International Affairs Forum: More than fifty years after the treaty of Rome, how do you perceive the role of Italy in the European Union today?
Federiga Bindi: Fifty years ago, Italy was a founding member of the European Union. The Italian prime minister at that time thought the EU was very important, from a political and economic point of view. This idea of an European community was not shared by everyone in Italy at that time but the political class, followed by journalists, progressively became very pro-European. Today, Italy has a leading role in trying to remind European members that more Europe is needed, rather than less. What Italy tries to express and promote is that less Europe won’t take us anywhere.
IA-Forum: What balance do you do view of the French presidency on the European Union over the last six months? Has Italy had a special role in this presidency?
Federiga Bindi: Nicolas Sarkozy showed what a dynamic Europe could do, and if you compare it with the current Czech Republic Presidency, there are noticeable differences. It should be clear that a very dynamic Europe is what we need.
Italy has played a significant role in relation to the Russian crisis as we have had a very good and special relationship with Russia. Nicolas Sarkozy was very instrumental during this crisis but Italy was very helpful too, and was thanked in public by the French president.
IA-Forum: What role can Italy play in building a greater European political community, and enhancing European countries’ integration?
Federiga Bindi: It is very hard. We know that there are a number of countries against further integration. They don’t see why more integration is needed. The current economic crisis is showing that European countries would have been in an even worse state without their integration in the economic and monetary Union. At the same time, anti-European countries recognize that Europe, especially its monetary system, is useful. There are many contradictions nowadays, so it is hard to stand for more integration.
IA-Forum: How do you view the relations between Italy and new members of the European Union, especially those from Eastern Europe who joined in 2004?
Federiga Bindi: I think it changes from country to country. We have a very strong relationship with Romania, even if it has been weakened throughout the last few months, with issues of criminality. We also have good relationships with Poland and Hungary. Italy has proximity with a certain amount of countries. What is interesting is that, on one side, it is a significant member of Western Europe, and shows a very pro-Atlantic view; but on the other side, we see it has stronger ties with Eastern Europe and Russia. Nowadays, I think the country with which Italy has the best relationship is France. It is a weird relationship, because there is strong competition between the two. But we have understandings and mutual interests. The competition that exists between France and Italy is very positive, which makes France and Italy very special partners. Another country with which Italy has developed a good relationship with is Spain. And in terms of similar points of view for Europe, I would say that Germany and Italy, as being both founding EU members, share together similar ideals for integration.
IA-Forum: One major neighbor of Italy is the Balkans region. Today, how do you perceive the political situation of the Balkans countries?
Federiga Bindi: As a close neighbor, Italy strongly supports the integration of Balkans countries within the European Union. Also, we support their integration into NATO. For instance, through our support for the integration of Croatia in the EU, we want to show the rest of the Balkans that there is a way for them to enter the European Union, if they finish their transition. Croatia is politically a really strong example, because it has been in the middle of a war but has succeeded in transition. The Balkans is a region which is traditionally very troubled, very problematic. But in a middle or long term, I think there is a need for these countries to be integrated in Europe. The only way to secure peace in this region is for them to be together, to be part of a community, as it was so essential in the 1950s for France, Germany and Italy. That being said, it takes time. Countries need to be ready, to end their political transition beforehand. In that sense, it might have been a mistake to have a massive integration of countries in the EU in 2004, all at the same time. We should have taken steps in this enlargement.
IA-Forumrum: Does the European Union share the same view over the integration of the Balkans?
Federiga Bindi: With nuances. There are countries more in favor, and other less. But I think there is a broad understanding in the European community that, some day, the Balkans will need to integrate the European Union.
IA-Forum: Concerning the United States, do you see prospects for new political, diplomatic and economic relations between Italy and the United States, with the new Obama administration?
Federiga Bindi: It is very clear that the new Obama administration is not that keen on Italy. The previous Bush administration fair relations with Italian government of Romano Prodi and under Silvio Berlusconi, relations were strengthened. While relations now between Italy and the United States may not be as good as they used to be, I think that Barack Obama is a very pragmatic man. Moreover, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice-president Joe Biden are considered very pro-European. There has been a very good entente between the Secretary of State and the Italian ministry of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini. Italy does provide a strong support role for the United States.
IA-Forum: How do you see Italy’s role within NATO? And what about its role in the United Nations?
Federiga Bindi: Italy recently played a great role in NATO by restoring a dialogue with Russia at the political level. Without Italy, I doubt there would have been a renewal of the dialogue.
In the United Nations, Italy is proposing reform of the Security Council to improve representation and inclusiveness. The Security Council is a product of fifty years ago and does not represent the reality of the current world very well. For example, Italy stands for a common European Union seat in the Council. There is a group of other countries that join Italy in promoting Security Council reform as well, and make it more accountable. But as its members reject any form of change from the status quo, the Security Council will most likely stay as it is, because there is no consensus on making significant change.
Federiga Bindi is the director of the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence and Jean Monnet Chair at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and a leading expert in European political integration. A visiting fellow in the Brookings Institute, she is also an advisor on global governance to the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Her research focuses on European Union institutions and governance as well as Italian politics.
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