The friendly bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Italy’s Prime Minister Draghi was placed at the very top of the Italian government’s agenda for substantive reasons, Italy’s former foreign minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata told The Sunday Guardian.

Rome: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first in-person meeting with his Italian counterpart Mario Draghi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Rome on October 29 was transformative, and culminated in a blueprint for expanding and diversifying this crucial partnership. One of the key outcomes was a standalone joint statement on Italy-India Strategic Partnership in Energy Transition that will pave the way for the two countries to accelerate clean energy transition to fight climate change. Mapping the way forward, Italy’s former foreign minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata told The Sunday Guardian in an exclusive interview that Italy’s foreign policy establishment is trying to dissociate the country from China and is increasingly looking at India as a major global player. Terzi, who was Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time of the Marine crisis that cast a long shadow on bilateral relations, predicts that India-Italy relations are now moving into a higher trajectory.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. What were major takeaways of bilateral talks between the prime ministers of India and Italy in Rome?
A. The friendly “bilateral” meeting between PM Modi and PM Draghi was placed at the very top of the Italian government’s agenda for substantive reasons. Fighting against climate change, COVID-19, promoting human rights in Afghanistan, especially women’s rights, and the rule of law in international relations is deeply felt by Italy.
Engagement with India at the UN and in other multilateral organisations will grow in the wake of the complexities of the ongoing tensions and crises.
PM Draghi and PM Modi seem to have entirely agreed on expanding cooperation in critical domains of cyber and space research and technologies and a wide array of manufacturing, energy, and infrastructure-related sectors.
Going by their first meeting in Rome, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Draghi will develop a very successful and friendly chemistry. This personal chemistry is natural given the fact that the two leaders have proved to be very popular in their own country.
Q. India-Italy economic relations are growing, but remain hugely under-leveraged. How can India and Italy expand their economic partnership?
A. The economic relations are flourishing and have been developing successfully in traditional sectors such as industrial machinery, petrochemicals, and infrastructure. Indian investors have a good eye for Italian opportunities and vice versa. Looking ahead, the future is in high tech, especially IT and cyber security— areas where Indians have very strong capacities and technologies. Cooperation in these areas should be further developed. Security, space, and new biotechnologies are other promising areas for future cooperation.
Q. Italy had a robust relationship with China, but the Coronavirus pandemic has triggered a rethink in Rome about ties with Beijing. Is this true that Italy is now distancing itself from China?
A. The rush towards the Belt and Road Initiative was a big mistake as Italy broke ranks with other European countries to be the first European country to join the BRI. It was an act of submission, not an act of voluntary cooperation. And that was due only to the fact that the main party in the Italian Parliament still has a personal strong relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. That is one element and a problem. We have to be much more aware in Italy of the huge potential that the Indian market is presenting us. The big difference of working in India, compared to that of China, is the reliability. There is much more transparency, much more respect for the commitments in India, which are undertaken at the industrial level, at the business level than what was becoming the environment in China over the last years.
Q. How is Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi positioned towards China?
A. Mario Draghi is a convinced European and a convinced Atlanticist. So what is happening is a change of mood; it’s now a very strong and different wind. There has been a reversal in the positioning of China, in the Atlantic, and the European environment. There is a huge lobbying going on so that we can continue as it used to be, but it is a different story now. Prime Minister Draghi has a very different understanding of China from his predecessor, Prime Minister Conte.
Q. Will this scepticism in regard to China translate into stronger strategic partnership with a rising Asian power, India?
A. In view of the interests and security of Italy, the entire country should disengage as fast as we can from the Belt and Road Initiative, and from companies that are a front for the military and strategic interests of China. Key actors in Italian foreign policy establishment are already convinced that we must get closer and closer to the Quad, to the Indo-Pacific Quad, to the AUKUS, and to all the initiatives that the United States, Japan, India, and the most-friendly countries like Australia are taking in the Indo-Pacific.
Q. How do you look at the rise of India as an important global player? Does Itay back India’s candidacy for a permanent seat in the Security Council?
A. If there is an issue of a new permanent seat in the UNSC, then that must be a seat for the European Union. If a new permanent seat will have to be allowed to other countries, then there are four big democracies and India is the biggest one, which is entitled to claim their own privileged or permanent seat. India must occupy its rightful place in the UN Security Council, in the UN system, and in the UN agencies. Right now, more than half of UN agencies are headed by China. This must change so that India can have more weight in the UN system.
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO of India Writes Network, India and the World magazine and Centre for Global India Insights, a think tank focused on global affairs.