Italy is one of the hardest-hit European countries in the COVID-19 pandemic. For Global Conversation, Italy’s Foreign Secretary Luigi Di Maio told Euronews about the country's response to the crisis.
Euronews' Giorgia Orlandi: What is it that doesn't seem to be working in Italy's response to the coronavirus pandemic?
Luigi Di Maio: For more than a week now Italy has been introducing the strictest measures to prevent people from even moving around. This is the most restrictive measure that a country has taken in the Western world, especially in European countries, and this is our approach in order to get out of this crisis as soon as possible.
Today there is an "Italy model", in which there are stricter rules than all the other countries. We have also had to apply these measures within the framework of a constitutional landscape, seeing citizens blocked and denied certain rights and fundamental freedoms.
Giorgia Orlandi:Europe is divided when it comes to managing the crisis. Various member states have taken their own decisions in no particular order. We have seen the progressive closure of borders within the European Union and the suspension of Schengen. Some have called this the beginning of the failure of Europe. In your opinion, have we reached a point of no return in terms of European unity?
Luigi Di Maio: Surely this global crisis is an enormous responsibility for the European Union. We are at a crucial time for the European Union and as always, when faced with unforeseen challenges, we need extraordinary measures and we cannot think of tackling a health and economic crisis such as the one we are experiencing and which will bring the whole of Europe into recession with ordinary means.
That's why it is very important, and I speak on behalf of Italy, seeing all the political forces, even those that may have been tempted to leave the European Union, asking today for Eurobonds. Eurobonds are a great opportunity for Europe to show that it can react to a crisis like this.
It is true that we all have to take risks today with Eurobonds, but we could share great opportunities tomorrow.
If we have to work on a vaccine that can protect our populations forever, well, we cannot afford to delay it and how do we speed up the process to get a vaccine? With a big international alliance on vaccines. We can’t allow the vaccine to serve a few people, it must be for everyone.
Giorgia Orlandi:You were talking about the economic responses there. Europe is reacting with the ECB's 750 billion euro plan on one hand, and on the other, the Stability Pact has been suspended. You mentioned the Eurobonds. What do these measures mean for Italy and how will the country exploit them?
Luigi Di Maio: I think that the suspension of the Stability Pact is a great signal that Europe, the European Union and its Member States have understood the difficulty of the situation in which Italy finds itself and in which we all find ourselves. The suspension of the Stability Pact needs to include support from the European Central Bank when issuing government bonds.
We also want to follow the formula that Mario Draghi has indicated recently: in times of war, because Italy is currently at war with an invisible enemy that is the virus, countries need to take on debt to make investments and obviously the creation of that debt must be supported by the Central Bank.
At a European Union level, seeing Italy, the second-largest manufacturing force in Europe, in difficulty doesn’t benefit anyone. Everyone in the European Union must be convinced that the European Union cannot exist without Italy. The single European market cannot exist without the productive force and capacity of our entrepreneurs.
Giorgia Orlandi:Let's talk about China. Before the outbreak of the pandemic Italy was a reference point for China in Europe. Then we saw that the fear of the spread of the virus in Italy initially cooled diplomatic relations a little between the two countries, but now we see that China is ready to send medical aid and medical staff. How has this relationship evolved? Is this just propaganda or is this help from China really sincere?
Luigi Di Maio: Even before this crisis, we always said we looked at China as a trading partner. And our relationship with China, as we said in the past, cannot affect our geopolitical position in our alliances with NATO and the United States of America and at a European level.
One cannot think at this moment of conceiving the aid mechanism, that has not just come from China, as a decision by Italy to change its geopolitical position.
We are allies of the United States, we are in NATO and we are in the European Union.
Historically, the Italian way has always been that representation of Italy in the world as a bridge between the West and the East with great relations with the whole world. Thanks to those relations, all over the world, there are countries that are helping us.
Giorgia Orlandi:You were referring to Russia earlier, which is offering a significant aid mission to Italy, but this is raising some doubts. There are fears over how international alliances will look like once the pandemic is over. What is your response to that? And what is the real purpose of this mission?
Luigi Di Maio: There was a phone call between Prime Minister Conte and President Putin. The Russian Federation has sent face masks, ventilators and medical staff and teams to disinfect public buildings and our cities.
They have helped in their own way in an act of solidarity. Italy is not a country that has to fear, as a result of aid, that it will have to bow in submission to other states. We are in the G7 and we have many friends in the world.
You can watch the interview by clicking on the video above.