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È uscito lo speciale di CorD “Italy-Serbia: A Successful Cooperation in Difficult Times”

Clicca QUI per leggere tutti i contenuti dell’edizione speciale.

Intervista all’Ambasciatore Carlo Lo Cascio:

Friends During Both Good And Bad Times

The Italian medical team said that Serbia was definitely fully prepared to face the COVID-19 crisis. The expertise of local healthcare staff was assessed as being at a high level – Carlo Lo Cascio

The COVID-19 Pandemic and many months of the struggle against the virus have provided new confirmation of the “special relationship” between Italy and Serbia. Despite being confronted by a dangerous virus, our two countries – which last year celebrated 140 years of diplomatic relations – once again found a way to help and support one another, says ambassador Carlo Lo Cascio. The economic crisis that has come as a result of COVID-19 hit the economies of both countries, but the Italian ambassador is convinced that it won’t have a stronger negative influence on our economic exchange. In this interview for CorD Magazine, ambassador Lo Cascio also says that Italian car manufacturer FCA is staying in Serbia, where it is “very likely developing new project ideas for the immediate future”.

Your Excellency, a team of Italian doctors came to Serbia, to help fight against Covid 19. Could you tell us more about this medical mission?

The Italian medical team came to Serbia for two weeks last August, with much enthusiasm and willingness to support Serbian people, as well as their Serbian colleagues, sharing the expertise matured during the most difficult months of the pandemic in Italy, last spring.

The team consisted of five doctors – a surgeon, an infectologist, two anesthetists – and a nurse, coming from three different Italian regions, Piemonte, Lazio, and Puglia. They visited the Belgrade’s Clinical Center, Zemun Hospital, Clinical centers of Nis, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and KBC “Bezanijska kosa”.

As they said during an interview released after the first week of activity, Serbia was definitely fully prepared to face the crisis and the level of expertise of local sanitary staff was assessed of a high level. On Serbian side, in particular, the visit of the Italian medical team was appreciated for their useful advice about techniques that were adopted in Italy in treating some COVID cases in the hospitals.

The engagement of Italian doctors in Serbia is a new demonstration of solidarity between two countries. Italy’s struggle against the Covid-19 virus was followed with great sympathy in Serbia. Were you surprised by the humanitarian aid that was sent from Belgrade?

The mission of Italian medical team was organized in summer right when Serbia was unfortunately having, again, a high number of contagions especially in Belgrade and other main centers. It was important from our side to give a sign of solidarity and friendship to Serbia, after Belgrade sent to Italy seven aircrafts, last April, carrying tons of medical donation to help us facing the worst moments of coronavirus crisis in Italy.

Although I know well the generosity of Serbian people, I have to say that I was truly moved by all the expressions of affection towards Italy coming both from ordinary citizens and Serbian Authorities. The generous donation to Italian people was an extraordinary gesture which was very much appreciated. In my view, the big solidarity movement coming from Serbian population confirmed, once again, that the friendship and feelings between Italy and Serbia are long standing and sincere. The history of our relationship is really a meeting of close neighbours who help each other, in good times and bad times.

You know that last year we celebrated 140 years of diplomatic relationship between Italy and Serbia, that we used to call “special relationship”. In March, same year, when Belgrade received a visit of our Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, we also did a dedicated special edition with CorD named “Always together”. In this situation of urgent humanitarian need, we can say once again and louder “Always together”!

After the spring 2020 and the first wave of Covid 19 that took thousands of lives in Italy, do you fear we could see a new wave of the pandemic?

Many doctors and experts foresee a difficult autumn/winter in Europe, if not in the whole world. I personally cannot make forecasts, I do obviously hope that an increase in the contagions in Italy, in Serbia or in other places will not happen again and that the current rising of numbers in some countries will stop soon.

Having said that, I think that countries gained much more experience to fight the virus in the meantime and they should be now better prepared to face new infection “waves” than in the past, also considering that in many parts of the world processes are in due course to establish international rescue and support mechanisms, like in the case of the EU.

What do you think is greater danger now, corona virus pandemic or the socio-economic fallout from the Covid 19 crisis?

Both are obviously severe aspects of this crisis. It is fundamental to preserve the health of the population and therefore to continue to put in place appropriate measures, if and when needed.

At the same time economic systems must be kept active and economic relations need to continue and flourish again. International cooperation or supra-national aid agreements were helpful in this context, as it happened with the European “Recovery Fund”.

EU leaders have agreed to a comprehensive package of €1 824.3 billion which includes €750 billion to address challenges posed by Covid 19. Do you believe that the package will save EU economy from the economic crisis that, according to some analysts, could be more serious than the one from 2009?

I would like to recall the words of our Prime Minister Conte when he presented the approved package to the Parliament. He explained that, faced with a shock of such proportions, in those dramatic months, the European Union was able to respond with courage and vision, up to the decision to approve, for the first time, an ambitious recovery program, financing it through the issuance of genuinely European government bonds.

