Italy – 160th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations with the Netherlands

Edition 8 March 2019
Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of Italy, H.E. Mr. Andrea Perugini

Main former positions
Deputy Director General for Globalization and Principal Director for Asia, Oceania, and the Pacific, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rome; ASEM and UE-ASEAN Senior Official for Italy; Ambassador of Italy to Vietnam; Director for Italy of European Council coordination on the EU’s Internal Market and Lisbon Strategy on Growth and Employment. Directorate for European Union Integration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rome; Permanent Delegation of Italy to the OECD in Paris; Head of the economic section of the Embassy of Italy in Beijing, China.

1. On June 15, 2016 you presented your credentials as Ambassador to the Netherlands. What is your impression of the Netherlands and the Dutch people?
I feel very privileged to represent Italy in The Netherlands and to serve for the strengthening of bilateral relations. I was honored to accompany Their Majesties the King and the Queen in their State visit to Italy in June 2017, barely one year after my arrival. The Netherlands are one of Italy’s most historical and close partners. Our civilizations have common roots. We are both founding fathers of the European Union and members of Schengen and The Euro, we share the most fundamental norms and values of democracy, rule of Law, tolerance, freedom of speech and religion, pluralism. We are both members of the major International Organizations defending human rights such as The International Criminal Court, we sit together in the UN and other prominent UN bodies, in the OECD and NATO. In 2017-18 Italy and The Netherlands shared a seat as nonpermanent members of the Security Council. Our economies are closely interconnected. With a trade volume of more than 30 billion Euros, Italy is the 6th client and the 9th supplier of the Netherlands. On Migration, one of Europe’s current major priorities, The Netherlands and Italy recently jointly called on all EU member states to share the responsibility for migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, to pursue work on tackling the root causes of migration and reforming the European Asylum System. We are both amongst the major financial supporters of the EU Africa Trust Fund. The Netherlands supported Italy’s Migration compact proposal during the Dutch presidency of the EU in 2016. Italy is fully supportive of The Netherlands on the quest for accountability for the MH17 tragedy.

2. How would you describe the 160 years of diplomatic relations between Italy and the Netherlands?
This anniversary celebrates the irreversible and multiple ties in many fields that have brought Italy and The Netherlands closer together over the years, consisting today in a deep and wide ranging cooperation, involving extensive exchanges and uniting our two countries and peoples into the European Union. It could not be otherwise for two countries that have given so much to the development of our European continent, often cooperating or sometimes discussing constructively from their own respective points of view, perhaps through different means but always jointly striving for the same, shared ultimate objective. This common sense of purpose draws its roots back in time, from the deep interactions between the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age which together provided so much input into the construction of our current common cultural heritage and civilization.

3. Because of the 160th anniversary, this year almost every month many events will be planned, can you please mention the most important events? We are setting up a huge season of economic, cultural and scientific events. Just to mention the foremost ones, in March, we will celebrate the Italian Design Day 2019 in Eindhoven, this year dedicated to “The cities of the future” with an archistar coming from Italy. In April, the Embassy will have the honor to present its Scientific Committee with prominent Italian researchers. In May, the Korzo theatre will host a play dedicated to the Italian writer Primo Levi, who survived the concentration camps. In June, I will officially inaugurate an exhibition of Italian paintings from 1860 to 1910 at the Drents Museum of Assen. In the same month, we are organizing an event with the Italian luxury brand committee Altagamma, aimed at promoting design, fashion, food and jewelry with top notch Italian companies. Other relevant events will be on sustainable energy, thanks to the cooperation with the Italian leading association of electricity industry “Elettricita’ Futura”, and the launch of the Van Wittel round table, which will bring together Italian and Dutch prominent members of the civil society to discuss and share policy and visions on the next future.

4. In October 2018, Italy was elected with 180 votes to the UN Human Rights Council for the period of 2019-2021. What does this mean to Italy?
Our successful election to the main UN body devoted to the promotion and protection of human rights, with the highest number of votes among the candidates of the Western Group (WEOG), is a key foreign policy achievement for Italy and for its diplomacy. It proves the whole International Community’s significant and convinced appreciation and recognition of Italy’s intense and constant commitment to protect and promote human rights. The three-year term that just started will allow Italy to actively contribute to this high task, with a focus on our priority issues, such as fight against all forms of discrimination and trafficking in human beings; rights of women, children and persons with disabilities; moratorium on death penalty; freedom of religion or belief and protection of religious minorities; preservation of cultural heritage; protection of human rights defenders.

