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Italy calls for joint and concrete migrant action

MIGRATION problems are taking a new dimension with increased numbers of people arriving through the so-called Balkan route, says Italian Ambassador to Slovakia, Roberto Martini, while stressing that Europe needs to take joint concrete action.

Ambassador Roberto Martini (Source: Jana Liptáková)

The Slovak Spectator spoke to Ambassador Martini about migrants and refugees, but also about support for business start-ups, the EXPO fair currently taking place in Milan and about the potential of Bratislava to be a centre for contemporary art.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Milan, Italy is hosting the EXPO fair after 106 years. Could you compare how EXPO looked more than 100 years ago and how its ambitions and issues to be addressed have changed? What benefits does the exhibition bring to Italy?

Roberto Martini (RM): I had the pleasure to visit EXPO on the occasion of the Slovak national day on June 24 with the official Slovak delegation led by the President of the Republic, Andrej Kiska, and ministers. I could appreciate how beautiful the whole EXPO is, particularly the Italian and Slovak pavilions. Did you know that the prestigious Italian daily Corriere della Sera ranked the Slovak pavilion among the top 20 worth visiting? We are very happy about the Slovak participation. The Slovak pavilion is rich, full of energy; it shows the beauties of this country, its healthy production in the food sector, sports, outdoor activities and amazing landscapes. It is beautiful; it goes straight to the point. Now, regarding your question, it’s difficult to compare the EXPO in Milan of 1906, as more than 100 years passed since then. At that time the exhibition was dedicated to “transport” because it was the opening of the Simplon Tunnel that permitted the first direct train connection between Milan and Paris, extremely important and innovative at that time. This year the EXPO is extraordinary; different strategic topics are together: food, energy for the planet, sustainability of production, health, economy and environment. So it’s extremely comprehensive, illustrating diversity worldwide. It’s really thought-provoking. Let’s go to Milan before EXPO closes at the end of October!

TSS: The issue of migrants and refugees is a top priority for Italy right now. Slovakia is rejecting the idea of EU quotas at the moment. What is Italy’s stance on the matter?

RM: The International Organization for Migration just released data for the period from January to August 2015: 315,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea and 115,000 arrived to Italian shores. There were over 2,600 deaths. The number of migrants for 2014 was already four times greater than in 2013. The border between Italy and the Mediterranean Sea is not only the Italian one, it is the border with Europe. To address the situation, Italy has already for some years undertaken the maritime operation “Mare Nostrum”, completely financed by the state. Later the EU started operation “Triton” off the Mediterranean coasts; nevertheless, the question is extremely complex and difficult. Most of these people come from war situations spread across the south and east of the Mediterranean. Italy has promoted a European mechanism of relocation and resettlement of refugees coming from these war-torn areas. The problem is now taking new dimensions: we are becoming ever more aware in Europe of the growing difficulties faced by countries directly facing migrations through the Balkan route. New casualties are occurring in this region and we deeply regret the number of lives lost in these travels of hope.

We think that Europe has to show solidarity and responsibility by taking joint concrete measures. Human trafficking has to be fought. We have to discuss and also take action: the extraordinary meeting of the Council in Brussels on September 14 will be extremely important.

TSS: The stereotype of large Italian families is still present among Slovaks, although in reality the birth rate in Italy is dropping and the country holds the European record in the number of childless women past their childbearing years (some 25 percent in 2014). What are the reasons for this? Why do so many Italian couples choose not to have children?

RM: It’s difficult to specify the reasons behind demographic trends. Most probably people want to have a professional life and possibly find a steady job and have an economically safe situation before having children. People want to be economically independent, to have an organised life, and then have children. In the last years following the economic crisis starting in 2008, employment data were bad. Now the situation is improving, after the important job reforms undertaken, by the Renzi government.

TSS: Italy is the fourth biggest investor in Slovakia. In terms of economic sectors and geographical location, where do you see other prospects for further Italian investments and cooperation? Do you have any information about the potential arrival of new Italian companies or expansion of existing companies in Slovakia?

RM: Italy is the second biggest manufacturer in Europe after Germany, so it is really one of the greatest producers worldwide: we produce almost everything. Coming to your question, twenty, fifteen or ten years ago we had especially big groups coming to Slovakia. Big groups means big business, of course, but we shouldn’t forget the potentialities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), something I addressed in a separate article. When the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni came to Bratislava in July, the idea was launched to have Italy collaborating with Slovakia with reference to the Visegrad Group in the sector of SMEs. You have important SMEs in Slovakia. Many are in the sectors where we can work together exchanging our know-how and strengths: food, furniture, constructions, infrastructure, tourism, luxury items, automotive equipment, industrial machinery and others. Another important sector is the defence industry where we can develop together our “lessons learned”.

TSS: Italian Enel is looking to sell its majority stake in Slovenské Elektrárne while some surrounding issues remain unresolved, including the actual privatisation of SE and, for instance, the completion of the Mochovce nuclear power plant. How do you perceive this process?

