Italian Ambassador Marco Conticelli: Italy Has Always Believed And Still Believes In Bulgaria
Novinite.com is interviewing the ambassadors of the EU member states and the countries who are the largest trade partners of Bulgaria.
First to respond is His Excellency Marco Conticelli, Ambassador of Italy – the country current President of the Council of the EU.
What major bilateral projects are currently in the making?
Bilateral relations are excellent. Political dialogue is active and - despite the economic crisis - trade and investment have been continuing to rise in these years. Not surprisingly we were among the first to open the Italian labour market to Bulgaria in 2012 and to support the entry of Bulgaria into the Schengen area... in short, Italy has always believed and still believes in Bulgaria.
Now two major events are on the horizon: “Expo 2015” in Milan and the ‘European Capital of Culture 2019’.
The Milan Exhibition will be on from May 1 to October 31 next year. Bulgaria is set to participate with its own pavilion, along with other 143 countries. It will be a great event dedicated to food in all aspects, from gastronomy to investment and technology. In other words, an opportunity not to be missed for lovers of good food and investors. A presentation for the Bulgarian tour operators will be organized at the Embassy on the November 20 this year.
The ‘European Capital of Culture’, on the other hand, will be jointly organized by Italy and Bulgaria during 2019. Plovdiv has just been selected, while its Italian ‘twin’ will be chosen soon among Cagliari, Lecce, Matera, Perugia-Assisi, Ravenna and Siena. All are great cities of art, quality will be granted. Moreover, the Capital of Culture is also a great opportunity for our two countries, which will have the chance to benefit from important economic, social and cultural returns.
What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges in bilateral relations?
Here in Bulgaria, like in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, the recovery is still weak and unemployment (especially youth unemployment) is still high; moreover, rule of law, competition and transparency are often put to test. Nothing new. There is an abundant European literature on the subject. It’s sufficient to have a look at the latest Reports of the Commission on the European semester, competition, consumers protection, corruption, mechanism for cooperation and verification and so on…
In this context, working together on concrete critical issues remains fundamental. In the EU we are all committed to observe a common set of values and rules; several institutional guarantees are in place at different levels to make this happen. Governments have an important role to play there, facilitating the balance between "supply and demand" in every sector, not only economy.
Where do you see the greatest potential for cooperation and untapped opportunities?
There are many opportunities for cooperation, from politics to economy and culture.
In the EU for example (Italy as you know is holding the six months rotating Presidency) we have common interests on asylum and migration, fostering solidarity among member states and cooperation with third countries; on energy, promoting interdependence and security; on regional infrastructures, stepping up large transport network; on growth and employment, striving for structural reforms in a context of fiscal consolidation; on the enlargement of the EU, particularly in relation to the Western Balkans; on the Schengen Area, strengthening the European Space of Justice, Freedom and Security.
Italy is also looking at Bulgaria with great interest from the trade and economic perspective. Mechanics, agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructures, energy, waste management: these are some of the areas where Italy can provide state of the art technology and expertise. Not to mention tourism (both countries are historical and natural pearls) as well as Italian fashion, furniture and food (the s.c. “Made in Italy”).
I’m sure, finally, that the ‘European Capital of Culture 2019’ will be a real booster of cultural relations. The Embassy, also thanks to the Italian Institute of Culture in Sofia, is already investing heavily on culture, providing a wide and qualified offer in almost all sectors: art with an exhibition on Raffaello last year and another one on Michelangelo soon this year in Sofia; music with the proposal of pop, jazz, opera and classical concerts, like Morricone and Solisti Veneti last year; restoration with the restored sword from the grave of King Seuthes III, one of the most influential figures of ancient Thrace; fashion with a show by Canali which took place in the Embassy this year; cinema with two astonishing Gala Evenings: one in April presenting the Oscar film “La Grande Bellezza” by Sorrentino and another coming up in November on “IL CAPITALE UMANO” by Virz?, with the participation of the famous international actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Besides all this we provide Italian language courses all year round, including for business purposes. As you can see we are not standing on the bench!
How are Bulgaria and Bulgarians perceived by your compatriots?
There are many Bulgarians working in Italy, for example in construction or in family care. They have an excellent reputation and are generally considered serious and qualified workers. They definitely contribute to a positive image of your country abroad.
Bulgaria, however, remains quite a mystery for the public at large. Italians do not know much about it. So close yet so far, I’m tempted to say… the good news, however, is that Italian tourism in Bulgaria is on the rise, last year we had almost 130 000 tourists here.
Recently some media in Italy have been describing Bulgaria as an increasingly attractive destination for Italian pensioners looking out for good quality of life at reasonable prices. Many people are calling the Embassy nowadays and ask: is it true?
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