Today Italy celebrates its Republic Day, marking a referendum held on June 2, 1946, when the Italian people chose a republic as their form of government after the fall of the fascist regime in Rome and the end of the Second World War. It launched a process that led to the creation of our modern nation that culminated with a new constitution entering into force on January 1, 1948.
Since then, Republic Day has been a celebration of all Italians. It presents an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of the values of freedom and democracy, as well as the remarkable progress made by our country in the post-war period, in which Italy has become one of the most industrialised countries in the world. It also emphasises the importance of national unity in tackling the challenges of the future.
Since 1946, however, Italians have not celebrated Republic Day with such a heavy heart as they have this year, which is marked by the painful experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. Italy has been on the frontline of this fight. It has been the worst healthcare crisis in the last century, with a huge number of casualties and deep wounds sustained by our economy and society from the dramatic experience of the ensuing lockdown.
Nonetheless, we honour Republic Day with a resurgent hope and an awareness that the most critical phase of the pandemic is likely behind us. We are deeply grateful to the passionate commitment and dedication of all healthcare professionals, researchers and workers who ensured the continuity of essential activities during the lockdown, to the courage and transparency of our institutions and to the heightened sense of national unity that made it possible for us to begin a gradual return to normal life. Tomorrow, June 3, will be an important day on Italy’s path, with the restart of unrestricted travel between Italian regions and the reopening of borders with other EU countries.
Today’s context is indeed very different from the post-war situation, not only because of the scale of differences in the type of material and moral devastation, but also because today the entire world stands united against a common enemy. Italy is thankful for the international aid it received at the peak of the medical emergency. Our hospitals, universities and research centres have consistently exchanged information on the virus, on effective therapies and vaccine development with their peers worldwide.
Our relations with the UAE in particular are an effective example of such collective engagement. Italians will not forget the Emirates’ donation of medical equipment when personal protective equipment was scarce in Italy, and we are now proud to know that our doctors in the UAE help this country fight the pandemic by sharing our best practices with local physicians.
Italy’s “natural place” in terms of its shared values and interests lies with the EU, and the spirit of co-operation and solidarity underpins the union’s response to the pandemic’s economic and social consequences. The latest European Commission proposal to allocate €750 billion towards that response, in addition to the other financial tools made available by the European Council and the European Central Bank, represents a dramatic advance in Member States’ acceptance of the need for a shared effort to heal and relaunch the European economy. Moreover, it acts as a powerful stimulus for Italy and all of the other EU countries to accelerate reforms in in order to respond more effectively to future challenges.
There is a widespread sense of how the future has been somehow “stolen” by the pandemic, which has forced us to focus on the immediate emergency. But a future-oriented perspective is necessary if we are to relaunch our economies, not only to improve the quality of life of our citizens, but also to accelerate our achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Italy is ready to play its part, relying on its strengths – and we have many, across manufacturing, sustainable agriculture, energy and culture. We have the fifth-highest manufacturing surplus over $1bn in the world; the greatest surface area of organic farmland in the EU; the highest percentage of overall renewable energy consumption among the largest EU countries; and the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the planet.
We want to share all of these strengths with the world, beginning with Italy’s upcoming presidency in 2021 over the G20. As Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte recently said, Italy “will place people, planet and prosperity at the centre of its agenda”.
Against this backdrop, the partnership between Italy and the UAE will become even more important, both at the bilateral level – where there is huge scope to increase our co-operation in the most innovative sectors – and on global issues.
Expo 2020 Dubai, now moved to 2021, will not only be an occasion on which to showcase our capacity for innovation. It will also be the first global opportunity for our nations to reflect together and convey their willingness to better connect with one another in the post-pandemic world. It will confirm the values of bilateral co-operation expressed at Expo 2015 in Milan. The theme of that Expo was food security, a subject that has since only grown in the global agenda and on which Italy and the UAE have much room for collaboration.
As they embrace the tricolore flag of their home nation and watch its recovery from abroad, the Italians who live and work in the UAE today are thankful to this country, and its leadership, for its vision in shaping the future and creating opportunities for everybody. And the relationship between our two nations will continue to be guided by the same values that were foundational to the creation of modern Italy 74 years ago.
Nicola Lener is the Ambassador of Italy to the UAE