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Transcript of interview with Romano Prodi

November 6, 2007

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: November 6 2007

A transcript of the highlights of the FT’s interview with Romano Prodi, Italy’s prime minister, in Rome on November 5:

Financial Times: As president of the European Commission in 2004 you were a strong proponent of enlargement, when directive 38 governing the movement of EU citizens was passed. The Italian interior minister, Giuliano Amato, has criticised aspects of this directive. With the benefit of hindsight do you think the European Union failed to anticipate the consequences of opening its borders in this way to countries like Romania and Bulgaria, and that this was a mistake?

ROMANO PRODI: No I don’t think it was a mistake because it was a shared view of all the EU countries. Clearly the so called enlargement was not a short term sighted decision. It was a long term historical decision and clearly everybody knew how difficult was the process and I think that this process has been much more positive, taken together, than anyone could think in terms of changing institutions of the new countries and especially in terms of democracy. I think the results we had through enlargement are unique in the world. I used to repeat that is the only way of exporting democracy

FT: It seems that you may have imported democracy given that half a million Romanians have arrived in Italy. Do you think governments like Britain, France and others which have made their own special arrangement governing labour quotas for Romanians have made it more difficult for Italy to cope with this inflow of people?

RP: Maybe. But Romanian immigration, especially focused on related countries, say Spain and Italy, is also simply dictated by linguistic similarity and the necessity to have more immigrants. It is not by chance that these are the two countries. Concerning Italy you have to bear in mind there are also 22,000 Italian companies operating in Romania. The Romanian workers working inside Italian companies in Romania are more than 600,000. Nobody knows that. In addition, the only non-Italian office of Confindustria is in Romania, not in Frankfurt, because of the number of Italian companies operating there. So the two countries have always been inter-related since the fall of the iron curtain and so it is not difficult to understand why there was this flow.

FT: Did you anticipate such numbers?

RP: The problem is the quantity is beyond expectations. Nobody could expect that. Nobody was expecting the outflow from Romania, not the percentage inflow into Italy. This is a phenomenon that must be studied deeply. A phenomenon that is consistent also with an inflow into Romania from Moldova and Ukraine.

FT: Does the EU not bear some responsibility for not anticipating the biggest movement in almost refugee like conditions since the Bosnian war?

RP: The most part of them are working in Italy as normal workers. If you go to any Italian small city or capital you will see the Romanian people going to the Orthodox church, mixing with the Catholic population and working on assisting people or workers in construction. for the most part of them are absolutely normal (workers). Almost the totality. The overwhelming majority are normal workers who work because of demographic reasons inside Italy and substitute a lack of Italian workers in this sectors. Keep in mind that this concept is not clear in Italian papers. Italy has regulated this. The right of circulation is one of the fundamentals. If you talk about the working permit Italy is open to very specific and clearly defined jobs. I can give you the list. It is mainly manual work or night shifts, house keeping for old people, industry special jobs which lack in Italy. But because of free circulation you come and then it becomes difficult to distinguish the two types of people that are inside the country. This is a great problem. This is not a decree for Romanians. I insist on this. Otherwise is seems that Italy is discriminating against Romanians. I think it is the destiny of these two countries to have a flow…. typically a new Italian company does contracting to Romanian workers and they come back. Typically there are more than 1,000 trucks a day from Romania to Italy. Now we have to distinguish people coming here irregularly from the people who have the working permit and are regulated. We are working to enlarge this regulated part and be very vigilant on this small part that is giving strong trouble as we saw in these days. This is a problem concerning all foreigners, not just Romanians, although in this moment statistically the Romanians are higher than any other country. But I want to insist on the fact that first of all there is no deportation order. Each individual decision is based on its merits. No nationality is singled out and the decree is enforced on every immigrant, whatever his nationality, who is engaged in serious criminal activity that gives rise to social alarm and, second, each expulsion would be validated by a judge and can be appealed even if for the reason of the alarm the expulsion is immediately effective. But you can appeal immediately. Three is a right of appeal to a judge. And absolutely there is no big alarm. There are four (expelled) in Milan. A total of 29 decisions. 12 convalidated (by a judge), six already executed. 28 Romanians and one Hungarian. It is very targeted, not only related to Romania, and with the right of appeal and the convalidation of a judge. This is the legal framework. The Italian policy is clearly to demonstrate that you cannot tolerate illegal activities and that also we believe that the problem can be solved only through strict and strong cooperation, as I did with Albania in the previous situation, 10 years ago.