RM: We consider the Enel investment in Slovakia during all these years very important for the energy autonomy and security of this region and for the development of the economic collaboration between Italy and Slovakia. Nearly 4 billion euros were invested in new generating capacity. The business is huge and thousands of people work for it. Thus, this investment has been and still is very important! We are also confident that a satisfactory path regarding the future of this investment in Slovakia will be found in the framework of traditional collaboration and understanding among all parties. In this context, we know that Enel is committed to completion of the Mochovce works.

TSS: Italy gave a final go ahead in mid May for construction of the TAP gas pipeline, a strategic infrastructure for Italy in seeking to diversify its energy sources. Currently, what are Italy’s biggest energy challenges and what are its answers?

RM: Italy fully supports the Energy Union project currently carried out in Brussels, and we will be very happy to collaborate with the Slovak Presidency of the EU Council next year, also and in particular in this important sector of energy. It’s crucial for Europe’s energy autonomy and security to develop diversification of energy sources, gas lines and pipelines. TAP is one of the key projects in this context and it is expected to have its main terminal in southern Italy.

TSS: Italy is known for its vital start-up scene, launching a Start-up Visa programme last year. The Slovak government is just working on measures to help start-ups while it could also include a visa programme. What lessons can Slovakia learn from Italy?

RM: This start-up visa programme in Italy was inaugurated in 2012 and a new development has been launched this year. In this programme you have facilitation issuing of visas for persons who want to come to Italy to found start-ups. You also have reduction of taxes and facilitation regarding staffing. We are very satisfied with the results of this legislative package. Just to give a few examples of start-ups: in Milan we have a platform for urban transportation that provides traditional and innovative means of transportation. Another important sector is of course mobile apps, where we developed important applications. Another start-up deals with providing graphics, designers and managers, assisting the creation of a new business. And I’m sure that you have great resources to succeed as well in Slovakia, thanks to a young entrepreneurial class, established traditions in high technology, etc. I think you have a bright future in this area and we can work together.

TSS: Italy is one the EU countries with a high youth unemployment figure. How are you coping with this problem and are there any ideas to share with Slovakia, facing the same issue?

RM: The recent figure is about 12.4 percent. We have experienced a reduction in unemployment in the last 12 months by 1.8 percent, which is a good improvement. The Italian government led by Matteo Renzi has carried out important reforms, particularly in the labour market. We have the new Jobs Act, legislation concerning the labour market that includes different initiatives and provisions on tax reductions and tax exemptions, and for flexibility in the market. It has improved contacts between employers and job seekers. We think this is a good direction. Italian companies are again starting to hire people. We have also undertaken comprehensive reform of education that will be focus on professional training. Among the other reforms, we have a proposal presently being discussed in parliament to improve free competition and another law that was already passed to reduce the difference between what a company pays and what an employee gets in the pocket.

TSS: Are Italian graduates keen on starting their own business?

RM: Yes. There is competition around, of course, but courage too!

TSS: Is Slovakia interesting as a destination for Italian tourists? What kinds of tourist attractions does Slovakia need to offer that could be of interest to Italians?

RM: I read that Italian tourists in Slovakia have grown by 17 percent this summer. It is not hard to believe! Just stroll around Staré Mesto and you will hear many people speaking Italian, among other international visitors.

TSS: So where do you see opportunities?

RM: You have the beautiful cities, like Bratislava which is a great artistic capital. Once somebody told me of the “wow effect”: tourists think that they will  stay for just an afternoon in Bratislava, but then, they see the city and they stay…. two days. They fall in love with Staré Mesto and the Danube… its pleasant life. That’s what my guests do!  And of course another asset is the other cities, the castles, the landscapes, the Tatras, the Slovak Paradise….not to forget the spas, beer and gastronomy. You have a big potential, and this is why your pavilion in Milan is very good: it illustrate it in a very easy and direct way.

TSS: Dolce Vitaj is one of the major festivals of a foreign culture in Slovakia. What are the plans for the festival in the future, what areas of Italian culture remain unexplored for Slovaks?

RM: The Italian Institute of Culture is already working on the programme of the festival for next year. We usually offer a selection of different “kinds” of Italian culture, starting from the “past legacy”; for example this year is the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri. Or, have you visited the Etruscan exhibition in the Castle? It was just amazing. But we don’t think only to the past.  The Italian Institute of Culture, led by Ms Antonia Grande tributes  a great  attention also to contemporary production in different areas. We try to introduce books translated into Slovak, movies (Pasolini is coming back, along with new Italian directors…), visual arts, music and dance.  Believe me, we love the cultural scene in Bratislava:  people and especially the young love culture and art. You have a very rich experience in music with two Opera houses and the Philharmonic.  Contemporary art is also growing.  Bratislava is really becoming  a top platform in this Danube area, for art-lovers.

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