A good personal relationship between the two leaders and their committed Atlantic affiliation, strengthened by the common war effort in Ukraine, are very positive premises of this first bilateral, which is also positively influenced by the growth and stability of the Italian system at a time when Germany and France are struggling
by Guido Talarico
Thursday’s meeting between US President Joseph Biden and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has all the elements to be a success. First of all because it comes at a time when France and Germany seem to be weakened by their internal political and economic problems, and then because the Italian Prime Minister is back from a more than positive governmental action (Italy is one of the fastest growing countries in Europe) and from the consensus gained on various international tables on sensitive issues such as the war in Ukraine and the question of illegal immigration. More than good premises even if the meeting is not without its challenges. Let us take a closer look at them.
The empathy that has been created between the two leaders has already been noted by observers following previous meetings and is certainly an excellent starting point for this bilateral. Then there are a number of other points that play in Meloni’s favour. The first derives precisely from the greater weight that this government has been able to give the country. At a time of distress for French President Emmanuel Macron, busy dealing with strong internal tensions, and for German President Olaf Scoltz, worried by an economic crisis that his country is not used to managing, Italy is not only growing economically but appears to be one of the few states in Europe that is stable and able to continue along the path of growth despite the war. Spain’s uncertain election result then only confirms the positive exception represented by Italy.
Then there is also the human profile. In the space of just a few months, Prime Minister Meloni has been able to make herself appreciated for her pragmatic attitude and her commitment to dealing effectively with all the most important dossiers. An attitude that has contributed to Italy being considered, month after month, perhaps as the most reliable partner the Americans have in Europe today. In short, if one considers that the Meloni government was only born on 22 October, one cannot but conclude that it has come a long way.
Of course, thorny issues remain on the table. The most delicate point of the meeting is Italy’s promise to rescind the agreement with China on the Belt and Road Initiative. An agreement indigestible to Washington, for obvious geopolitical reasons before being commercial, whose resolute intentions the Biden administration will now want to verify in detail. It should be remembered that the agreement was signed in 2019 at the behest of the then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and that Italy was the first European country to sign it.
There is a problem because the modalities and terms of Italy’s withdrawal from an agreement that Beijing considers vital at the moment are far from defined. China could also launch retaliations against Italy if Rome were to break the agreement. Retaliations that Beijing could use both as a deterrent towards other reluctant nations and to keep the point in this clash of positions that has pitted it against the United States for years, thus provoking a further crescendo of tension on the entire international chessboard.
To better understand how complicated this issue is, we need only recall that the agreements signed cover various sectors, such as technology, agriculture, culture and media. The cyclopean scope of the plan has both economic and geopolitical impacts capable of changing the current order and shifting the basin of Europe, which until now has always been pro-Western, to the East. The memorandum signed includes 29 agreements, 10 between private Italian and Chinese companies and 19 institutional ones, for a total value of EUR 7 billion. The institutional agreements concern collaboration between innovative start-ups, e-commerce, the health sector, and the prevention of illicit trafficking in cultural goods. The agreement also provides for the return of 796 archaeological artefacts to the Chinese cultural heritage and commitments in the promotion and preservation of Italian and Chinese sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
These few facts are enough to demonstrate the importance of the Memorandum signed between China and Italy, the consequent American aversion and therefore the delicacy of the US-Italy bilateral that opens on Thursday. The non-trivial risk – and also the most obvious one – is that Italy may ultimately be squeezed between the opposing pressures of the two world superpowers.
Even this delicate Chinese issue, however, Meloni seems capable of tackling with a good chance of success. The Premier, flanked by an expert diplomatic advisor like Francesco Talò, already an effective Italian Consul in New York, and by a prepared ambassador and great connoisseur of the American administration, like Mariangela Zappia, seems to be well prepared to deal with the Chinese question and has many cards to play, starting with transparency and trust. Negotiating skills particularly dear to the Americans.
Then there are the other priority issues for Washington. The first is Italy’s role in the war in Ukraine. Meloni has supported Nato’s line without ifs and buts, managing to appear faithful and reliable and even more Atlanticist than Draghi. Full support that strengthens Biden’s war doctrine and helps to keep Europe united. Meloni’s good personal relations with the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also help in this regard. The bilateral talks will also address economic issues, especially in strategic sectors such as Defence, Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence, Space and Information Technology, without forgetting, of course, the entire historical ‘Made in Italy’ chain, which has its natural outlet in America.
Finally, the many Mediterranean issues. For American interests, Meloni also had a calming approach on this front. From Libya, to Algeria, to Tunisia, the Italian Prime Minister has been able to demonstrate that she has the ability to give impetus to a shared European policy on both immigration and humanitarian issues. And Meloni’s own participation in the FAO conference on food systems went in this direction. Finally, the strong relationship created with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, which Meloni was able to build in a short time, overcoming the original mistrust, also helped to maintain the balance in Europe that was useful to Washington.
In short, this first institutional visit to the American political capital, even with the delicate Chinese issue to deal with, represents a precious opportunity for Giorgia Meloni to emphasise before our most important ally that her government has achieved important results in just a few months and above all that today it is perhaps the most stable and reliable ally Washington has in Europe. Without forgetting that the visit will also be an opportunity to emphasise the role that Italy can play in the search for peace in Ukraine, thanks also to the mediation that the Vatican and the Community of Sant’Egidio are attempting to bring about also through the work of the President of the Italian bishops, Matteo Zuppi.
(Associated Medias) – Tutti i diritti sono riservati