FT: But the difference is that Albania was not a member of the European Union

RP: of course. The day after tomorrow (Nov 8 ) the Romanian prime minister will visit with his experts… and we will work together in order to regulate the illegal aspects of this flow of people. But I don’t want absolutely that no workers or citizens be affected by this necessary decision that we have taken. This decision had already been taken in the projected law and was only anticipated in the decree. It was the same wording as in the proposed law. I did not want to change one word.

FT: How would you like other countries deal with this situation to help Italy? To deal with this unexpected situation?

RP: We are talking now because this case came out (the beating to death last week of an Italian woman in Rome by a suspected Romanian immigrant) but I think that we need more cooperation in the case of immigration by all European countries.

FT: Would you like Britain to ease its restrictions which might then ease the influx into Italy?

RP: They can do what they want. I don’t think in this case it will change definitely the situation for the reasons I gave before. But certainly I prefer to have a Europe which is open to free circulation of all the Union citizens and regulate together all the criminal aspects of it. Certainly there are many cases in which more cooperation would be helpful. Specifically on this case it would not help so much.

FT: Do you know how many Romanians are working in Italy legally and living illegally?

AIDES: December 31, 2006 == residents 342,000 and 278, 582 residence permits

FT: but now WE are a year later. What are estimates for last nine or 10 months? Amato (the interior minister) spoke of 500,000 Romanians arriving in Italy in a year.

RP: No. No. Nobody knows. I think half a million is an exaggeration. (AIDE: it might be the total)

(AIDE: you can see the trend as at end 2003 there were 177,000 Romanian residents)

RP: what I am asking of the European Union is to have common rules in order to have repatriation more effective and to be more cooperative in all the side effects of these movements. But I repeat this is a general request.

FT: So you agree that directive 38 does not give sufficient clarity?

RP: It does not give sufficient stimulus to cooperation. It is not per se enough for the degree of this phenomenon. We need more active cooperation. This is what I think clearly about that. I am convinced that this phenomenon of immigration is not temporary. Demography is so clear, simply if you consider I was jogging in the surroundings of Bologna and there were eight or nine cantieri, construction sites, and in I did not see any Italians. No one. Not one. Also the truck drivers were foreign, not only Romanian, mostly from Morocco and Albanian.

FT: You don’t see the need to establish quotas?

RPI: We are establishing quotas, we decided this year that there would be 278,000 work permits. That is necessary for this year. The employers are pushing for more than 300,000. If you look at he number of immigrants clearly the number one for this year are Romanians but you find now we are not far way from nearly three million immigrants… That for the UK is not a big number but for Italy they came just over six or seven years. There are 100,000 Indians. The Chinese . if you travel though the north of Italy countryside all the milk workers are Sikh. I inaugurated a Sikh temple. There were 4,000 people. 4,000 people.

FT: Do you think Italy is ready for such a sudden change?

RP: As a necessity, yes, but psychologically and socially the speed, the impact is incredible. When you think that I saw my first foreigner when I was six years old . We were a country of emigration till less than one generation ago. .. I was maybe the first to write about immigration in the 1970s when the first Egyptian came to my town, a skilled worker for nightshift in mechanical engineering. It was such an event. Nobody had seen a foreigner working in Italy. In answer to your question, for necessity Italy is prepared. And businessmen they press for more immigration. In psychological terms it is an enormous change, an enormous change. Think to the schools…. In my life until university I had never had a non-Italian schoolmate. Never never until I was 18. And in one shot there are some schools in northern Italy where one third of the pupils are not Italian. In 10 years it is a stress for the teachers.

FT: Moving to the related question of security. Many Italians, rightly or wrongly, equate this influx of immigrants with rising crime and less stable living conditions.

RP: It is not so different from the debate you had a few years ago in London. I followed it with interest. I remember the Pakistani problems, and then you absorb it.

