“The New Government Should Proceed with Reforms”, interview with U.S. Ambassador John Phillips

U.S. Ambassador John Phillips

«Don’t Stop the Reforms or you Will Lose Investment», interview with U.S. Ambassador John Phillips

December 10, 2016

The following interview appeared in “Corriere della Sera” on December 10, 2016
by Maurizio Caprara

“It’s important that whichever government there is, or whoever is in charge, they should keep an eye on reforms.  They can’t be dropped from the agenda,” states the U.S. Ambassador, John R. Phillips while speaking about the changes that have been in discussion for years to update the Italian political system, the machinery of Justice, and the regulations on business activities.  “Whatever government there is, it is essential because Italy has enormous talent, ingenuity and quality.  But, its enormous economic potential is being suffocated,” he adds during an hour-long interview with Corriere della Sera.

The Democratic lawyer who arrived in Rome in 2013 to represent Barack Obama will remain on a little longer in his office in Via Veneto where he receives guests.  He departs on January 18, two days before the atypical Donald Trump takes his seat in the White House.  One can imagine that the bust of John Kennedy and the treadmill next to the computer will be taken away.  Maybe the world map will remain.  [But,] the atmosphere of this room will remain, reflecting the one who officially personifies in our country the most powerful state in the world.  Phillips makes a statement, among others, that goes beyond the regular news cycle: “the disinformation and propaganda coming from Russia are reaching their tentacles into many countries: throughout Europe, into the United States and certainly into Italy.”

Q: Ambassador, what developments do you expect from the resignation of President of the Council [of Ministers], Matteo Renzi?

A: “The democratic system is working, the people have voted, which is the core of democracy.  President Sergio Mattarella is deeply involved in moving forward.  What’s important for Italy is to move forward with a stable government that guarantees predictability: especially regarding the reforms to be implemented.  Some of them are very essential.”

Q: For the effects they will have on the economy?

A: “Why don’t you have enough foreign direct investment?  Why do they bypass you?  That could be a valid question.  You can identify the reasons.  Currently Italy ranks 8th, lagging in U.S. investment in Europe.  It should be in 3rd place, or even 2nd considering that for manufacturing it is number two in Europe.  Why do companies prefer to invest elsewhere?”

Q: On September 12, you stated that a victory for ‘No’ of the constitutional referendum for the Senate reforms would result in a “big step back” for investments of U.S. companies in Italy.  Do you confirm that statement?

A: “It wasn’t a slap, I wanted to make clear that from the point of view of U.S. companies, there could have been repercussions.  CEOs that I have contact with were struck by the reforms proposed and in some cases implemented, from Justice reform to the ‘Jobs Act’ labor reform.  If you are in business you need permits and delays cost money. When you hear people say that a decision takes six years…”

Q: Would you repeat your statement on the referendum?

A: “Absolutely.  In my nomination letter, Obama wrote that I represent him and I take that charge seriously.  I wasn’t speaking for myself but on behalf of the U.S. administration.  That was evident when Obama met Renzi in Washington and used even stronger language than I did.  He declared that the referendum and reforms are important.  Nobody raised questions.”

Q: As the ambassador to Italy you had an important point of observation also about North Africa, Middle East, Russia.  Do you think there is something in foreign activities in Italy that our public opinion doesn’t see enough or doesn’t see at all?

A: “The disinformation and propaganda coming from Russia are reaching their tentacles into many countries: throughout Europe, into the United States and certainly into Italy.  It’s something we need to pay attention to.”

Q: What objective do they have?

A: “The Russians are good at it.  They spend a lot of money.  One of their objectives is to create divisions within the European Union and our alliances.  Moscow complains a lot about sanctions, but they are not designed to punish but to change unacceptable conduct.  The annexation of Crimea and the violation of borders are without precedent in decades and they require a coordinated and united response to demonstrate that this behavior will have consequences.

Q: How will the relationship between the U.S. and Italy change with Trump in the White House?  On NATO, for instance, he doesn’t want to spend much energy.

A: “I’m the Ambassador for the Obama administration, not that of Trump.  But, in general, the statements made during the campaign will be verified by what actually happens.  On NATO, the nomination of General James Mattis for Defense Secretary is reassuring.  A new person cannot make drastic changes to deeply-rooted things.”

Maurizio Caprara interviews U.S. Ambassador Phillips