Fri, 23 Apr 2021

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Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, a former ambassador and president of Italy's Institute for Foreign Affairs, said that the other priorities -- the pandemic and the economy -- were inextricably tied to foreign affairs.

ROME, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- When Luca Attanasio, Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, was killed earlier this week while working in-country, the tragedy thrust an important foreign policy issue onto the table for a new Italian government struggling to focus on confronting the coronavirus pandemic and sparking economic growth.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio went to the airport in Rome to receive the caskets holding the remains of Attanasio and Carabinieri Officer Vittorio Iacocacci, killed in the same attack (a third person, the Congolese driver of the car Attanasio and Iacocacci were in, also died in the attack). Statements of sympathy came from Italian leaders and from their counterparts abroad. Flags were hung at half-mast, and it was the top news story in Italy for two days. Di Maio called for investigations into the circumstances surrounding the attack.

"The attack was a reminder that foreign affairs can become a major issue in an instant, with no warning," Vittorio Emanuele Parsi, director of the School for Economics and International Relations, told Xinhua.

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Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), was installed as Italy's newest prime minister on Feb. 13. In that short span, his government has focused its attention on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic, including vaccine rollouts and updates to national health restrictions. On the economy, Draghi has focused on how to best spend more than 200 billion euros (243 billion U.S. dollars) in European Union recovery funds in order to help jump-start an economy battered by the pandemic.

Foreign policy did not appear to be a high priority -- at least to the casual observer.

"Every government comes into power with the task of maintaining the country's standing in the world, but it would be easy to think this new government had more urgent priorities," Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, a former ambassador and president of Italy's Institute for Foreign Affairs, said in an interview. "But that is not the case."

Nelli Feroci said that the other priorities -- the pandemic and the economy -- were inextricably tied to foreign affairs.

He noted that coronavirus vaccines come from abroad and that international cooperation is "essential" to confronting the virus. The Group of 20 summit hosted by Italy this year, for example, will focus on international collaboration on international travel rules and policies aimed at getting vaccines to developing countries.

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Ditto for the economy, which is dependent on international commerce.

"Italy would like for United States President Joe Biden to lower trade barriers for European goods put up under the previous administration, and it would benefit if some of the tariffs put in place between the United States and China were reversed," Nelli Feroci said.

Parsi said the Italian government might even find itself playing a key role internationally due to the stellar reputation Draghi earned when he headed the ECB. There, he was credited with saving the euro currency from the credit crunch that gripped Europe in 2011 and 2012.

"Every leader in the world knows who Mario Draghi is," Parsi said. "Many of the other leaders in Europe will probably be gone in a year or two. That could give Italy, led by a figure like Draghi, new relevance."

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