FT: in connection with organised crime and the mafia. There is a perception in the minds of many Italians that the government is losing this battle, despite the arrest today of the mafia boss (Piccolo)

RP: I don’t agree with that, because The arrests of the mafia leaders have not been only today. The leaders have been arrested and then the substitute leaders have been arrested. Today a new wave of leaders has been arrested. No criminal organisation in the long run will resist these arrests. And the progress in Sicilian society has been remarkable. Working together with the judiciary. Not the same in Calabria. I have to make an honest analysis, the progress in Calabria has been less remarkable. But we are absolutely insisting on using a new system of fighting this criminality because they have changed radically. They are much more subtle and much more business minded. I don’t remember who asked the question of what is the mafia but the answer was three words: business, business, business. And we have to fight with them. The way we are fighting against the illegal economy we will make a big success also. Against mafia and camorra (Naples) and ‘ndrangheta (Calabria). All of this year the additional income because of fighting against tax evasion is in the order of 20 billion euros. That is absolutely a huge amount of money and there is not another way of fighting against criminality but day by day analysing with the financial police, the carabinieri, the inspections. Day by day and going into the channels of money, circulation and cooperation of local people. In Sicily there is new cooperation. It is more difficult in Calabria and the area of Campagna and the comorra. There are clusters of criminality on the ground. You have to work on each, one by one in order to have success.

FT: some people in Naples suggest that martial law should be imposed in Naples and that the military should take over. Do you have any sympathy for those views?

RP: I already expressed my scepticism on that. You must have strong police and carabinieri. In general you must have a total knowledge of the economic activity of that area. It is similar to the strategy adopted by the United States in the 1930s…. the deep aspect of the economic aspect, the economic blackmail… maybe for some temporary moment when there is a resurgence of visible presence of criminality you can use externally the army – it was done in the past – but in the long run it does not work. I think that serious policy in controlling and checking the illegal economy is much much more effective.

FT…. your coalition has tensions within it. The next two weeks will be a difficult time with voting for the 2008 budget in parliament.

RP: you could have put the same question 17 months ago. Every week there is a certain journalist who says the next 15 days will be terrible. My answer is yes but till now since the first day of my government took power we lost one senator and we gained one senator. The votes, thousands of votes, not hundreds, all of them a majority except a few not important cases. If you tell me I have a slim majority, yes,. If you tell me that because of the electoral law everyone has an interest in being vocal I say yes. If you ask me if the government works well, I say yes. We work, we take decisions and until now the majority, except two or four votes. It happens in other countries. …. In the Senate certainly you have to fight every day. And tonight there will be a vote concerning the elegibility of the budget. Honestly if you take the decisions we have made in 17 months ago, this government is really changing the country, in the direction that has been made by many liberal papers, including the FT…. In terms of growth we are approaching the European average. In terms of innovation I think we made strong changes…. If the (2008) budget is approved (by parliament), as I anticipate then the nominal corporate tax rate will be exactly like as in Germany, absolutely the same… I am absolutely convinced that the results for the economy will be positive.

Certainly I do not have the media backing me. My opponent (Silvio Berlusconi) is lord of the news. And in spite of that…

FT: sometimes it is difficult to know who is your opponent. You have so many critics inside the coalition

RP. No, they are catalysed till now, the end of the story is always Berlusconi… He dictates the agenda to the opposition and you understand why everyday he says that I will fall next week because he absolutely needs to get results from his opposition and there are clear signs of frustration among the opposition parties because in theory he promised to be in power at short notice and till now this has not happened.

FT: Are you worried that this immigration issue will help the opposition build a case for going into the next elections?

RP: No, because I am not responsible for that. Italy opened the door to Romanians when I was not in government. I was president of the European commission but I was not in the government and of course now everybody tries to change the burden of responsibility but time will play in favour of a (serious) judgement.

FT: With the new centre-left Democratic Party being formed, will Italy move back to a more clearly defined polar system?

PRODI: This was already in Italy when Berlusconi changed the (electoral) law. I entered politics 12 years ago for one reason only to put together the different reformists and shape a centre-left coalition. Twelve years ago I was not a politician. I did it. We did it, and last Sunday (with formation of centre-left Democratic Party) we ended the process…. Now there is a law that helps fragmentation. In spite of that there was a merger of DS (Democrats of the Left) and Margherita into a strong Democratic Party. I think that the centre right cannot avoid – I don’t say the same – but something similar. And this is the reason why I have always fought in favour of the DP in spite of that many said Veltroni (mayor of Rome and Democratic Party leader) will push Prodi out. The government will only be helped by having a condensation point of the coalition,, this is the Democratic Party. In spite of all the interpretations, Veltroni and I work together well as we did in the past. Don’t forget he was my vice prime minister in 1996-98 government and I only hope we can change the electoral law. I am working on that. But I announced the electoral law cannot be changed without a large majority… now I am working for that. The results until now are not satisfying… the government in this case cannot push for a specific electoral law… this is a typical work for the parliament. My position is that the country will have a safe and stable government only by a bi-polar organisation of Italian parties.. but I cannot do it in favour of one party as it will only be changed again the next time…

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