Apa – italian ambassador_ tap project will not have any significant environmental impact

Baku . Turbat Baghirova – APA. Interview with Ambassador of Italy to Azerbaijan Giampaolo Cutillo

– The Declaration on Strategic Partnership was adopted during President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Italy in 2014. What practical measures have been taken for the implementation of the declaration?

– The relations have intensified further since July 2014. One of the proofs is the fact that President Ilham Aliyev went back to Italy just a few months ago. He visited Milano and Roma in the month of July. In Milano he attended the Universal Expo Exhibition and he inaugurated the Azerbaijani pavillion. Then he went to Rome, where again he had meetings with our President and our Prime Minister. So, I would say that, we are along that road – strategic partnership – which has several aspects ranging from political contacts to energy, economic, cultural relations, parliamentary relations. In all fields contacts are intensifying.

– Are there any novelties in the bilateral cooperation?

– In bilateral relations first of all Italy and Azerbaijan have a very big important commitment. We are both parts of the Southern Gas Corridor. Azerbaijan is of course the producing country and we are the receiving part of this long and strategic pipeline. From that point of view, we have been in consultation with the Azerbaijani government also in the past few months. From the Italian side we have kept our commitment to pave the way to this strategic infrastructure. Construction will start in Italy early next year. All bureaucratic procedures have been taken care of by the Italian Government. On the other side, we have received in Azerbaijan several important business delegations. One was led by our Minister for Economic development Federica Guidi a few months ago, accompanied by a strong business delegation. Several contracts have been signed by our companies with local counterparts and these are all signs that things are moving. On the cultural front, Azerbaijan has been very active in Italy. From our side, we have also brought here some important events. One of this, for example, took place in Baku on the sidelines of the recent football match between Italy and Azerbaijan. We have built a business forum on that and a master class on architecture and design at the Hayder Aliyev Center. We have again repeated it during Bakubuild only a few days ago. We also had a couple of successful concerts at the Philarmonya and other cultural events. So many activities show how deep and intense our bilateral relations have become.

– Will high-ranking officials of Italy visit Azerbaijan for the rest of 2015?

– Right now I have no confirmation, but the experience has showed us that new occasions for meetings and visits may come up at very short notice

– Italy’s Snam wanted to buy stakes in TAP project. Is it in process or not?

– Snam CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Carlo Malacarne visited Baku a few weeks ago and he was also received by President Aliyev. On that occasion, Snam and Socar have announced a Memorandum of Understanding, which has opened new avenues for a closer cooperation between them.

To my knowledge, however, the process of buying stakes in the TAP pipeline has not been finalized yet, as it will depend on a number of financial and commercial issues which the concerned parties are currently evaluating. A final decision is likely to come in the coming weeks and, based on that, we will soon know if SNAM will be part of the TAP consortium. The high level interaction between SNAM and SOCAR shows however that there is dialogue and cooperation between them, aimed at building closer ties and a concrete collaboration.

– Some claim that the realization of the TAP project can create ecological imbalance in the region. How real is this?

– This has been one of the main concerns in Italy, both at the local and central level, since the very beginning. The Government, based on relevant internal procedures, has made sure to have a scientific assessment of the situation on the ground. All required clearances have therefore been issued on the assumption that this project will not have any significant environmental impact on that territory. On the contrary, there is a commitment by the Consortium and also by the Government to first of all take local communities into confidence as regards its strategic importance and overall beneficial impact. My understanding is that local communities will be supported as far as the social aspects of the project are concerned and that they will be given an opportunity to maximize its impact.

– Generally, what profits can it provide for Italian economy? What are the expectations of Renzi government from this project?

– If we look at the project from the point of view of the private sector, it is already a huge opportunity. We have many Italian companies of different sizes – big and small, giving an important contribution to its construction, which means a substantial economic impact. If we look at the local communities, we expect a positive impact on the employment in the region. Calculations have been made that a few thousands jobs will be created. If we look at it in a wider picture we will benefit from the fact that Italy is going to strengthen its position as a regional gas hub in Southern Europe, from which gas will be distributed through an important part of Central Europe. Add the fact that TAP will secure a stable and diversified additional source of energy: from whatever angle you look at it, we expect mutual benefits and a positive impact.

– Italy is one of Azerbaijan’s main trading partners. Oil and oil products takes a larger share in this cooperation. How downtrend of oil prices affected it?

– We will have to wait until the end of the year to have the final statistics concerning the year 2015. What I can tell you now is that, first of all, Azerbaijan has been our main oil supplier for 2014. So, we expect that it will still have a very important role as one of Italy’s main energy suppliers. From the other side, our export is still small compared to the scale our imports of oil. But it has been increasing a lot. We went from 200 millions euros to 600 in the last 3 or 4 years. Now the first figures that I have for the first half of 2015 show that Italian export to Azerbaijan has further increased, despite the impact for Azerbaijan of the oil prices decrease, and despite the devaluation. So, if we look at the bilateral relations, probably the impact of the current situation will not be as significant as one could have expected considering the global situation.

– As a member of the Minsk group, what are Italy’s expectations from co chairs visit?

– We do support the Minsk group process. We do support the three Co-Chairs in their efforts and hope that they will soon be able to have concrete results towards a positive solution.

– Can it revive the frozen situation?

It is difficult to say. What I can tell, from my personal angle, is that I really feel this is something that would greatly benefit the whole region. Particularly, I feel this is something which is really important and fundamental for Azerbaijan. I know how important, painful and sensitive this issue is in this Country. I really hope that some positive results will arrive, as the status quo is not an acceptable situation. We definitely need a positive evolution towards some concrete outcome.

– Italy is one of the countries facing migration crisis. Even during last months Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stated that they will not accept “selfish Europe” stressing that more support needed by the EU. Do you think such issues threaten EU’s future as a political entity?

– This is actually one of the main and most sensitive issues in Europe. Our political leadership, Prime Ministers and Home Ministers, keep meeting on regular basis. They are all very much committed, as everybody in Europe considers this situation as a top priority. There are different positions within different European governments, because of different sensitivities, because of the public opinions. There is first of all the humanitarian aspect. We are trying to take care in the best possible way of these people, who are escaping from war and sufferings.

Italy has always been in the forefront among those countries which have extended all kind of possible rescue, solidarity and assistance to these populations. Several hundreds of people arrived in Italy from the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015. At the same time, we have a close dialogue with our European partners. Because we think that this is a burden which should be shared in a proportionate way among different countries. It is a difficult balance, but we are working on it. This is a really unprecedented emergency for Europe and when you have such a big problem it takes time to find solutions.

– However not all EU countries accept quota plan by the European Commission.

– There are differences on that, but we think everyone should play some kind of role. This is a matter of discussion at the highest levels. But the principle is that, if we are all part of a family we have to face the problem all together.

The European Union – to the date, still the single most prosperous, stable and democratic region of the world – has always proceeded on the grounds of common values, common interests and shared responsibilities. There are no alternatives in view and this is time to show wisdom and vision: we are facing a common challenge for the whole of Europe, not only in humanitarian terms, but also for the unprecedented scale of its geopolitical implications.

The Middle East, Syria, Lybia: conflicts have been devastating these lands for several years now, and there’s definitely a need to address the root causes, through a coordinated effort of the whole international community.

The UN, the EU and all global and regional players. No responsible member of the international community can afford to ignore the challenge, as it is expanding and becoming an absolute priority for all those who care about stability and peace in the region, as well as in Europe and in its neighborhood.