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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » June 3, 2015
Italy in Poland
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Natural Empathy
June 3, 2015   
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Italy’s ambassador to Poland, Alessandro De Pedys, talks to Ewa Hancock.

Poles have been described as “the Italians of the north.” What cultural differences between Italy and Poland did you find the most striking after arriving in Warsaw?
Poles are hard-working, but they also know how to enjoy themselves, how to share the good moments with family and friends: they have a positive approach to life that is almost Mediterranean. Of course, there are cultural differences beyond the similarities. One of the most striking is how conscious Poles are of their history and how deeply devoted they are to their country, without being needlessly chauvinistic. Occasionally I think that we, Italians, should be a little more “Polish” in our attitude towards our heritage and be more positive about our country.

What are the strongest and weakest points in relations between the two countries?
There is a strong natural empathy between Italians and Poles. This is our strongest asset and I think we should build on it.

One of the most evident manifestations of this empathy is the depth of our cultural exchanges. I am always amazed at how passionate and knowledgeable Poles are about Italian culture. This is a bond that has been built over the centuries, with reciprocal cultural “cross-contamination” in architecture, in painting, in music, in literature. [Polish writer] Henryk Sienkiewicz famously wrote: “I believe every man has two homelands: one is his own, the other is Italy.” This feeling is reciprocal because people in Italy are in love with Polish theater, Polish cinema and Polish literature. We even have references to each other in our respective national anthems!

I admit that this makes my job as an ambassador much easier, since Italian culture is self-promoting in this country.

The other strong area of cooperation is the economy. Italy really is a strategic economic partner for Poland. We were among the first to invest in Poland and our presence is still very solid today, thanks to the investment-friendly environment. Italian entrepreneurs are also interested in the Polish market— almost 40 million people—and they are keen to participate in the development of Poland’s physical infrastructure, largely financed by European funds.

On the political side, I must say that relations are excellent, but somewhat detached. I would not define this as a weak area, but there certainly is scope for improvement because the political dialogue between the representatives of our respective governments is, in my opinion, much below its potential. I would like to see more frequent meetings between our ministers, our prime ministers and our presidents.

Are Poland and Italy good partners in the EU?
Poland and Italy are both border countries, both facing an unstable and dangerous neighborhood. It is therefore natural that we have different priorities. Poland is mainly concerned about Ukraine and its eastern border, while we are very worried about the situation in our southern neighborhood, especially in Libya, and we see with increasing concern the massive waves of migrants landing on our shores.

We both recognize, however, that security issues should be dealt with at the European level, in the framework of a truly European foreign and security policy. Therefore we work together in the EU to find common solutions to common problems, even if sometimes we see things from a different angle.

I want to underline that we have very similar ideas in a number of fields: European security and defense policy, enlargement, energy policy, European economic governance, just to mention a few, and this is a very good basis for cooperation. To answer your question: yes, we are definitely good partners in the EU. Let me add that the good relationship between [European Council President and former Polish Prime Minister] Donald Tusk and [European Union foreign policy chief and former Italian Foreign Minister] Federica Mogherini could provide additional value added to our relationship.

Finally, don’t forget that we are also allies within NATO. From January to April 2015 Poland and Italy together operated the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy agreed to prolong the mission, as support nation, for a successive term of four months.

Italy’s Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, recently visited Poland. What was the purpose of the visit?
The visit was meant to deepen the political dialogue between the two governments. These bilateral meetings are useful to explain positions, to iron out the differences and to select the most productive areas of cooperation. Foreign Minister Gentiloni met with Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna and Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak. He had just visited Kiev and stopped in Warsaw to report his impressions to his Polish counterparts, knowing how closely the Polish government follows the situation in Ukraine. The ministers also exchanged views on other “hot” topics in international relations, including migration. It was a very timely and fruitful visit.

In which sectors of the Polish economy are Italian companies performing best?
We are the largest car producer, the largest helicopter producer and we are among the largest producers of steel and construction materials. Our construction and engineering companies play a major role in the largest infrastructure projects—roads, railways, airports and so on—and we have a dominant position in the banking sector. We also have well-established cooperation in the defense industry.

Italy is one of Poland’s largest trading partners, with a growing share of the market in traditional consumer goods sectors, such as fashion, food or furniture, and in industrial goods such as machinery—not many people are aware that Italy is the world’s third largest exporter of machine tools. We are also growing steadily in other innovation-based sectors, such as renewable energy, the green economy, nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Over the years our companies have established factories all over Poland, investing in the automotive sector, in heavy industry, home appliances, food, electronics, plastic materials, financial services and legal services. They employ over 100,000 people. In other words, there are many reasons to be satisfied, although not complacent, because it is always possible to do better.

Expo Milan 2015 will also provide opportunities to establish new business relations between Italian and Polish companies and produce an additional boost to our economic partnership.
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