When does the renewed agreement come into force, according to which Moldovans and Italians are free to drive on the basis of national driving licenses on the territories of both states? Why does Italy support Moldova’s European aspirations? Why does Italy remain the second largest importer of Moldovan products and foreign investor in Moldova? How many Moldovan investors are in Italy and how many mixed marriages between Moldova and Italy are there? What links the Moldovan and Italian military and Carabinieri? By what criteria does Italy select aid projects in Moldova? Why are the relations of Moldova and Italy, of Moldovans and Italians more special compared to other countries? How can we tackle the challenges of globalization, migration, depopulation and poverty more easily together? What keeps an Ambassador busy outside of office hours? About these and many other important things for Moldova-Italy relations – in Valeriu Vasilică’s recent video interview with the Ambassador of the Italian Republic to the Republic of Moldova, Valeria Biagiotti.
-IPN: Your Excellency, welcome to the online studio of the IPN news agency for this interview, which, as the previous and future ones of this series, serves two distinct purposes: informative and enlightening, or educational, so to speak. The second dimension is needed especially because in Moldovan society there is still less understanding than we would want regarding the role, purpose and essence of Moldova’s relations with its external partners, bilaterally, but also regarding European Union relations. This is why I will ask you to accept, not only specific questions on specific topics, but also some general questions. Let's start from the most important and specific:
On August 6, 2019, an agreement was drawn up between the governments of our countries, according to which Moldovans and Italians will be able to travel by car on the territories of both states on the basis of national driving licenses. Therefore, on November 11 the Moldovan Government approved this agreement. However, for the agreement to enter into force, it also need the Italian Government’s approval. The bilateral agreements on social security and the recognition of educational documents are also at the same stage. The agreement’ speedy entry into force would help to create better living conditions for citizens of both countries, irrespective of their place of residence.
- Valeria Biagiotti: There is already an agreement on driving licenses conversion which was signed, about 16 years ago, in 2003. As for the agreement you refer to is a document that will bring changes to the previous agreement, given the multiple changes the driving license models have undergone. The Italian authorities, just as the Moldovan authorities, have completed internal procedures and, as stipulated in that agreement, it will enter into force starting from January 2020.
As for the other two agreements, they are also in a fairly advanced stage of negotiations and we hope they are concluded as soon as possible. Both Moldovan and Italian authorities are interested in signing these agreements as soon as possible to simplify the lives of the Moldovans who settled in Italy and of the Italians living in Moldova.
Regarding social security, I should mention that Moldovan citizens who have worked in Italy, with or without this agreement being signed, have already the right to an Italian pension, whether they decide to stay in Italy or return to their homeland.
More Europe from Italians to Moldovans
- IPN: For a long time and on many occasions, Italy has stated and demonstrated that it is interested in the Republic of Moldova to integrate better and faster into the European space. Why would Italy be interested in Moldova's European integration and no other types of integration that are theoretically possible for Moldova?
- Valeria Biagiotti: As you know, Italy is one of the six founding states of the EU and from the very beginning has contributed to signing different agreements and building a united Europe. Suffice it to say that the CEEA and Euratom treaties were signed in Rome in 1957. European principles and values are consequently a constant of our country's history for over 60 years. Therefore, we appreciate and support other states that want to share these values with us. For this reason, Italy has supported from the beginning the signing of the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union. Moreover, we have signed a bilateral Joint declaration, between Italy and Moldova in support of the implementation of this Agreement.
- IPN: Further, I would like us to focus on the Moldovan-Italian bilateral relations at the present stage, but first let us establish a criterion: how do we distinguish bilateral relations between Moldova and Italy from Moldo- European ones? When does Italy represent itself in relations with Moldova and when does it represent the European Union?
- Valeria Biagiotti: I think it is difficult to separate these two roles very clearly. As I mentioned before, our membership of the European Union has been a constant of our history for more than 60 years, and this is an aspect that also characterizes strictly bilateral relations, including Moldova. Obviously, there are some aspects that make the Moldovan-Italian relations more special, simpler, in comparison with the other EU countries, also due to a great number of Moldovan citizens in Italy.
Steadfast, second place among Moldovan partners
- IPN: In recent years, the volume of Moldovan production exported to Italy has increased significantly. Why, which Moldovan products do Italians like most? Also, the Italian market is not a poor market, it has to be assumed that Moldovan products have replaced or are replacing products of another origin ...
- Valeria Biagiotti: Italy, as we know, ranks second in the list of the most significant importers of Moldovan products. The increase in import volume in recent years is due, not least, to the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with Moldova, which has led to many positive effects in recent years. We have recently marked five years since the signing of this Agreement. An important role in Moldovan exports to Italy is played by the Italian companies that have deployed part of their production process in Moldova, and then export it to Italy.
