Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has clearly aligned his country with the EU and the Atlantic Alliance, with strongly formulated messages at recent G7 and NATO summits that end his predecessors’ ambiguous stance towards Russia and China.
After years in which Italy’s populist and far-right parties have drawn closer to autocratic regimes in Moscow and Beijing, Draghi’s comments bring Italy back into the democratic fold of the West.
For the former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), a veteran of Goldman Sachs and the World Bank, Italy’s place is at the heart of the West, as a member of the European family and with like-minded democracies.
After the G7 summit last weekend with US President Joe Biden, Draghi denounced “China and in general all autocracies … who use disinformation … stop planes in flight, kidnap, kill, do not respect rights of man, resort to forced labor ”.
The hard language anchors Italian diplomacy “in its history”, according to the Prime Minister, and breaks with the attitude of the previous government led by Giuseppe Conte, made up of the five-star Movement (M5S) then protesting and the far-right League by Matteo Salvini. .
Salvini, who was deputy prime minister, was a big fan of Russian Vladimir Putin and then-US President Donald Trump. Of the Russian leader, he said: “There should be dozens of men like him in this country, who act in the interests of their own citizens.”
In March 2019, under the Conte government, Italy became the first G7 country to join China’s new “Belt and Road” project of transport and trade links stretching from Asia to Europe.
During a visit by President Xi Jinping, she signed a “non-binding” protocol to participate in the project, raising concern in Brussels and Washington.
Draghi vowed to “examine it carefully” when asked about the protocol on Sunday.
“No one disputes the fact that China has the right to be a great economy like the others around the table. But what we discussed are the methods used by the country, ”he told reporters.
– The banker knows his sums –
For Jean-Pierre Darnis, scientific advisor to the Rome-based think tank International Affairs Institute, the change in mentality is clear.
“Mario Draghi has re-established at the head of the Italian government a classic pro-European and pro-Atlanticist policy,” he told AFP.
Draghi, the former banker, also knows how to do his calculations.
While Italy is the main beneficiary of the € 750 billion ($ 900 billion) EU post-coronavirus stimulus fund, it had a € 18.6 billion trade deficit with China in 2019 – before global trade patterns are disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The shortfall with Russia was 6.4 billion euros.
In terms of countries to which Italy exports, China and Russia are ranked ninth and 16th, far behind Germany, France and the United States, according to official figures.
For Massimo Franco, a commentator for the daily Corriere della Sera, Draghi’s remarks against China and Russia were not only addressed to Italy’s allies, but were also “a message to his government’s parties.”
# photo1 The M5S and the League remain in government as part of a national unity coalition that encompasses almost all of Italy’s main political parties, which have agreed to serve under Draghi to fight the pandemic.
Expectations are incredibly high of the man credited with helping save the eurozone during the debt crisis while at the ECB, but it gives him a strong personal mandate.
Salvini does not hide his continued closeness to political leaders who do not share Draghi’s worldview, and is particularly close to Hungarian Viktor Orban.
Journalist Franco said the Prime Minister was addressing the G7 to those “political forces that have intermittently shown the temptation to slide – and to slide the country – into ambiguous positions, to the point of giving the impression of a dangerous equidistance between NATO and Russia or China ”.
© 2021 AFP