Full support for Italian language instruction in Canada, strengthening scientific and technological research cooperation, encouraging the establishment of a communications network between Italian and Canadian universities, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement a free trade accord between Europe and Canada that will open up service markets with Italy, upcoming international G-8 and G-20 conferences, the vote abroad, and the complex Castagnetta case.
We spoke about these and other issues with Italys Ambassador to Canada Andrea Meloni, who was a guest at Multimedia Nova Corporation headquarters and Corriere Canadese/Tandem editorial offices a week ago.
He recently came to Canada with a full and intense work agenda: the first stop was Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic Games, then Toronto where he met with representatives from Italian-Canadian institutions and the community.
Its an extraordinary reality, which has the capacity to renew what was once a prestigious institution the ability to renew with an eye to the future, he said. During his visit, Meloni spoke of future commitments that will focus on four key points: cooperation, language, research, and exchange.
How would you evaluate current diplomatic relations between the Italian and Canadian governments?
Excellent, both from the bilateral perspective and the relationships that tie the two nations within international organizations such as UN, NATO, G-8, and G-20. Also very strong is the collaboration with the European Union; I was in Brussels for four years and I can confirm that even in the aid sector and international assistance in areas of crisis were on the same wavelength as Canada.
We are currently deeply involved with Haiti. The Canadian government has made extraordinary efforts but Europe too has done no less, especially Italy. The Italian government sent the Italian navy flagship, the carrier Cavour, which will remain docked at Port-au-Prince to mid-April, for a huge effort on the part of civilians and military to help the hundreds of thousands hit by the earthquake. Haiti is certainly a huge example of cooperation and others will follow in 2010 over the coming months with the G-8 and G-20; just look at the visit by Minister Frattini for the G-8 foreign ministers meeting Gatineau to be held next month, and the presence of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the G-8 in Muskoka and the G-20 in Toronto in June.
A historically solid tie but with some cracks in terms of the vote abroad and Ottawas reservations to allow Italian-Canadian candidates to campaign for Italys parliament.
Frankly, I havent had a chance to review this issue with Canadian authorities. The last elections went well. Ill have a chance over the next few days for discussions with two elected parliamentarians, the Honourable Gino Bucchino and Senator Basilio Giordano. Naturally, its an issue thats close to the heart, and its my firm intention to open a dialogue with the Canadian government to get its unequivocal and permanent declaration, to avoid our waiting for their individual decisions for each single election.
Another sore spot: the Castagnetta case. Former ambassador Gabriele Sardo had harshly attacked the governments in Quebec and Ottawa. How do you intend to proceed?
Im newly arrived, but Im fully knowledgeable of the complexity of this issue and of the potential future implications to our community. All I can say is that issues involving safeguarding personal rights is of primary importance and this, in particular, presents some very delicate and complex aspects.
From the point of view of international economic cooperation, do you hope to have Europe or Italy-Europe as a partner for Canada?
Im firmly convinced that the two aspects are not counterposed. Theres no doubt theres work to be done thats what my task will be to increase economic and commercial collaboration between the two nations and to favour, therefore, Italian companies that wish to come to Canada. But for a better and full attainment of this objective, working within a European context surely gives us great advantages. Even having to compete obviously with companies from other European countries, the existence of a more developed and advanced regulatory system between Europe and Canada is of fundamental importance to our economy. On this regard, Id like to draw attention on a negotiation process going on these past few months to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which Italy is strongly interested in, as this can open numerous economic-commercial opportunities. I hope an accord can be ratified in short order that involves both the opening up of public contracts from the various Canadian provinces, as well as the safeguarding and recognition of our brands and geographical certification of origin of our products. This negotiation covers notable interests for the economy of our country and has top priority in my work agenda over the coming months.
In regards to cooperation in the scientific field there have been several shared advances in aerospace nano-technology research in recent years. What will be Ottawas policies?
We definitely aspire to Italian government guidelines, where scientific cooperation has huge priority. Were fortunate to have here in Canada a science attaché who has for several years been playing a central role in promotional activities and in developing bilateral cooperation. I quickly became aware of the valuable relationships between universities and research centres. The duty of the Embassy will continue to be that of encouraging this activity. I intend to work with the main research centres, and also to develop and encourage as much as possible the relationships between Italian and Canadian universities. Theres a close connection between research and development of target sectors that can be translated into competitiveness in the area of science and technology for Italian enterprises.
Is the Italian government intent on supporting and reinforcing Italian institutions already present, such as consulates, the Italian Cultural Institutes, ICE, and ENIT?
I think we need to use the instruments that already exist. Its clear were facing strong pressure due to state budgets, so we cannot delude ourselves. But what Ive found in Canada is a richness that not all European countries have. Along with the Embassy, there are three General Consulates, two cultural institutes, plus the separate division in Vancouver, two ICE offices, and a [Italian ministry of] tourism office. Were no small number, and were well distributed across the country the important thing is to do our best, interacting through the network, and this will be an objective the Embassy will provide for.
In recent years judging from opinions expressed by Corriere Canadese/Tandem readers, and especially of third-generation youth and students in Canadian universities were witnessing a growth in a desire for Italy (at Ottawa, Queens, Montreal universities) that explicitly manifests itself in an increased demand for Italian courses, to which Canada however, is responding with reduced funding, as our government has also done with substantial funding cuts to this sector. What do you think of this situation?
I still dont have an in-depth knowledge of the problem in Canada to allow me to express a valid opinion. But certainly, support for the teaching of the Italian language is one of the permanent education programs provided by the ministry to our entire network abroad, so for me its without doubt a priority. Its clear that we need to work with centres already existing in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and in other realities, and that are doing their best. At the same time we need to establish dialogue with the universities where the courses are taught, to encourage that they continue to be delivered and, where they dont exist, to activate and possibly expand. But Im aware that the crisis poses burdens. It will be necessary to verify, through speaking and dialoguing with the universities, if it is at all possible to step up and avoid the cancellation of already existing courses.
What are the future prospects of the Department of Italian at Queens University, which for years has been hit by budget cuts?
Consul General Gianni Bardini in Toronto spoke to me about this issue. We will evaluate our options together.
Regarding the Italian community in Canada, were undergoing a significant transition period in how we are and feel Italian, not only and no longer just in terms of quality of life for first-generation immigrants, but as youth of the successive generations who are forming their own concept of Italian-ness. There is significant resistance to this process of renewal from the Italian world of associations characterized by a marked fragmentation. What do you think can be done regarding this point?
Its known by all even by those who dont know Canada well that the Italians in Canada or Canadians of Italian origin are one of largest, most dynamic, and successful realities in the world. Its obviously an extraordinary reality and I must say recognized as such by all Canadian authorities, both provincial and federal. Im newly arrived, so theres no doubt well seek to work together with representatives from our community and with exponents of Italian origin, to together create opportunities to reinforce ties with Italy, both in the cultural and scientific field and with whatever would serve to continue staying in contact with and to discover and re-discover Italy.