after a few years they move their production lines elsewhere.
As an MP, what are the measures you’ve been pushing forward when it comes to innovation and digital infrastructure?
There are two things, in my opinion, that we have to do. First, we have to invest more in the broadband network. The technology is already in place; we need to connect the several different actors. Then, we need certainly to guarantee that the whole country is connected. The structure of the country is very spread out. We have to cover every single corner of the country in order to reach all our SMEs. In the previous government, we were the first to put the development of the digital agenda as a top-five priority. Unfortunately then the crisis hit us hard and we had to cut investment.
Second, we should grant more competition within the communication market and I refer particularly to the telephone companies. Italy has probably got the biggest mobile phone and fixed phone market in Europe. Italians have more telephones than children today. Still, competition is not at the level that such market should require.
Italy is a candidate for the non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council for 2017, 2018. What do you think can Italy bring to the table?
I think that Italy is one of the best countries in terms of peace-building, stability-building, and negotiation capacity. It’s part of our nature and it’s part of our long tradition as a country located right in the middle of a complex area. Our military missions are widely known for being one of the best prepared and the most appreciated contingents.
We have a long history of successful experiences in this field and we are very proud of that. Each time Italy is at the table, there is a guaranty for reasonability. We are not a muscular country, because we are used to live in a complex geopolitical reality. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean is now at crisis point, but we have gained experience from that situation and I consider that a country like ours would be really helpful in the UN’s Security Council. We could help to improve the situation in Africa, southern Europe, and in the Middle East.
Moreover, we don’t think that a confrontation between Russia and the US may ever be an intelligent outcome. We are loyal friends with America, always have been, and we also have a strong relationship with Russia that dates back to ancient times. Russia is not perceived as an enemy here. We consider ourselves to be part of the same cultural and traditional area, Eurasia. And that is it something we cannot change. Then, Italy could play a key role in that issue quite naturally.
On your Twitter account, I’ve read a sentence in your description that said, “Build your legacy and look for greatness”. What is the legacy that you are working on to leave?
I have no children. I tend to think of the future probably in a less emotional way. Certainly I am glad I was born a European citizen, an Italian citizen particularly. When I look around to the world I think of how lucky I was. I think that the legacy should be to allow future generations to feel as privileged when living life, their life, as my generation in Europe had the chance to feel.