Italian Ambassador Talks U.S.-Italy Relationship
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 02:01
Italian Ambassador to the United States Claudio Bisogniero spoke about Italy’s foreign policy and its cultural influence on America in Riggs Library Thursday.
According to Bisogniero, Italy’s foreign policy has been rooted in three basic pillars since the end of World War II: support for European integration, partnership with the United States and its trans-Atlantic policies and focus on regions important to Italy’s political and economic interests.
Bisogniero spoke positively of European cooperation’s influence on the continent’s stability.
“The process and idea of European integration goes well beyond the trade, financial or economic issue,” Bisogniero said. “It is more than anything else a political project based upon shared values. It is a dynamic process, which has allowed Europe as a continent … to have a period of about 60 years in peace and stability and providing for economic growth.”
Concerning the European economic crisis, Bisogniero discussed the steps Italy has taken to maintain financial and economic activity.
“On the fiscal side, there has been a significant cut to government expenditures and other important measures,” Bisogniero said. “Last year, Italy’s spending was down to 2.5 percent of GDP. We also have now a balanced budget provision in the Italian constitution.”
Bisogniero added that Italy’s pension system recently incorporated an automatic adjustment mechanism that increases the mandatory retirement age alongside changes in life expectancy without consulting Parliament.
“The pension system has been significantly revised to make it stable and sustainable in the long term,” Bisogniero said.
Bisogniero also talked about trans-Atlantic cooperation between Italy and the United States as a driving force in Italian politics.
“Italy and the U.S. see eye-to-eye on the most important international political issues,” Bisogniero said. “Italian troops operate side-by-side with American troops in the most important international conflict areas from Afghanistan to Kosovo, Libya and in the past, Iraq. We have about 4,000 troops today in Afghanistan, which is the third largest contingent after the French contingent.”
Approximately 50 Italian troops have died in Afghanistan since the conflict began in 2001.
“Italy is not rushing for the exit,” Bisgniero added. “We are committed to the situation in Afghanistan, so our own [withdrawal] of our forces will be conducted closely with the U.S., NATO and ISAF toward the end of 2014. So as you can see, Italy is an active provider of security and we maintain a close collaboration with the United States also in areas such as counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation.”
Rights protection is another joint mission between Italy and the United States.
“We cooperate with the U.S. in other important issues such as the promotion and protection of human rights, the freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the rights of women, the rights of children — these are all issues in which we in Italy are extremely active and which we are very close in working with the United States,” Bisogniero said.
Finally, Bisogniero spoke about the regions of Lithuania, the Middle East and the Balkans, regions that are especially important for Italian geopolitics.
“We are working via the European Union and the Western world to facilitate the exit of [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad from his grip of power, by strengthening the opposition and by also providing humanitarian assistance to refugees that are caught in the Syrian crisis,” Bisogniero said.
Closer to home, Bisogniero said that instability in the Balkans remains a challenge.
“It is for us, next door, an area of concern,” Bisogniero said. “Italy firmly believes that stability in the Western Balkans and former Yugoslavia [will] only be possible when all the countries of that region have entered the Euro-Atlantic architecture and are part of the European Union and of NATO.”
Bisogniero concluded his talk on a positive note, promoting “The Year of Italian Culture in the United States,” a program organized by the Italian Embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Italian presidency.
“We want to showcase everything that has to do with Italian culture during this year,” Bisogniero said. “A notion of culture begins with a tradition of artists in Renaissance, Baroque and Classical Italy. But in addition to that, we also want to showcase the Italy of today: what we do in the areas of design, fashion, food, research, technology and innovation because we believe that that also belongs to the wider notion of culture.”