Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is confident that the country has officially moved out of a crisis narrative and into the role of a frontline player in Europe. He points out that the country’s stabilizing economy, its principle role in mitigating the immigration crisis, and its increasing contributions to the Eurozone are allowing Italy to once again take centre stage. Rome’s hosting of the first 2018 South EU Summit will galvanize what Gentiloni sees as an integral year for the southern European region and the EU at large.
Italy’s recent numbers show that the country has climbed out of the economic abyss of the Eurozone economic crisis and is now performing at its highest rate since 2010. Mr. Gentiloni credits this growth, which exceeded economic projections, to the country’s strong export industry, which has served as the backbone of its economy since WWII. “Our exports are now increasing at a sustained pace and I believe this will give an important input to our overall growth.” He says that numbers can be expected to continue climbing with the implementation of the administration’s Industry Plan 4.0.
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During his nearly 13 months in office, Mr. Gentiloni and his administration managed to tackle some of the region’s most hard-hitting issues, notably the increasingly complex immigration situation that continues to plague Europe. Italy’s new policies aimed at mitigating uncontrolled migration brought robust results, lowering migrant numbers into Italy by 30% in 2017 and by 70% in the second half the year. Mr. Gentiloni noted that Italy’s strategic collaboration with the Libyan Navy and coastguard have aided in halving the number of deaths at sea in just the last 12 months. Indeed, the Italian administration’s hands-on approach to tackling illegal immigration has taken the market out of the hands of criminals and has created the foundations of a safe and legal migration process. However, Gentiloni highlights that the immigration issue, while improved, requires the development of a common EU migration policy to support “frontline members” and bring about long-term change to the status quo. “Only if we work together, and develop a common migration policy can we transform migration into an opportunity. Our long-term goal must be to replace uncontrolled and illegal flows with more organized and regular channels of migration.”
Though some have predicted that impending political uncertainty will threaten Italy’s steadily improving economy, Mr. Gentiloni believes neither the political scene nor the country’s finances are at risk of any major destabilization. With domestic manufacturing activity on the rise and unemployment levels back to pre-crisis levels, the prime minister says that what’s most crucial for Italy’s next administration is the continuation of the path that’s already been built during his time in office. “Figures show that Italy is on the right path. We cannot afford to waste these positive results. On the contrary, we must do our utmost to consolidate and improve them. In other words, we need to continue walking along this path but at a higher pace and with a medium and long-term perspective.”
While Mr. Gentiloni acknowledged the uncertainty that comes with an upcoming election, he also pointed out that Italy is no stranger to political turbulence and governmental changes, and he does not anticipate the rise of spreading populism playing out in March’s upcoming vote. He notes that none of the players fuelling Euro-scepticism have succeeded in forming governments in the region, proving that despite various regional obstacles, the greater population still believes in the pursuance of European integration. His recommendation to those contending for leadership in Italy is to create stronger, not weaker regional policies. “The message we should give is that we cannot eliminate all our structural problems with a magic wand, as some are inclined to promise; rather, we must be consistent and effective in proving to our public opinion that we are capable of managing challenges – and possibly turning them into new opportunities through more ambitious, more integrated European policies.”
Italy’s hosting of the first South EU Summit of 2018 in Rome is further evidence of the country’s shift back onto the frontlines of the regional leadership and its commitment to contribute to the economic and political growth of the southern Europe. As Mr. Gentiloni prepares to sit down with six other EU heads of state on January 10th, he’ll work with his counterparts to address the region’s crucial challenges and create joint agreements that will push Southern Europe and the EU forward in the global arena. “We see the Rome meeting of a very cohesive group of EU Member States as a very important step to gradually build consensus among the 27 on all these issues, in the interest of Europe.”
Looking forward at both domestic and regional political changes to come, the building blocks of Mr. Gentiloni’s time in office will offer the country the best shot possible at a stable future and a positive influence on the region, as long as the country continues its healthy path to reform. “In the perspective of a European Union at 27, Italy must remain one of the key players in promoting a more robust and deeper integration process. This is in the interest of Europe itself.”