By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
Many journalists and political experts describe Giuseppe Conte, the current Italian Prime Minister, as an “invisible or silent Premier”, but it is a mistake.
Conte is, in fact, a perfect mediator between the two deputy-Prime Ministers having great and often excessive visibility. Hence he develops rules and regulations reconciling two policy lines which are often potentially “divergent”. Silently, but very effectively.
As often confessed to the journalists who interviewed him, his model as Prime Minister is Aldo Moro.
Aldo Moro, however, was the real director of the intelligence Services and he made them do extraordinary things, while it took the current government over one month only to appoint the President of COPASIR, the Parliamentary Committee on intelligence Services.
Aldo Moro was iron fist in a velvet glove, but we hope that the power and government experience will turn Giuseppe Conte into a knowledgeable statesman.
The tension created by the Five Star Movement and the Northern League in power is evident everywhere, including the recent appointments for the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, and will characterize also the future feuds within the government for the Italian railway company, Ferrovie dello Stato, and for the Italian airline Alitalia.
Giuseppe Conte always tries to find convergence and usefully mediate between two naturally selfish political groups.
The “Second Republic” was born from the destruction of every kind of Italy’s autonomous and independent foreign policy, especially in the Mediterranean basin. Hence both the great business choices and the Italian global strategy are decided elsewhere – as and even more frequently than it happened in the aftermath of World War II.
Giuseppe Conte is aware of these structural limits and manages them smartly.
He knows foreign languages and he is harsh when needed, as was the case with President Macron, but he is also good-mannered. This is far from being negligible, given Italy’s recent political experiences.
Moreover, the Prime Minister is overtly Catholic- albeit not in Prodi’s style -but he has no ties with any confraternity within the Church.
In a world characterized by sloppy and superficial “secularism”, it is reassuring to have a Prime Minister who maintains to be not only a Catholic, but also devoted to St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
Hence there will be a close and new relationship between the Government and the Church – a relationship that has always been essential to enhance the impact and strength of political choices, for which the Vatican is a very effective multiplier.
Even Bettino Craxi knew that, without the Vatican, Italy’s role would be played down excessively.
After the harsh words of a few days ago, Giuseppe Conte showed his willingness to negotiate – with the 5 Mediterranean EU countries – a “reasonable” distribution of migrants among the various European countries.
Obviously we cannot always call everyone when a ship full of migrants reaches the Italian coast or rather remains outside Italy’s ports.
Prime Minister Conte’s idea, which he has already expressed to President Juncker and President Tusk, is to create a permanent crisis Cabinet, led by the European Commission, which can mediate between the various EU Member States.
Europeans will discuss it for a while, but later nothing will be done about it.
Prime Minister Conte, however, will have outlined the reasonable and balanced Italian proposal.
For Italy the Dublin III Treaty is the enemy to defeat. Nevertheless, this old agreement signed on January 1, 2014, places all obligations onto the EU country of first landing or arrival, thus currently putting only Italy under pressure.
Moreover, if it is ascertained that the migrant is entitled to international protection, he/she shall remain in the State that declared him/her having this status, without any possibility of movement within the European Union.
In the framework of the current government’s foreign policy, in the future Prime Minister Conte will see General Haftar, the man opposing Fayez al-Sarraj’s government in Tripoli, so as to organize – in the foreseeable future – a “Conference on Libya” in Rome with all those who have a direct interest in the now destroyed African State.
Good idea. In the future, however, we shall avoid Italy’s ambiguous game between General Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj, so as not to shortly become an enemy of both parties and unreliable for both sides.
Probably it would be better not to have tensions with General Haftar, but rather become al-Sarraj’s main counterpart and point of reference – without forgetting, however, Italy’s primary oil area in Libya, which is currently under General Haftar’s domination.
As lawyer, Prime Minister Conte is also opposed to self-defence as proposed by the Interior Minister.
Not freedom to shoot, but rather to avoid making those who shoot for self-defence purposes be subjected to the “ordeal” of proceedings at various instances.
It is also worth recalling that Prime Minister Conte has never maintained he wants to leave the Euro – quite the reverse.
Many people also suspect that the idea of the Economy Minister, Giovanni Tria, to turn to China for the future purchase of Italy’s public debt securities has indeed been suggested by Giuseppe Conte.
It should also be recalled that he has an excellent personal relationship with President Trump, who described him as “formidable” in an interview with Fox News.
We do not know whether, in the future, the economic policy and the foreign policy of Italy’s current government will be in line with US isolationism and protectionism.
Certainly some sort of protection would be good also for Italy, but possibly not vis-à-vis China, which is one of its future partners.
Moreover, also with his request for more defence spending by NATO’s European countries, President Trump has clearly shown to have little interest in the EU and Europe.
The agreement with President Putin, which will possibly result from the first meeting between the two Heads of State held on July 16, will probably see the bilateral dismantling of missile positions on the Eastern European border, as well as a future conference on Ukraine.
The United States will withdraw from Syria after an agreement with Russia for splitting the various areas of the country, albeit always under Assad’s control.
Obviously the US covert operations in Ukraine and Syria will stop rapidly.
However, while the European Union is irrelevant and has a childish and virtually non-existent foreign policy, this is certainly not the case with the Mediterranean basin.
For the US President, the Mediterranean is important for three reasons: Israel’s security and survival; Iran’s closure to the Mediterranean, which is hard to imagine with Bashar al-Assad in power, and finally the quick end of war in Syria.
After all, when Prime Minister Conte spoke about Israel he has always explicitly supported the State and its current policy.
In his opinion, Israel could become the primary partner in the Mediterranean, both from the economic and from the defence and intelligence viewpoints.
Hence it is mostly likely that Giuseppe Conte, the silent Prime Minister, will become very important for Italy’s future.
About the author:
Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy.