To say that COVID19 has changed us may sound self-evident. Indeed, our daily lives have been so much affected by the virus that we now even wonder whether we will ever return to pre-pandemic “normal”. But whatever the impact on our individual lives, it is also important to analyze and understand the long-term changes that have happened at a higher level in our politics, the functioning of our democracies, and international relations.
For a number of reasons, Italy is probably the country in Europe that has been at the forefront of the momentous change we have lived over the past two years. Italy was the first country in Europe to shut down its economy due to the unexpected arrival and spread of the virus. Italy was also the country that paid the highest price last year for the first lockdown and, interestingly enough considering the rise of Euroscepticism in the country over the past few decades, it will also be the biggest single beneficiary of the European recovery fund – a lifeline for the national economy, and a unique opportunity to engineer a new start for the country, after 30 years of economic difficulties. Finally, Italy was also at the center of attention for Russian spies and Chinese propagandists, as they tried to use the occasion to weaken the country’s security and ties with its allies. To say that these attempts have backfired spectacularly may be true, but this is certainly not the end of the story. Russia will be back, and so too will China, as it desperately tries to extend its influence in Europe, sending more countries in a debt trap and extorting political favors from economic dependence.
There is much that Europeans (and more largely Westerners) can learn from Italy’s experience in fighting off the virus, and Italy is a key ally for the United States, as well as a key member of the European Union. With this in mind, and as the pressure builds on the Mediterranean – with the crisis in Afghanistan, but also the pressure China is exerting to gain a foothold in this key sea for East-West trade, it is high time for us to talk. This is what drove the International Republican Institute to organize this LEAD21 event in Rome, bringing up-and-coming MPs to discuss the lessons we can all take from the past year and a half, and most importantly talk about the future of Southern Europe, of the Mediterranean, and of the Transatlantic relationship.
Such an ambitious endeavor requires allies, and to provide the highest quality of debates, IRI, together with their Italian colleagues and experts from our partner organizations, Fare future, the Italian Atlantic Committee, but also the Fondazione de Gasperi and the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, is glad to have teamed up with some of the best brains in the country to set up this discussion with Europe’s future political leaders. The diversity of these think-tanks is in itself an asset, allowing for a wider and (importantly) a more profound debate, with conclusions not set as a foregone conclusion, but as the result of research and deliberation. Such is the strength of the West, and this seminar will be yet another chance for us to demonstrate that debate and intelligent dialogue, not the monolithic model offered by our adversaries, is the way forward.
Success requires teamwork, and this event is no exception. But in every team, some players are always more special than others, and so we are particularly grateful to Farefuturo for bringing the discussion to new levels in terms of international security, a crucial topic after this summer’s events, for inviting the group to debate in the Senate, and also for bringing us all together to commemorate the victims of jihadi terrorism – and those who fell fighting against it – at the Vittoriano, such an important symbol of Italian patriotism, where so many who fell for freedom and the unity of their country are celebrated.
The event that we are organizing together with our Italian friends these days should not be taken as a single event. It is part of a much wider discussion that IRI has undertaken in Italy and more widely in the Mediterranean. Together with politicians and actors in the think-tank universe, we believe it is time to discuss – and shape – the future of the Transatlantic alliance, and that of the Mediterranean. We also need to build a constructive dialogue about the current challenges facing our democracies – all of these crucial for the success of the West in the future, may the perspective be from Rome or Washington.
For this large and ambitious project, IRI is happy to have found in Farefuturo a great partner, with whom we hope to continue working in the future, through the exchange of ideas and further events we hope to organize jointly. This September event is the start of what we hope to be a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
*Thibault Muzergues, Europe and Euro-Med Program Director, Transatlantic Strategy