- IPN: Italy ranks second also among foreign investors in Moldova. Why, how do Italian investors feel in Moldova?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Indeed, the presence of Italian business people in Moldova is rooted still in the early years of the Republic of Moldova. The positive experiences of the Italian investors in Moldova are numerous, especially in the textile sector, footwear production, IT services sector, production of automotive components and wiring. Linguistic proximity has increased Italian citizens’ interest to invest in Moldova and therefore Italian entrepreneurs feel in Moldova more like at home than elsewhere around the world.
Of course, there have also been negative experiences and problems unfortunately. Hence, Italian investors wish for the measures to further improve the business environment and the key aspects are: the fight against corruption and judicial reform.
- IPN: How significant is the reverse, meaning Moldovan investments in Italy?
- Valeria Biagiotti: This phenomenon exists. According to the data we have, about five thousand Moldovan entrepreneurs were registered in Italy in December 2017. These are mostly individual businesses. It is a first step for further development, although some investments are already significant.
Together for enhanced peace and adjustments
- IPN: It seems that the Italian Army is a kind of guardianship for the Moldovan military participating in international peacekeeping missions. Why is Italy interested in doing so? Why should the Moldovan military be interested in learning from the Italian experience and how do they succeed?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Italy is happy to host, for several years now, a platoon of Moldovan soldiers in the KFOR mission in Kosovo. For our side, we have every interest in attracting and also supporting the states willing to contribute to stability and peace both in Europe and throughout the world. This is a good opportunity for both the Italian and Moldovan sides to exchange experiences and expertise in this field. On this occasion I would like to mention the excellent collaboration between the Italian and Moldovan carabinieri forces, and there have been numerous initiatives, including the stable presence of an Italian advisor in addition to the general command of carabinieri troops in Moldova.
Recently, the Embassy has organized Italian language courses for Moldovan carabinieri, which will therefore allow to strengthen the collaboration between the two structures, the carabinieri from Moldova and Italy.
Promoting Italy through Moldovan excellence
- IPN: How does the Italian Embassy support certain projects in Moldova? I am asking this because the spectrum of areas you support is very wide: from the army and the economy, as I was saying, to libraries, design, theatre, fine arts, combating violence, etc. By what criteria do you choose your priorities?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Generally, the Embassy’s main purpose is to strengthen and enhance the relations with Moldova in all areas, and also to make Italy better known in Moldova, starting from our excellence, such as cuisine, culture, design, music, etc. Some events are set directly by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and are simultaneously conducted worldwide throughout the Italian diplomatic network. This is also the case for the event that starts today (18 November 2019), the Italian Cuisine Week in the world.
In October, we celebrated the Italian Language Week in the world, and in March we celebrated the Italian Design Day in the world.
Furthermore, given the excellent relations between the people of our states, many of the initiatives are proposed by some Italian or Moldovan citizens, or by some of their organizations and the Embassy seeks to support and promote them.
In any case, I follow two criteria in all these initiatives and projects we support. First of all, benefiting Moldovan excellence even when we talk about promoting Italy. For example, the direct involvement of Moldovan universities at the Italian Design Day, or the event, recently organized, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death.
The other criterion is to pay particular attention to the social sector. For example, for the Italian Cuisine Week in the world, which is this week, we have provided a master class in cooking pasta that we will carry out at a placement center for children.
- IPN: I was asking you about the criteria... Does it matter that the Italian Ambassador to Moldova is a woman? Is this a criterion? I am asking you because many of the projects require, in my opinion, more soul, more interest in the humanitarian fields. Which projects carried out with the support of the Embassy are dearer to your heart?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Certainly, being an ambassador and a woman at the same time is an opportunity for me to draw attention to very important issues such as gender equality or domestic violence. We are trying to promote this initiative among the female ambassadors to Moldova. Unfortunately, there are only four of us left, but on different occasions, we attend campaigns or launch certain messages.
Linguistic similarity brings us closer
- IPN: How do you get on with Moldovan people and authorities in exercising your function?
- Valeria Biagiotti: In general, I think I have established excellent relationships with everyone I deal with when performing my duties, but I must admit that I have often been impressed by the excitement and professionalism shown by my colleagues when performing their duties at different levels, even when they have to face lack of resources.
- IPN: How do you think the Moldovans get on with the Italians in Moldova and how do the Italians get on with Moldovans in Italy? Can we talk about the same type of relationship in both cases? Besides business relations, for example….
- Valeria Biagiotti: I do not want to generalize, but I think in both cases we witness surprising ease and facility integration due to the linguistic proximity. A telling example is the large number of mixed marriages between the citizens of our countries. For example, during the years 2015-2016, in Italy there were 1600 marriages between Moldovan and Italian citizens. This represents over 70% of the total number of marriages registered by Moldovan citizens in Italy. This figure, as I said, also proves our peoples’ high degree of integration, although there are also problems, such as custody disputes between parents. And these cases require enormous work, especially collaboration between our institutions.
Moldovans and Italians in the ever-changing world
- IPN: Both Italy and Moldova are bordering by somewhat, worlds of different languages and cultures: we – with the Slavic countries, Italians – with Arab and African countries. How is Italy doing in this era of great globalization and migration and what lessons can we take from you now, but also for the future?
