Mr. Ambassador, at the end of your mandate in Romania, could you make a review of the four years you spent at the helm of the Italian embassy in Bucharest? What do you think changed the most in recent years in this country? What are, in your opinion, the main results you obtained?
I can only carry out an extremely positive review of my mandate as Italian ambassador to Romania. I found Romania to be a very interesting country with strong potential and Romanians to be always attentive and forthcoming interlocutors. I saw how the embassy’s initiatives were always received enthusiastically, with a positive and constructive approach.
I consider this country changed a lot in recent years. Alongside its European role, Romania’s international role grew also because of the strong economic progress registered and of an economic growth rhythm that is one of the highest in Europe. Romania particularly strengthened its role as destination for foreign investments and international capital. Important progress was then made on a social plane, I’m thinking for instance about combating corruption, social inequality or the phenomenon of underprivileged children.
In what concerns the main results obtained, I can say that I’m leaving the country at an excellent moment in bilateral relations, which are also linked to the synergies that exist at European and international level. I am likewise very proud of the way the embassy, led by me, handled important challenges such as – to name but a few – the Italian rotational presidency of the European Union in 2014, or Romania’s presence at the Universal Exposition in Milan. In both cases, the Italian embassy coordinated a series of institutional, promotional and cultural events whose success was remarkable, also thanks to the excellent collaboration with Romanian institutions.
In conclusion, I can only state I will return to Italy with very pleasant memories about Romania and about the years I spent in this country.
How would you define, at this moment, the bilateral relations between Italy and Romania? How did the economic, cultural and social collaboration between our countries evolve in the last 4 years? Is there something you are extremely proud of and content with?
At this moment, relations between Italy and Romania are excellent. During the four years I have spent in this country, I have seen how the ties between our countries have grown progressively stronger. The historic ties and the common Latin origins, also thanks to the numerous Romanian community in Italy and Italian community in Romania, have indeed kept alive a natural sympathy that facilitated to a great extent the level of relations, not just political but also social relations.
Concerning the political collaboration, the intensity of bilateral visits is, in my opinion, the symbol of the fact that Italy considers Romania a strategic partner and vice versa. The highest Italian institutional authorities and all the protagonists of political life have visited Romania in recent years, starting with President Mattarella in June last year, Lower Chamber Speaker Laura Boldrini and Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Foreign Affairs Ministers Mogherini and Gentiloni, secretaries of state etc. There were also visits paid to Italy by the protagonists of Romanian politics, the latest being the visit paid by Foreign Minister Comanescu last November.
In what concerns the cultural collaboration, the common Latin roots I mentioned mean that cultural relations between Italy and Romania are intense as few others are. Romania has the ‘Aldo Moro’ Italian School and bilingual sections in which the Italian language and culture is taught to many young Romanians. University cooperation is not less active and stands out through numerous collaboration projects initiated by Italian and Romanian universities in recent years, including within the framework of taking part in Socrates-Erasmus programmes. One of the things that struck me the most in Romania was noticing how broadcast and studied the Italian language is in this country and how much interest there is toward Italy and toward the Italian cultural product. The cultural sector saw numerous high-level initiatives and events organised by the embassy along with the Italian Culture Institute. For example, the traditional meetings at the Christmas concert and the concert for the Italian National Day, but also the seminars, conferences, book presentations, exhibitions etc.
Initiatives to promote the Made in Italy brand were not absent either, both on the economic and cultural plane, such as the Italian Festival – featuring a timetable rich in events meant to show the excellency of our country -, the Italian Language Week and the Italian Cuisine Week, inaugurated last November, and the economic forums, the latest being organised on President Mattarella’s visit on June 14 last year.
Nevertheless, one of the sector I definitely take pride in is the social sector. Romania has been registering for years a strong presence of Italian NGOs and associations that support the least favoured strata of Romanian society, primarily children. We are talking about realities that are often less known but that offer an immediate and concrete contribution to strengthening the social tissue between the two countries. The embassy, although to a small extent, was very active during this year in promoting fundraising activities in favour of NGOs – both secular and Christian – that are active in Romania.
With EUR 13.64 billion in bilateral trade and over 21,000 Italian companies registered and active in Romania, Italy is an essential economic partner for this country. The economic sectors which register strong presence of Italian entrepreneurs are numerous. In what way did the embassy led by you act to support Italian companies and which is, in your opinion, the added value that an institution such as the embassy can offer an entrepreneur that shows up for the first time on the Romanian market?
For twenty years, Italian entrepreneurs have invested a lot in Romania and have done so continuously, including during the years that were difficult for the country, such as, for instance, the years of the economic crisis, having confidence in Romania and in its development potential. What I want to emphasise is, indeed, the constant and lengthy nature of the Italian entrepreneurs’ involvement in Romania. Italian companies came to the country and opened enterprises that are now offering jobs to thousands of Romanians. Hence, we are not talking about just a few exceptions, about short-term investments linked to economic advantages guaranteed by the low cost of local labour, but about a veritable process of internationalisation from which both our entrepreneurial system – which grew significantly stronger – and the Romanian economy – which progressed a lot in terms of development and job creation – stood to gain.
According to all economic indicators, we are among the top countries in terms of presence and investments. Apart from the value of bilateral trade, which reached the record figure of over 13 billion euros, the most significant aspect in my opinion consists of the data on our presence (over 21,000 registered and active companies) and of the heterogenous character of the investment sectors. Present today in Romania are the largest Italian groups such as Ansaldo, Pirelli, Astaldi, Enel, Tenaris, large banks such as Unicredit, VenetoBanca, Intesa San Paolo, as well as numerous SMEs.
Italy thus continues to be second (after Germany) as a source of imports and destination for Romanian exports. The constant growth of bilateral trade particularly reflects the solid presence of Italian companies on Romanian territory. Italy is, indeed, the top country in Romania by number of companies present.
To support Italian companies there is a complete and very efficient “Sistema Italia” (institutional system), consisting of the embassy, the Foreign Trade Institute, the Italian Chamber of Commerce for Romania, Confindustria Romania and Sace. Hence, the embassy is playing an important role coordinating the activities of all these actors, making sure that the support offered to Italian companies is as widespread and efficient as possible.
What do you think is Romania’s role in Europe today? How are the European Union and European institutions perceived in Romania? In light of this aspect, how do you think the relationship between Romania and the European Union will evolve in the future?
Romania is definitely an important country for the European Union, not just because of its geostrategic position, because of its political importance and of the fact that in the Romanian Parliament there are no “anti-European” forces, but also because of the economic value that this country is progressively gaining. That is why I have no doubt that in the following years we will witness a strengthening of Romania’s role in Europe. In fact, we are talking about an ongoing process that will find a new, fundamental impulse in the first presidency of the European Union that Romania will hold in the first half of 2019. It will be a fundamental moment I’m sure the country will approach in the proper manner, capitalising on it to the maximum from the standpoint of visibility within the European framework.
I would also like to emphasise the powerful link that connects Italy and Romania at European level. The two countries share the same view on many European dossiers. Italy has been backing for many years Romania’s bid to join the Schengen Area, not being late in emphasising, every time it has the opportunity to do so, but especially at European level, the progress made by this country within this framework and Romania’s fulfilment of all the technical requirements.