What can I say about my time here in Italy? It has been a privilege to be in Rome at a time of immense change, both in Italy and back in the UK. The UK underwent something of an ‘Italian’ experience, with a coalition government – a novelty for us Brits –,before reverting, in the last election, to the more traditional single party government. Here in Italy, there have been four governments in five years, although the present one can be ranked among the country’s more long-lasting and stable experiences. During this time, Italy has gone from being on the sidelines of European affairs to reclaiming its place at the heart of Europe, as is fitting for one of the signatories of the Treaty of Rome. Preparations are currently underway for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty, and Italy’s constitutional referendum, aimed at streamlining government activity, is on the horizon.
Throughout my time in Rome, a key theme of my work has been promoting business. We set up a joint Prosperity programme to encourage and facilitate interaction between British and Italian companies, and have recently launched an IT platform to link British companies efficiently with Italian partners and suppliers. This British focus on trade has, not surprisingly, found a willing counterpart in the Italian government. Italy recognises that we can only hope to grow and emerge from the economic crisis that has hit Europe if we nurture business and provide a favourable climate for trade. The Renzi government has therefore been working to push through structural reforms to create a more attractive landscape for foreign investment. It is strongly in the British interest that Italy prospers and we have done everything we can to provide support, share relevant experience and encourage Italy these reforms. Our Embassy is unique in Europe, in that a quarter of the personnel is based not in the capital but in Milan, and focused on business-related activities. The joint prosperity agenda has grown in the course of my time in Italy and has now become a structural part of the work of all ambassadors and diplomatic missions.
Our experience working closely with Italian business has shown that Italians have great ideas and are creative and hardworking. With the right reforms,Italy could truly become an economic powerhouse. Italians all too often despair of things ever changing,but recent governments have shown that, although change may be slow, it is nonetheless possible, and things can get better. I would encourage people here to be more positive about the future and not take the view, which I have heard all too often, that the the only measure of success is re-locating abroad or sending children to study and work in the UK, even though this undoubtedly holds economic benefits for us.
Our country has just taken part in a giant democratic exercise – perhaps the biggest in our history. Over 33 million people have had their say on the fundamental question of our relationship with the European Union. The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected, as Prime Minister Cameron has underlined. Britain’s close bilateral relationship with Italy pre-dates our membership of the EU and I am confident that it will continue to flourish in the years to come. We have much in common and much to build upon. In my five and half years here as Ambassador I have seen, time and time again, how UK and Italian collaboration can contribute to growth and create jobs in both our countries. That broad sense of partnership and of shared bilateral and global interests should provide an excellent platform for my successor, Jill Morris, when she arrives later this month. I wish her and Italy all the best.
Christopher Prentice CMG
British Ambassador to Italy and San Marino 2011-2016