With this issue of NEU, we would like to introduce a regular spot in the Editorial section that will be dedicated to interviews.
This time, the focus will be the semester of Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and we decided to interview Ms. Cristina Scarfia, an important functionary during the period.
Dr. Scarfia, first of all: which role have you got during the Italian semester of Presidency?
I have been Responsible for strategic communication and relations with the press for what concerns the Councils relative to Coreper I.
Coreper includes all permanent Representatives (Ambassadors of EU member States), and is responsible for the preparation and control of the work of the European Council. It is divided into two parts: Coreper I, is about all the dossiers that are specifically technical (in preparation of the Environmental, Transports, Agriculture, Energy policy, Telecommunications, Culture dossiers etc.). Coreper II is about economic, political and institutional dossiers.
What this semester meant to us? Has it been a “dense” one? Has it been a real semester?
It has for sure been a very “dense” and particular one. Furthermore it has been very short for two main reasons: first of all, the institutional transition. A new Parliament has been elected, a new Commission nominated, and also a new President of the European Council; secondly there have been the two pauses, Christmas and Easter. In this context, the time at our disposal for the legislative activities has shortened, from mid-October to mid- December. In any case we caught this particular situation to put on the table some political questions which were – and are – particularly decisive for us.
Since before starting the semester in October, we reflected about how to concretely shift the focus of European policies from finance to real economy, stressing in particular the themes of industrial competitiveness and growth. Thanks to our work we managed to let pass a new idea of the European industrial policy, which develops with an holistic approach, and could be integrated with other key-policies, like the environmental, commercial and energetic ones. We also managed to let pass the idea that every potential norm in the EU should show not to damage the European competitiveness. We reinforced the role of the Council of Competitiveness by creating a High Level Group for competitiveness…
Under our Presidency there has been a common reflection which made it possible to the EU, for the first time, to go to the Lima Summit about Climate Change with a unitary position. The debate about the necessity of more investments evolved significantly under our Presidency. We also started to think how to shrink the bureaucratic machine all around us…so, lot of work.
For what concerns the legislative activity, even if short, the Italian semester has been an intense one. We closed the legislative dossier about plastic bags (really important to recognize an Italian excellence). We managed to unlock and close the controversial deal about the GMOs, with a solution which adequately defends also the States wanting to forbid them. We closed important technical dossiers, like the one regarding devices for personal protection and the one about historical cable cars…As for political dossiers (like the immigration one), and economical ones, there would be much positive things to say….but that is out of my ambit and so I leave this to people more expert than me.
So, is it possible a comparison with the Greek semester which came before us?
The Greek Presidency closed a lot of legislative dossiers, also because it had an entire semester for work. It left us more complex dossiers, like the fourth railway one, or the one about the GMOs, counting on our experience and our political weight in order to close or unlock them. The Greek one has been an excellent Presidency. In any case, each presidency is peculiar.
Today, with this asset, does it still have a meaning the practice of biannual presidencies?
If we would consider the simplification issue, they should be cancelled. But, in the reality, the Presidency prepares and manages the work of the Council in all his branches (Agriculture, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Energy, Transports, etc.), because it has an operative function, and still a great utility. The problem is that in Italy journalists and politicians made Italian people believe that in six months our country would have radically changed the European Union. But that is impossible, because the role does not allow to do this, and because six months (three in our case) are objectively few in order to modify such a complex system.
Is it true that the Presidencies have a work programme that is designed for each three, the so called “trio” ?
Yes, it is true. In fact we were before in “trio” with Greece and Latvia, now we are with Latvia and Luxembourg, which follow us. This is made in order to give coherence to the policies of the EU. Coordination is needed. There is a programme about some common indications for all, and then every presidency has its priorities. For example we put the accent on the theme of competitiveness. Latvia, which just took the Presidency, will give great importance to digital technology, because it is a country which is making huge investments in this asset.
Is there a difference in the approach towards the presidency between EU founding States and new entries?
Each country has a different approach but, if you consider a country like Italy, which has had the presidency two times, you see that it had less anxiety, even with a bit less enthusiasm, than a new country. Considering the fact that all informal meetings and the High Level Conferences happen in the country which has the Presidency, the semester is also an occasion to show the beauties and the excellence which a country has. In this sense, countries like Italy and France have less pressure to be known than countries like Latvia.
Finally, an overall opinion about the Italian semester?
I am really sorry for the fact that in Italy expectations for this period were too high, because this made the final judgements really tough and less positive. I feel disappointment for the fact that in our country, which is a founding Member, the level of awareness of the public opinion is still very low. In the reality, as I said before, the particular period in which we worked has to be taken into consideration as the most important variable. For this reason, in my opinion, considering all, I am really positive about the semester. Sure, there is disappointment because we did not manage to give a decisive impulse to some really important dossiers, like Made IN, Neutrality of the Net, political part of the fourth railway package….but anyway, we put some important and innovative political milestones which will remain in the coming years.
Damiano De Rosa
Chief editor – NEU