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In an interview to TOI’s Sachin Parashar, Italian ambassadorVincenzo de Luca discusses Italy’s G7 focus, as it prepares to host the summit in June, Indo-Pacific, and deepening ties with India, as evident from efforts by both governments to scale up defence collaboration.
1) India-Italy ties seem to have hit a purple patch. Both prime ministers also seem to get on well.What would you attribute this to?
2023 was the culmination of a journey that began in previous years. A Plan of Action for the period 2020-2024, adopted for the first time in 2020, clearly defined priorities, objectives, and modalities of collaboration, thus introducing a solid architecture to further expanding bilateral relations at political, economic and cultural level.
The Joint Declaration signed by PM Modi and PM Meloni, on the occasion of her visit to India in March last year, upgraded Italy-India relations to a “strategic partnership”, giving new impetus to cooperation that is now possible –and deliverables – to work together in sensitive sectors such as defence, space, cybersecurity, connectivity, mobility and energy transition. Indeed, we can definitely affirm that 2023 was a true “annusmirabilis” for the bilateral relations between Italy and India.
There were several visits that occurred: two of PM Meloni, one of Deputy PM and Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Tajani, Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Italian Government attending G20 Meetings, three high-level visits of Ministers of the Indian Government to Italy (Minister Goyal, Minister Rajnath Singh, Minister Jaishankar). A concrete sign of the momentum created by the Joint Declaration was the renewal of the agreement on cooperation in the field of defence, finalisation of a Migration and Mobility Agreement and the Joint Declaration between the two space agencies, ASI (the Italian one) and ISRO (the Indian one), to increase cooperation in the areas of mutual interest.
Moreover, let us not forget that bilateral relations took advantage of the period in which both Italy and India held the role of G20 president, respectively in 2021 and 2023.
2) With the relationship upgraded to a strategic partnership, defence industrial cooperation is an important focus area with the two sides discussing co-production and co-development. How do you see the 2 countries benefiting and how can Italy contribute to the Make in India initiative?
As mentioned above, defence is one of the pillars of the newly established strategic partnership. After overcoming the difficulties of the previous decade, conditions are there now to develop a more in-depth institutional and industrial collaboration in the sector, with particular reference to aerospace, shipyard and electronics. Indeed, the renewal of the agreement on cooperation in the field of defence finally provides the framework within which more concrete ways of partnership can take shape,including for the industrial sector. The agreement outlines areas in which cooperation can be encompassed, by establishing a “Government to Government” relationship in sectors of mutual interest, improving the exchange of personnel, technologies for education, training and exercises, supporting the commercial initiatives including co-development, co­ production and joint ventures related to defence products and services linked to defence matters. Italian companies are in the front line of making cutting-edge solutions available, complying with the logic of “Make in India”. They are ready to showcase their advanced technological solutions. Furthermore, we are convinced that the evolution of this collaboration will benefit not only the actors involved, but also the relations between the two countries and the stability of the Indo-Pacific region, the importance of which is clear to everyone, especially in these times of increasing turmoil.
3) Italy seems to have finally realised it needs to ramp up its presence in the Indo-Pacific but how long before you have an official Indo-Pacific strategy in place?
Rather than developing its own strategy, Italy has chosen to actively contribute to the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy of September 2021 with which the EU acknowledged the importance of projecting itself as a reliable partner for development and the security of Indo-Pacific countries. Within this framework, Italy continues its commitment to deepen economic and sectoral cooperation with the countries of the macro region, which extends from the eastern coasts of Africa to the small islands of the Pacific, aware of the geopolitical and economic centrality of the area for global balances. Together with our European partners, we share with India the need for a free, safe and open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law, respect of international law, sovereignty of all States, big and small, and freedom of navigation. In line with this vision, Italy is always committed to take part into joint maritime exercises and is actively engaged in the EU missions deployed in the Indo-Pacific area.
A safe and open Indo-Pacific is also the precondition for the further development of trade and connectivity lines linking the region with the enlarged Mediterranean. Italy and India are committed to strengthening infrastructure, both digital and physical.That is the case of the Blue-Raman project bringing the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, our two countries, closer in the exchange of digital data through a submarine cable system. It is also the case of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).
4) What role to do you see Italy playing in IMEC? Are you worried the crisis in West Asia might hamper its progress?
The participation of Italy in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) project concretely showcases our commitment to the development of Euro-Asian connectivity as outlined by the EU Strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The project aims to open a new connection route between Asia and Europe for the transport of goods, clean energy and data. It would constitute an ideal link between the Mediterranean and the Indo-Pacific. For Italy, as an export-oriented country, with around 7.500 km of coast and 58 ports, the free flow of trade through the Indo-Pacific is vital. Italian companies, whose expertise in the maritime and railway sectors is also well recognized internationally, are ready to play their part in the project, while Italian ports have the required characteristics to act as terminals for the IMEC and access points for Europe. Although the current circumstances in the Middle East make concrete development of the project more difficult at the moment, its ambitious approach gives hope for the future.
5) Italy holds the G7 presidency this year. How do you see your presidency addressing challenges emanating from conflicts in Ukraine and West Asia, especially the challenge of minimising the impact on the developing world?
The Italian Presidency of the G7 focuses on the reaffirmation of the rules and principles of international law, capable of guaranteeing peaceful coexistence between nations and based on respect for the UN Charter. This commitment will translate into an effort to find viable solutions to the ongoing conflicts and to guarantee the stability of the Indo-Pacific through the safeguarding of freedom of navigation. Africa is another top priority of our agenda which aims at starting a change of paradigm in the approach to the challenges of the continent and to the cooperation with its actors, inspired by a sense of mutual respect and a more inclusive approach. This is also the vision presented by PM Meloni during the recent Italy-Africa Summit, held in Rome in January, and embodied in the “Piano Mattei” for Africa.
Artificial intelligence is among the priorities on the agenda of the Italian Presidency of the G7 as well. A global governance mechanism for the phenomenon, shaped around respect for human dignity, is needed together with a deep reflection on its possible consequences on international relations, especially in the geo-strategic field.
Lastly, climate change and energy transition will be addressed as the most urgent challenges that primarily affect the developing world. As it is evident, the Italian Presidency at G7 aims at taking forward many of the priorities of India’s G20 Presidency, building up on the excellent results achieved last year. I believe this is another piece of evidence testifying the depth of the partnership between our two countries, expanding well beyond the scope of bilateral relations.


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