Don’t call him Ambassador! Yes, Carlo Calenda may be Italy’s new ambassador to the European Union, but this permanent representative in Brussels is not a career diplomat.
Calenda had served as the deputy minister for economic development. He was appointed by former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and then confirmed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
But this choice for the country’s top envoy in Brussels came as a surprise and, as usual in Italy, was criticised. Despite the criticism, however, one thing is certain: it was very innovative and brave.
Calenda has two very big advantages. One is that he is very familiar with politics in Brussels and in Italy. The other is that he comes from the entrepreneurial world, which is the engine for growth in both Italy and the EU.
Throughout his career, Calenda has proven himself, especially during the Expo in Milan. He is also a successful supporter of the “Made in Italy” and of the European industry. His job in Confindustria and his support for SMEs have put him in a “non-hostile” position vis-a-vis the centre-right coalition. This means he can attract a very large political consensus.
New Europe spoke with four MEP’s to gain some insight and first impressions about his programme, which foresees regular weekly meetings in Rome with the PM and ministers on EU issues.
MEP Roberto Gualtieri, a member of the S&D Group and Chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, said he is satisfied with the unusual choice made by Renzi.
“It’s important to build up a political position taking into consideration the role and interest of the various ministers in Rome,” said Gualtieri. “In this phase, a more political ‘ambassador’ could have a more active role in the construction of an Italian position at EU level not only to protect the national interests, but to play a better role among the EU partners.”
Gualtieri also stressed the need to make a more preventive-work, together with Rome, on the different political dossiers in order to avoid arriving too late, as was the case in the past.
In a similar vein, MEP Elena Gentile, member of the S&D Group, is also very positive about the recent appointment of Calenda. “This choice is full of value and quality because of its competences and know-how but also for his determination in accepting such a role,” she told New Europe.
Gentile also underlined the need for greater coordination between Rome and Brussels. Asked to list the key topics that Calenda needs to tackle first, the MEP said growth and development comes first, together with the protection of the “made in” culture. This should be followed by a modern vision for energy policies and a more balanced distribution of the refugees on EU soil.
Also, another S&D MEP, Alessia Mosca, has already identified some progress. “Since I arrived here two years ago, I saw a positive process in the collaboration with our permanent representation in Brussels,” she told New Europe. “Italy is more and more present on the big dossiers.”
Asked about Italy’s new top envoy in Brussels, she said: “I appreciated that among his first meetings he decided to see the Italians MEPs. This is a sign of respect for the European Parliament and our role. After that, it is early to say. We will have to work with him day by day to see the results.”
Asked about Calenda’s new initiative aiming to organise periodical meetings in Rome with the PM and the involved ministries, MEP Mosca said: “What we always asked for was a better coordination with our ministries and national institutions that were in the past, on some topics, not so well involved. Our job here is positive giving results if everybody, at all institutional levels, understands that they have to focus on what is going on here. Nobody should remain in its internal and local niche.”
On the other side of the political fence, MEP Tiziana Beghin, a member of the the EFDD Group and the Five Stars Movement, has quite a few doubts about Calenda.
“Carlo Calenda is more a technical person in comparison with the diplomats we have seen in the past,” she told New Europe. “I don’t share with him the same vision of laissez-faire in the economy. However, he positively demonstrated to be in favour of the “made in” and other protection measures for our industry.”
She continued on other crucial political topics, saying: “We don’t agree with his vision on immigration and I think this is going to be a big new challenge for him. It is positive that he seems very supportive vis-à-vis small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, even if I don’t agree on the technical point of view in some of his visions. Let’s accept his nice statement of intent.”