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Interview: ‘Our Relations Are Back On Track’, Says Lorenzo Angeloni, Italian Ambassador To India

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Our Relations Are Back On Track’, Says Lorenzo Angeloni, Italian Ambassador To India

from by Prabha Chandran

After a chill in relations following the death of two Kerala fishermen at the hands of two Italian marines in 2012, Italy was back in the capital’s limelight as the official sponsor of the Amazon India Fashion Week, with a high-level delegation of accessory couturiers. Ambassador Angeloni feels our shared passion for food, families and a better quality of life is a solid base on which to build stronger ties. In a wide-ranging interview, he talks about Italy’s contribution towards the Smart Cities initiative, defence and scientific ties, opportunities for students and his hope to write a novel on India one day.

Here is his exclusive interview to Huffington Post:

Ambassador, you arrived in India in March 2015 when our relations were still strained over the death of two Kerala fishermen by two Italian marines in 2012. How would you describe our relations today and where are we on this case?

The Enrica Lexie case, which was unfortunate and sad, was submitted in June 2015 to the international Court under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Convention, on Italian initiative, in order to establish the jurisdiction. Since then, Italy and India have fully respected the arbitral procedure, which is taking its due course. The relations between the two Governments are back on track and with the meeting between the two External Affairs Ministers, Sushma Swaraj and Paolo Gentiloni, in Rome on the 4th of September 2016, on the occasion of the Canonization of Mother Teresa, have resumed a natural and encouraging route.

Italy made a splash in the capital last week as the official partner for the Amazon India Fashion Week. Apart from traditional Italian imports like machinery, young Indians want more authentic Italian food, wine and fashion. Yet Italy accounts for only 1% of imports from India while India’s share of Italian trade is placed just around 1.5%. Is there a lack of will?

We see a strong interest towards Italy among Indian citizens. To begin with, the youth, who are attracted by the sectors of our economy that are more directly noticeable, like the gastronomy, wine production, fashion, and furniture & décor. At the beginning of 2016, the Italian Trade Promotion Section of the Embassy launched a plan to promote ‘Made in Italy’ in India through various events, which will continue also in 2017. The plan is aimed at presenting the state of art in the sectors I just mentioned like food processing, Smart Cities and cooperation between SMEs.

Now, on data, the trade exchange amounts to 7.3 billion US dollars. There is room for improvement, but this figure shows that Italy is the fourth biggest trade partner of India amongst all the EU countries, with a massive presence of Italian companies operating in India (around 600). Italian companies are actively participating in the Make in India campaign as most of them are operating in the manufacturing sector in India. This is till date, but new opportunities are just around the corner.

During my 18 months in India so far, I have observed a remarkable interest in the Indian business community in intensifying relations with our country in various sectors: renewable energy, railways, food processing, to name just a few. These are areas where companies and institutions of both our countries have agreements in place and are signing new ones. For those interested in being posted on our initiative, @ItalyinIndia is our Twitter account.

India has a strong growth story and Prime Minister Modi has launched a number of schemes to attract FDI: Make in India, Skill India, Smart Cities and Swacch Bharat. Is Italy contributing to any of these efforts?

Italy is passionately participating in the Make in India campaign through the Italian companies producing and investing here. Starting from Ferrero that recently announced its intention of doubling its investment in India, and going to Piaggio, a brand that has historical deep roots here. Vespa was born in Italy and came to India immediately after, allowing millions of people in our two countries to move towards the future.

You mentioned Smart Cities. Well, I have personally witnessed how Italy is contributing to the creation of modern and efficient cities in the heart of Bangalore. Among my first initiatives as Ambassador, I paid a visit to Bhartiya Smart City and I have been impressed by its strong Italian touch and identity. The residential area was indeed fully equipped with Italian kitchens, tiles, and furniture. This is what we call “competitive luxury”, a great example that nowadays, more than ever, Italian companies are able to grant traditional Italian quality to a growing share of the global market.

By and large, the same quality can be applied to one of the top priority sectors for India’s sustainable development: infrastructure. In this framework, Italy can provide an undisputed value matching the development of infrastructure with green and sustainable construction materials. Did you know that Italy is the fourth largest exporter to India in building materials and furniture?

Recently, one of the major European players in the sector of railways, Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, has decided to contribute to the grand plans of the Indian Government for modernization and development and has also opened a branch here in Delhi. Even in the sector of Smart Grid, Enel Green Power, which is part of the third biggest global giant of utilities ENEL SPA, has a strong presence in the Indian market demonstrating that Italy can do a lot in India and at all levels, from small and medium enterprises to big multinationals.

We have had science and cultural exchange programs dating back to the late 1970s. Are we cooperating currently on any important research projects? Are there opportunities for young professionals and students to study and work in Italy?

Scientific and technological cooperation will be one of the core aspects of Indo-Italian relations of the future. This week, the Joint Committee on science and technology has met in Rome and approved the new Executive Protocol for 2017-2019. It will be followed soon by a call for bilateral scientific projects of great relevance with the aim of facilitating the mobility of researchers. On 20th October, an Indian delegation led by DST Secretary Prof. Sharma inaugurated in Italy two new beamlines of the Trieste Sincrotrone, co-financed by India.

