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Europe got concerned as Italy winks at China

The leader of the Five Stars Movement (M5S) and Italian vice first minister, Luigi Di Maio (on the right), while signing the Italy-PRC Memorandum of Understanding with the president of the National Development and Reform Commission (Ndrc) He Lifeng [personal archive]

It’s not only about Russia, but China as well. Italy raises concern in Europe for its new policy, by paying great attention to the East at the expense of the traditional alliances, especially the European ones. Conte’s cabinet choices cannot remain unnoticed. The League and the Five Stars Movement (M5S) have a vision of the world different in comparison to the previous administrations, and the intention to reshape the relations with Beijing is causing alarm in the EU.

The president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani criticized publicly the intention of the Italian government to open the national economy and the national market to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Attending the second Deloitte’s Strategy Council Europe, he warned of the risks of opening the telecommunications sector to Chinese operators.

“I am deeply concerned about the 5G issue in Italy”, Tajani admitted. “If Italy wants to give the 5G network to a Chinese company, I fear that China could be in possession of sensible data, whose value is today the same of the gold bar”.

It is about security and independence

It is not only about geopolitics, it is above all about security. Huawei could enter the Italian market but national authorities don’t seem concerned. During his last visit in Brussels (14 March) the undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Manlio di Stefano, stressed that “Italy cannot replace the private companies”.

Nobody wants to prevent the Italian government from having its own foreign policy. Tajani himself recalled that “Italy has the duty of having good relations with China, which is a big country”. But, he stressed, “when big countries want to invest in Europe, they must invest so that business be for all sides”.

The big issue is thus the safe nature of the game that Italy is keen to play with PRC. Italy is indeed ready and willing to receive the Chinese money, but in return the Asiatic partner could have the possibity to access to data flows in the EU. It means it could eavesdrop into EU territory. “The 5G issue is a huge mistake”, Tajani stressed. “To leave Europe in the hands of China it is not a good idea”.

So, the memorandum of understanding between Italy and China is not a win-win solution, in the eyes of the other Europeans. On the contrary, Beijing is seen as real winner of this business.

Contradictions “made in Italy”

The League and M5S, now in power, have always been against any idea of free trade agreement with Canada and the United States. They opposed both CETA both TTIP (the latter killed by US president Donald Trump), to preserve the “made in Italy”. Both political parties wanted to protect the top quality Italian products, which was the reason behind the Italian refusal to back the EU initiatives for strengthening the Transatlantic relations. Now Italy chose to make business with other partners, even if officially the country remains committed to Europe.

“I am critical of the Italian government because it has political measures that go in different directions”, Tajani told the Deloitte’s audience. “We need a homogeneous and coordinated economic policy”. On the contrary, Italy is playing a bit in Europe, a bit with Europe’s major competitors. “It is a huge mistake. We have to decide all together instead of State by State. This agreement is very dangerous”.

European elections are key

Italian MEPs are among the most pro-Russian in EU. The next European elections are expected to see more politicians from The League and the Five Stars becoming MEPs. So the Italian pro-Russian push will be even stronger. Since the same people are also pro-PRC, there is the risk for Europe to have a European Parliament more East-oriented than ever.

“The next May elections are very important for Europe”, the president of the European Parliament warned. “In these elections the political debate will be not just about domestic affairs, it will be about the future of Europe. I think nobody believes that this EU should remains as it is, so the question is: do we want to exit, to change it or to dismantle it? I am among those who want to change Europe”. What Tajani didn’t say, but it is not difficult to guess, is that opting for Russia and China would mean undermining Europe. A very bad gesture from a founding member such as Italy.

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