Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata has re-affirmed his government's pro-EU orientation, saying in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV Italy that "the single currency is irreversible".
"Italy is one of the founders of the great European project and no one can doubt our Europeanist traditions and the importance we give to community cooperation," Terzi said.
The former ambassador to Washington also pledged to work closely with the United States on policy towards the Middle East and terrorism.
Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose government of technocrats took office on 16 November, served as a European Commissioner between 1995 and 2004. The government's recent moves have included voicing openness to the idea of a European tax on financial transactions and the lifting of labour market restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians.
Terzi also reaffirmed Italy's importance within the EU. "Today more than ever, we are convinced that our destiny is in Europe and – as I have said several times – we are sure that a Europe without Italy cannot exist," he said.
The management of the eurozone crisis has in recent months largely been dominated by the leadership of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Italy is the third-largest economy in the euro area.
EU under pressure
Terzi suggested European countries' economic difficulties would hasten the pace of reform. "It is undeniable that the current crisis, which began outside of Europe, has subjected the Union to strong pressure, provoking worries and accelerating thinking on possible reforms of the current Treaties," he said.
The details of a new so-called 'fiscal compact' treaty, aimed at increasing fiscal discipline, are being negotiated by government officials. A formal European Council of national leaders is scheduled for 30 January to prepare the final text of the treaty which should be signed at a summit in early March.
The minister expressed confidence that measures necessary to maintain the euro area would be taken.
"The single currency is irreversible and I think that all countries of the eurozone are convinced of this. However – and this happens with all achievements – the euro, too, must be defended, by using all instruments useful to this goal," he said.
Rome recently pushed through new austerity measures and the European Central Bank last month made nearly €500 billion in low-interest loans to eurozone banks in the hopes of calming the financial markets. Yields on Italian 10-year bonds, the interest rate the government must pay for new loans, remains around 7%, close to a level considered unsustainable by many economists.
Terzi said that economic difficulties would dominate electoral debates in Western countries this year. "The political debate during the electoral campaign – this is as true of the United States as for other countries which will elect governments in 2012 – will be dependent on the economy," he said.
Economists expect a recession in the EU this year and Eurostat has reported that in November 2011 eurozone unemployment remained stable at 10.3%, the highest ever recorded in the currency area's history. A number of EU countries are set to hold national elections in 2012, including France, Greece, Slovakia and Romania.
Cooperation with US in Middle East
Terzi expressed solidarity with the United States and a will for international cooperation on Middle Eastern issues, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and terrorism. He has previously served as Italy's head of delegation to the UN Security Council and as ambassador to the United States.
"An Iran armed with atomic weapons would represent a grave threat for the entire world, not only for the United States. We therefore completely share the American concerns and we continue to collaborate with our other partners of the international community to prevent Tehran from passing the [nuclear] 'threshold'," he said.
EU countries recently agreed in principle to a ban on oil imports from Iran. Terzi said the sanctions were designed "to bring Tehran back to a cooperative attitude, which is in the first place in its own interest."
On the formal departure of US troops in Iraq last month, the minister said this had led to "a very delicate phase" for the country and that Italy would assist in the transition.
"The international community will not abandon Iraq and we will all engage ourselves to support the people of Iraq and its legitimate institutions," he said.
The minister suggested that the threat of terrorism remained despite the US's killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May 2011.
"We cannot lower our guard because reality shows us that other groups are organising themselves, fomenting hate and violence … The only path to be taken is that of the cohesion of the international community," he said.