We are also planning a bilateral innovation forum next year, a fundamental platform for enhancing the Science-Industry cooperation: we want to bring to the same table scientists, innovators, business companies, venture capitalists and universities. The Italian Government presented the new industrial policy, INDUSTRIA 4.0, and, as Prime Minister Modi is doing in India, is investing in the future. Nurturing creativity is difficult if we do not provide young graduates with adequate structures and a flexible regulatory framework.

Besides, we welcome in Italy 1500 new Indian students per year, but we want to improve these numbers and we are working closely with Italian academic Institutions in order to improve the offer of their graduate coursework in English. Technical academies like Politecnico and design schools are top destinations, but the academic offer is wide and large, offering courses in English also in sciences and information technology, and connection with industrial districts is growing more and more. Let me say to Indian youngsters – invest in your talent!

As we head into winter, Delhi will become the world’s most polluted city according to WHO. (a) Is this having a negative impact on embassy staff and investor confidence? (b) Any progress in Italy’s plans to help India move to renewable energy and combat pollution?

This a very serious health issue and I sincerely hope that the competent authorities will make all possible efforts, apart from the measures adopted last year, in order to tackle this situation and reduce the levels of pollution. There is no doubt that the progressive shift to renewable energy will render the situation more acceptable but it will take some time. Italy is ready to invest and collaborate with India in this field, as already initiated. We all need to be very hopeful. The Indian energy basket is, in fact, undergoing a gradual change and is evolving towards a better understanding of the environmental sustainability.

Italy can offer high-quality projections making use of the experience of its 13 carbon centers, realized completely in accordance with the strictest European norms. We are ready to share our experiences of a series of measures implemented in major Italian cities that are part of daily life when the air is more polluted.

India is the world’s largest arms importer and the AgustaWestland scandal led to the blacklisting of its parent company Finmeccanica in Italy. What is the status of the deal and is Italy planning any investments in the defense sector in India?

The case has been thoroughly investigated by the Italian judiciary. The trial has so far (the final verdict will be known in the near future) ascertained the responsibility of who was heading AgustaWestland at that time and the outcomes of the investigations undertaken by the Italian judiciary have been duly shared with the Indian investigators. In the meantime, the Group which was controlling AgustaWestland has drastically changed its top brass, management, organization, strategy, and even the name. It is now called Leonardo-Finmeccanica, in memory of the great Leonardo da Vinci, a name that represents, more effectively than any other name, the Italian capability to furnish solutions of maximum excellence.

Today, the group has a stronger leadership and technical and manufacturing expertise with around 13 billion euros of revenue and 12 billion of new orders. It is a key player globally in the aerospace, defense and security sectors. So it is all set to offer solutions to our Indian partners, as it is in many other countries like the United States and UAE, just to name the few recent ones. Leonardo is ready to participate in Make in India in the defense sector, contributing to the development of a national productive capability in line with the aspirations and role of India in the regional and global geo-strategic scenario.

Where does Italy stand on the issue of cross-border terrorism which India accuses Pakistan of facilitating? Are we cooperating on the threats posed by radical Islamic fundamentalist?

In the aftermaths of the tragic events of Uri, the Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, issued a very clear statement to condemn strongly the attack and to confirm Italy’s solidarity with India in a common fight against terrorism to promote peace and security in the world. As a country which has been targeted by terrorism for a long time, we understand thoughtfully India’s concerns and the issue of terrorism has been also on the top of the agenda of the meeting between Minister Swaraj and Minister Gentiloni last September. I am also pleased to share that in the next few weeks a high-level bilateral meeting will take place in Rome to further strengthen our cooperation in this crucial field.

You have written a book on Darfur having spent time in Sudan and two novels. Do you plan to write a book on India? Have you read any Indian authors?

The book I wrote at the end of my tenure as Ambassador in Sudan (published also in English on Amazon Kindle with the title The Perfect Crises) was about the Darfur crises, which in 2004 was on the top of the priority list of the UN Security Council. It is a novel, written with the aim of showing youth the difficulties faced by the International community in opposing the war and its devastating consequences. It is an invitation for everyone to do his or her part, to be conscious of the fact that one can face war every day, in every place, weaving together relations shaped by faith and by dialogue with our neighbours.

I sincerely hope to be able to write in India and about India: a novel, an account or a reportage, I don’t know. But to this end, I need to read a lot. That is why, I am in the phase of absorption, and I try to read, whenever I can and whatever I get my hands on. At the moment, I am reading a beautiful novel by Joginder Paul – Blind. It’s a very touching story that seems to ask the reader, of what use is sight for those who only look but do not see?

Having spent over a year in India, what are your personal impressions of the country and its people? What would you like to do most while in India?

Without being rhetorical, I would say I consider myself fortunate to be allowed to spend a part of my life in India. I have always followed the history of this extraordinary country, inspired by the lives of many personalities who imparted a universal wisdom, admired the diversity and unity of cultures, races and traditions.

I find–to tell you the truth, I realised it just after a few days of my arrival here, watching a talk show on television–that Indians and Italians are very similar: in the passionate way of expressing their ideas, in expansive and articulated family relations that they maintain at various levels, in the pleasure and the time devoted to food. These similarities and the attraction that history, culture and traditions and many other aspects of our two countries, work on us and on you, are an extraordinary basis to develop relations to a 360 degrees, between governments, institutions, companies and persons in all fields.

I hope, during my stay here, to be able to build on this foundation, gangways and bridges to bring India and Italy even closer, following the path already paved by their thousands of years old history and in the frame of their common membership of the group of world’s greatest democracies.

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