In this way, we achieved a radical change of perspective, going beyond the logic of simple aid. We aim to a recovery, instead, that is fully oriented towards economic growth and sustainable development, in particular though typical tools of the digitalization era and ecological transition.

Italy is Serbia’s top economic partner. Could the economic recession that’s expected as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic impact on the level of economic exchange?

Although the crisis had an impact on the economic partnership between Italy and Serbia, this must be seen in the light of the more general crisis that affected the economy worldwide. Considering the whole situation, I would say that trade exchanges between our two countries are still safe and sound. Of course, we would like to see everything going back soon to “business as usual” in order to reach again soon the 4 billion peak of 2018 in trade exchange.

Innovation instruments foreseen in the European Recovery Fund should also help in this direction, as well as a strategy of public support for companies that already operate or intend to enter in international markets through the extraordinary resources provided by the government to give new impulse to the production system.

Do you know what fate awaits the Fiat factory in Kragujevac?

FCA group is a very solid economic player. FCA is certainly going to continue to invest and be present in Serbia, as they are also very likely developing new project ideas for the next future.

Italy supports Serbia’s European integration, though that process appears to be slowing down. How do you see the fact that Serbia has not opened a single chapter in the last six months, for the first time since it began negotiations on membership?

Italy is without any doubt the strongest supporter of Serbia’s accession to the European Union. Last year Italy and Serbia celebrated also 10 years since the signing of the strategic partnership agreement, which officially marked the commitment to intensify a renewed cooperation under the basis of the common intention to see Serbia moving even faster towards the European integration. Therefore, this certainly remains one of core aspects of our relationship as well also of our bilateral support to Serbia.

As a demonstration, in Belgrade last December we welcomed a visit of our Minister for European Integration Vincenzo Amendola, and this year began with the visit of our Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, who reaffirmed the fundamental pillars of our partnership including the common belonging to the European project.

Also, certainly Serbia has the clear goal of completing its European integration path since a long time ago, and it is carrying out the accession process officially from 2014, according to an agreed schedule that requires the fulfilment of reforms and changes in 35 “sectors” (the so-called ‘Chapters’ listed by the Framework Agreement for the Accession Negotiations). In the latest periodical evaluation of the state of the art, there was no agreement among Member States on the opening of new Chapters as the majority thought that there was not enough progress in the crucial Chapters 23 and 24 on rule of law and fundamental rights.

That does not mean that Member States do not maintain interest in Serbia being part of the EU. Rather, it is a sign that democratic process, protection of human rights and cross-party dialogue should all be more central and visible aspects in order to bring the country ever closer to EU standards.

There were voices from the EU institutions raising concern over the state of democracy in Serbia. How would you asses the current situation?

Being Serbia in the European integration process, a spill-over effect is expected to take place in several sectors of reform, generating a positive transformative trend specifically in critical areas.

Specific improvements should be achieved especially in the rule of law. Media and freedom of expression, as well as reform in the administration and in the judicial system, together with the fight against corruption, are key areas that require further developments.

Therefore, I expect the new Serbian Government to keep the pace with the European path and continue the reform process, considering that with the accession to the EU Belgrade is looking for something beyond: better living standards and more prosperity for the whole country and its population.

During the state of emergency this spring, you were very active on social networks, reminding your followers of the EU’s support for Serbia during the struggle against the Coronavirus outbreak. Do you have the impression that there is a feeling in Serbia, but also in Italy, that the EU was late in reacting to the pandemic, while some other countries, such as China, quickly organised the sending of aid?

At the beginning of the breakout of coronavirus in Italy, and therefore in Europe, not many people immediately realized what was happening everywhere and some observers commented the EU did not want to help Italy. Later the European Council fully responded to its task, as I said before, making its decision more forward looking than ever.

The EU also contributed a lot to assist Serbia during most its difficult months with effective assistance, immediate humanitarian aid and generous donations.

In general, I disagree with certain doubtful approaches about the EU’s true intentions towards Serbia. They are deceiving and counterproductive. We don’t have to forget that the implementation mechanism provides Serbia with 300 million euros in grants per year to support the reform process. In addition to that, we should not forget that the EU, as a whole, is Serbia’s first trade partner, first donor and first investor.

What do you expect in the continuation of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which has been renewed under the patronage of the EU?

We fully support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina under EU facilitation, and we were pleased with the resumption of talks in Brussels, in July, after a long pause. We are aware that discussions are never easy, and this is why we do encourage both sides to work with open mind and forward-looking approach, in line with their European perspective. We firmly support EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak’s facilitation in the search for a sustainable and durable agreement ensuring peace and stability in the region. Italy supports this process very much also by leading the KFOR Mission, which benefits of the presence and support of many actors.