- Valeria Biagiotti: I believe that the most important aspect we need to emphasize in this regard is the importance of facing the challenges of globalization and advanced people flow jointly and coordinated between all countries, including within the European Union.
- IPN: From the most populated region of Europe a few decades ago, Moldova now faces issues of massive depopulation, especially rural depopulation. However, I found out the other day, with great astonishment, that in Italy there are localities, and not only villages, but also cities, entire areas of depopulated cities. A few days ago houses from these cities were sold for only 1 euro to anyone willing to buy them only to repopulate the localities. How does depopulation occur in a prosperous country such as Italy, at least, compared to Moldova, and what can we, the Moldovans, learn from your experience?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Indeed, there have been news and lots of talks regarding some mayors’ initiatives, especially from southern Italy localities, who announced that they are offering houses at symbolic prices of 1 euro to capitalize the rural areas and to avoid their depopulation. At the Embassy we have received many phone calls from Moldovan citizens who heard or read this news and asked us what the requirements are. Recently, I have read the statements of some foreign nationals, Italians of Italian-American origin, who decided to follow these offers, had positive experiences and even decided to move permanently to Italy. And, indeed, in the case of depopulation, particularly in the south of Italy, due to the increased attention given to the organic farming sector and rural tourism development, there has been a return and repopulation of the Italian countryside. Currently, there are over 50 000 enterprises managed by young people under 35 years.
Given the importance of the wine and agricultural sector in Moldova, with the help and support of foreign funds granted for rural tourism development, it would be very nice for Moldova to witness a return to the countryside, so that these sectors become a magnet to attract the citizens not only from the city to the village, but also from abroad back home and particularly in rural area.
- IPN: In addition to language and history, closely related, Moldovans and Italians have at least two things in common that both really believe in: good wines and tasty cuisine. How many common features do you think these two national assets have and how much do they differ?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Obviously, wine and cuisine are two important aspects of both the Italian and Moldovan culture and tradition, as I had the opportunity to find out this myself the first time I sat at a rich Moldovan table. In both cases, I believe that, regardless of all the occurring changes, including globalization, both food and wine still represent those unique moments of family consolidation, and it is an indication of a certain lifestyle.
- IPN: In their contemporary history, Italians also went through periods of poverty and forced migration in search of a better life. The Italian diaspora is even now is quite numerous in certain regions and countries. What were the most important actions that helped you relaunch your life inside the country? For example, the Germans say they had a "Marshall plan", the Japanese say they have invested a lot in people, in education, what about the Italians, what did they do? What do you think Moldovans can do at home in this sense?
- Valeria Biagiotti: Until today, the number of Italian citizens established outside Italy is about five million, and if we take into account those who have Italian origins in Argentina, the US, the number is increasing significantly. The vast majority of Italians emigrated in the late 19th early 20th century. Even at present we witness the emigration of Italians, but we are talking about young graduates.
The "Marshall plan" had brought benefits to Italy too, and represented an important instrument of economic recovery, which led to the so-called economic boom, registered in the 50-60 years of the last century. Moreover, another push came with the advent of the common European market, and we are making here a parallel with Moldova, due to the many benefits that this European market can offer.
Another important factor would be the development of small and medium enterprises, which has been for Italy a crucial thing and to this day is one of the strengths of our economy.
The Ambassador who avoids spotlights
- IPN: Who is Valeria Biagiotti outside this official position you hold?
- Valeria Biagiotti: There is no difference between the official role and the private life in terms of my values, sensitivity, the attention I pay to the people, the commitment, the effort I put into everything I do, starting with my work. In general, in my private life I am a quiet person, that keeps far from the public eye and the spotlights, who loves to spend time with family, friends and loves to discover new places. Even though during my lifetime I had the opportunity to live in big cities, in big capitals such as Rome, of course, Paris, New York, my favourite place is a small town, immersed in Tuscany, it is the place of origin of my family, it is my hometown where I try to revisit whenever I can.
- IPN: I have heard you at many official meetings speaking Romanian. When can we do such an interview without a translator?
- Valeria Biagiotti (answers in Romanian): I am very proud that I understand almost everything now and I did some very short interviews in Romanian. Unfortunately, I am not ready to give such a complex interview without a translator. I will try to practice a little more and I hope that next time I can speak without a translator.
Thank you for your warm welcome and solidarity
- IPN: Do you feel there is still something important I didn't ask you in this interview or you did not manage to tell people in Moldova?
- Valeria Biagiotti: I would like to thank the Moldovan citizens, in this way, for the warm feelings they convey towards me and towards Italy, daily and on any occasion. Obviously, for many Moldovans, Italy is the place where their loved ones have settled, and this makes the relations between our countries truly special. I would like to thank in particular the Moldovan citizens who have sent us many solidarity messages these days, regarding the difficult situations some Italian regions go through, starting from Venice, a city very dear to Moldovans. Therefore, I thank them once again for the warmth and for these feelings.
The video interview is part of the series “Moldova’s relations with the development partners”, supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.