As part of a series of first official visits to Germany’s partners in Europe, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Italy on Friday (7 February) for political talks. Alongside a meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano, he spoke to Prime Minister Enrico Letta and engaged in indepth consultations with Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. These discussions with Italy’s leaders focused on European and bilateral issues as well as the international agenda.
Italy faces major challenges
The discussions concentrated both on the long-standing good relations between the two countries and on the current European agenda. Steinmeier commented:
I am quite convinced that Europe cannot be strong unless Italy is strong.
Turning to Italy’s upcoming assumption of the Presidency of the EU Council for the second half of 2014, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said he was delighted that Italy intended to make the political future of Europe a feature of its term in office. Steinmeier assured his Italian counterpart of Germany’s support in this matter, saying “this is precisely the topic Europe needs at this time”.
In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della sera shortly before his trip, Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised the confidence he had in our Italian partners and urged Italy’s leaders to keep up their reform efforts.
Exchange of views on the international agenda
In an extensive conversation with Italy’s Foreign Minister Bonino, the spotlight was on the current conflict situation in Syria and the efforts being undertaken for peace in the Middle East, as well as the negotiations with Iran and the crisis in Ukraine. Steinmeier and Bonino made extended statements at the press conference held afterwards.
On the subject of the conflict in Ukraine, the German Foreign Minister said in Rome that it constituted “the return of violence to Europe”. Both he and Foreign Minister Bonino said they were glad a cautious political process was now under way. Foreign Minister Steinmeier went on to say, however, that “for those involved in Ukraine, the hardest part of the road is yet to come” – namely finding a new balance between presidential and government powers.
With regard to the conflict in Syria, Steinmeier and Bonino expressed the hope that progress might be made in the second round of talks in Geneva, where representatives of the Assad regime and the Syrian Opposition are to convene from 10 February. Steinmeier added, however, that Foreign Ministers tended towards the “modest” in their hopes for successes in the face of such conflicts. The important thing, he said, was to agree at least local ceasefires and enable access for humanitarian organisations.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier described the developments surrounding the nuclear dispute with Iran as “a ray of light in recent days” on the international plain. An interim step had been taken, he explained, which had made a reduction in tensions possible after 10 years of negotiations. He averred that this would hopefully open the door to a conclusive solution.
Preparations for the next bilateral meeting
As befits the close relations between the two countries, the next German-Italian intergovernmental consultations will be taking place on 17 March. Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Bonino therefore used their meeting on 7 February to carry out some more preparations for that high-level event.