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The shared Slovak-Italian passion
14 Jul 2014 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
ITALY is no greenhorn when it comes to holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union, as the homeland of Roberto Martini has done it 11 times. However, the Italian Ambassador to Slovakia, Martini, admits that this is a challenging time since, among other things, the EU’s global role is being reassessed. Another immense challenge is immigration, as Italy has received around 40,000 immigrants in the first five months of the year, with Martini suggesting that the issue needs wider international attention and coordination at the EU level.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Italy is taking over the EU presidency for the second half of 2014. What will be the main theme for the Italian presidency and what are the issues your homeland plans to address? What do you see as the main challenges of the presidency?
Of course, issues of growth and labour are very important. The new Italian government has already put together a plan called ‘decreto occupazione’, or employment decree, focusing on the labour market; but as far as the European level is concerned, different positions shall be discussed at a number of forums, such as the next EuroFin meeting.
It is a challenging time, but Italy, which has been contributing to the main developments of the EU for decades, has already done 11 EU presidencies. Italy is one of the founding fathers of the EU and the Treaty of Rome of 1957 is the cornerstone of European integration.
TSS: Are there any specific events your embassy is planning in Slovakia in association with the Italian EU presidency?
TSS: The number of people attempting to enter the EU from North Africa through Italy has increased sharply according to EU data. Italy is one of the five EU countries taking on more than 70 percent of all refugees seeking asylum in the EU. What are the main challenges that increased immigration brings to Italy?
Immigrants, once they land in Italy, wish often to continue their journey to another European country, treating Italy as a transition country. Thus this is a European issue, which needs to be addressed jointly. We also would like to increase the importance of Frontex, an agency of EU immigration.
Importantly, one should remember that, very often, trafficking of human beings done by people in many of the immigrants’ countries of origin is involved, while several deaths have occurred. The core issue is that Italy calls for more coordination at the European level. We would like to see greater awareness of the dimension of this problem.
TSS: Milan, Italy, will host the EXPO fair after 106 years. The main theme will be ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. Why did Italy pick this theme? What are the challenges of hosting the EXPO?
TSS: What benefits will the exhibition bring to Italy?
TSS: Energy security is a widely discussed issue which has gained additional importance after recent tensions between Ukraine and Russia. What are Italy’s current biggest energy security challenges?
Italy is one of the countries where solar energy has grown on a larger scale compared to other countries in Europe. The majority of our energy, though, comes from petrol and gas. We have a high percentage of hydro-power electricity, which still amounts to something like 70 percent of our renewable energy resources; and the sector of solar panels is growing a lot, because there are also incentives from the government which help common citizens and companies to invest in this. It is
We have companies investing in solar panels also here, in Slovakia, for example, in the area of Rimavská Sobota. Thanks to these policies, in the last 15 years, we tried to diversify our energy imports: Algeria, Libya, North Europe, Russia and Azerbaijan; but we also have big industrial plans to transform liquid gas into gas, including gas coming from Qatar.
TSS: Italy is changing how it calculates its GDP to include certain areas of grey economic activity, such as prostitution, illegal drug sales or smuggling and arms trafficking. The prediction is that this will add 1.3 percentage points to GDP this year. What are the reasons behind this change?
TSS: Italy is one of the biggest foreign investors in Slovakia. Where do you see, in terms of economic sectors and geographical location, the most room or the biggest opportunities for further Italian investments?
Another part of the economy, which is of interest in terms of cooperation, is small and medium-sized enterprises. Italy has the know-how for start-ups. It is very important so see little companies growing up for single projects. Italy is one of the examples, unlike Slovakia, that small companies can really drive regions. The sector makes up 70 percent of the country’s economy.
TSS: Italy is rich in historical monuments, which, on one hand, makes the country a place of interest for tourists, but on the other hand, requires huge investments into their maintenance and repair. Now, however, some of these reconstructions are also being financed by the private sector. What was the reason behind involving the private sector?
TSS: The Slovak audience was offered another annual edition of the Dolce Vitaj festival, while Poprad held the third edition of the Viva Italia festival, making Italian culture an important part of Slovakia’s summer cultural events. What has been the response of Slovaks to these cultural events or to Italian culture in general?
As for other aspects of Italy, one month ago I visited Gymnázium L. Sáru secondary school for the closing ceremony of the year. They have two bilingual sections, and I was amazed to listen to some Slovak students speaking Italian with a Roman accent. There is a permanent interest in studying Italian language.
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