5. Could you provide insight into the economic relations between Italy and the Netherlands?
The economic relations between the two Countries are flourishing. The foreign direct investments between Italy and the Netherlands have sharply increased in both directions (+8,1% IT to NL and +5,2% NL to IT in 2017). Moreover, last year, trade exceeded 33 billion Euros and The Netherlands ranked in the top 10 Countries for Italian export. The most traded products include pharmaceuticals and machinery but I would also stress the growing path of the agro-food sector, confirming that the Dutch market is extremely receptive to the high-quality and sustainable Italian products.

6. What can you tell me about the special events “The Extraordinary Italian Taste” which took place in November 2017 and November 2018?
The second and third editions of the Extraordinary Italian Taste and gastronomy have greatly contributed to disseminating awareness in The Netherlands about the quality of the original Italian food and cooking traditions. They have helped make Dutch consumers and importers better aware of the importance of the authentic Made in Italy in opposition to the so called “Italian sounding” or the “Fake Italian”, which is being spread in parallel by those who simply illegally exploit the colors of the Italian flag or the map of Italy in order to better trade their products. We are happy that also because of these campaigns, exports of Italian agro-food products in The Netherlands have increased by almost 6 per cent over the last year. We have been advertising Italian restaurants in The Netherlands that belong to a special selection of Quality Brand (Marchio di Qualita’), we have been working with EPO and ESA ESTEC and their Chefs to introduce real Italian dishes and cooking techniques in their canteens to the benefit of the expats and Dutch working in these organizations for example, and in doing so we supported importers of original Italian quality ingredients. We have also been instrumental in establishing the first section of the Italian Cooking Federation in The Netherlands and we are planning with them a number of new initiatives and events for the celebration of the 2019 edition of the “Extraordinary Italian Taste in The Netherlands”, together with companies, restaurants and importers.

7. What kind of proposal does Italy have concerning additional nutritional labeling, aimed at improving compliance by EU Member States with relevant EU regulations?
Italy firmly believes in the importance of providing the consumer with a clear picture on the nutritional value of foods, without necessarily ranking them in terms of energy or nutritional values. Hence, we propose an additional form of nutritional labelling grounded on a simple and easy-to-understand “icon-based approach”. This is consistent with EU requirements but also with what emerged in the UNGA event of September 2018 concerning policies on quality and sustainable lifestyles. Indeed, Italy endorses the concept of an overall healthy and balanced diet rather than the focus on single ingredients.

8. Many years ago some paintings were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum and were finally found in Italy. What was the involvement of the well-known company Bulgari?
The Embassy of Italy learned that The Van Gogh Museum was looking for a sponsor to fund a campaign aimed at the restauration of the two retrieved paintings and at the holding of a major exhibition to welcome them back in Amsterdam. The Embassy immediately tipped off the famous high fashion jewelry company Bulgari who decided to provide the Van Gogh Museum with a substantial sponsorship. This paved the way to an extensive cooperation between the Museum and Bulgari which developed into many prestigious common projects to the day, involving -, together with the Embassy – joint sponsorships to the benefit of the Museum and of the Made in Italy products inspired by the jewels designed by Bulgari. This has turned into an unprecedented best practice of cooperation between one of the most prestigious Museums in The Netherlands and one of the most representative brands of Italian luxury and fashion.

9. Is there a large Italian community in The Netherlands?
The Netherlands host a vibrant Italian community of between 45000 and 50000 people. An increasing number of Italian students decide to choose the Netherlands for their university education, especially the campuses of Groningen, Rotterdam and Maastricht. Brexit is predicted to further increase the already remarkable figures (4.077 Italian students in 2017/2018). Moreover, the Netherlands continue to attract a growing number of Italian professionals and entrepreneurs, not to mention those employed in the field of international organizations.

10. Your country is well visited by the Dutch. Do you have any idea how many tourists were visiting Italy in 2018?
In 2018, 83% of Dutch people have been on holiday and Italy represented the fifth most visited country. We aim at consolidating and improving such a rank through our continuous presence in Dutch tourism fairs and the Italian National Tourism Agency’s branch in the Netherlands. On average, over 2 million Dutch travel to Italy every year.

11. What are the most popular tourist attractions in Italy?
Art cities such as Rome, Florence, Venice or Naples are extremely attractive for international tourists, as well as seaside and lake resorts. With respect to Dutch and European tourists in general, Italy aims at diversifying the touristic offer by encouraging the discovery of villages, food and wine itineraries, cultural tours and mountain resorts on less known itineraries. This is one of the main strategies of the Official Italian Tourist Office (ENIT) which, thanks to the Embassy’s support, has recently been able to reopen an antenna in The Netherlands, in the headquarters of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Amsterdam.

12. If you could describe your country in one sentence, what would you say?
The country of excellence in history, culture, tradition, design, fashion and high tech, where small is beautiful and whose way of life is envied by the rest of the world.