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Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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.

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

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Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape

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Images: UN Women Kosovo

The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.

This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”

Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.

Victims, and their children, pressed into silence

The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).

Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.

As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.

A global problem

It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.

In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.

Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”

No end in sight

Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.

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EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership

MD Staff

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At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.

Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.

President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:

Advance multilateralism and rules based governance

Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.

Bilateral cooperation

Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.

Regional cooperation

Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.

Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.

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Macron so far has augmented French isolation

Mohammad Ghaderi

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French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”

There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:

First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.

Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.

Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.

The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.

Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.

Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.

First published in our partner MNA

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