Paolo Messa (Director of the Center for American Studies in Rome)

Incontriamo Paolo Messa, il nuovo Direttore del Centro Studi Americani

Jul 20, 2015 2883 ITA ENG

The Center for American Studies, Italy, is the locus that celebrates the relations between Italy and United States. The Center is headquartered in Rome, in the main floor of Palazzo Antici Mattei. The palace is one of the most prestigious buildings of 17th century Rome and it was realized between 1598 and 1618 by Carlo Maderno.

Today, a young and dynamic professional manages the Center. He has an innovative spirit and great competence, as well as love and respect for Italy and the United States. We are extremely glad of the board's decision and we thank Paolo Messa for this interview.

Paolo, tell us about the history of the Center for American Studies

The CAS is one of the most important American libraries outside the United States. With almost eighty years of glorious history, the library comes from the donations made by Henry Nelson Gay, an intellectual from Harvard who chose to leave his rich collection of volumes in Italy. The library is still a pillar for the CAS and is gradually enriched by donations of books, magazines, and newspapers. In Italy there is no other place that can claim this amount of content and such a continuous and constant updating: more than 50,000 books and 20,000 audio-visual materials, magazines and more. Overall we are talking about 70,000 volumes. The library is thus a very important heritage, which is available both physically and online to students from Italian and Foreign Universities.

Throughout time, the CAS has also helped spreading the knowledge of English language throughout our country, particularly in Rome. However, during the last few decades, schools, universities, and private institutions accomplished this need so that the Center became a kind of "think tank." Currently, there is not a proper research activity going on, but the Center is doubtlessly a relevant hub for transatlantic relations. We discuss themes related to historical culture, current topics, geopolitics and economics, often hosting members of the American administration as well as representatives of the Italian Government.

I will end by saying that the Center for American Study does not receive public subsidy, as it lives through donations by citizens and Italian and American companies. This institution is so important, though, that it is supervised by the Italian Department of Foreign affairs and the Department of State, through the American Embassy in Italy.

Are these 70,000 volumes only about the United States or do they deal with different kinds of themes?

There are books on literature as well as books of historical and political analysis of the United States and their relations with Europe, Italy, and with the great geographic areas. Part of the library is also dedicated to religion. I wish that this heritage will be further enhanced, perhaps by giving the name of some American or Italian patron to individual areas of the library.

What kind of activities does the Center organize throughout the year?

Most of the activities are open to the public, in order to support the improvement of transatlantic relations, by engaging important Italian stakeholders as well as students, the public opinion, and the media. We discuss an ample range of themes, from proper American studies to the main geopolitical dossiers. In the last years there has been a major concentration on such topics as the climate change or the impact of technology over everyday life, the debate on the economic and financial crisis and its possible solutions. In this case, we have to underline how efficacious is the American way.

Another part of activities we carry out is given by the several working lunches and private meetings we held, which involve representatives of the Italian government as well as members of the American administration visiting our country and willing to privately address issues that are important for their institutional agenda. Even if less relevant in numerical terms, such activities are pivotal for the Center's positioning. This kind of meetings is very effective because Italian leadership not always is aware of the kind of debate undertaken overseas, a debate that can see great chances of development in our country. These meetings are particular but also very effective.

What kind of future is the Center likely to have?

In a different historical and political context, investing in a Center for American Studies may not look essential. However, if you look at those people who chose to be involved with the Center you'll realize that never before there has been such a high level of participation, which is so authoritative and qualified.

Our President is Gianni De Gennaro, while Marta Dassù and Peter Alegi are Vice-Presidents. Moreover, we have now included in our board the Chancellor of La Sapienza University, Professor Eugenio Gaudio, the Chancellor of LUISS, Professor Massimo Egidi, and the President of John Cabot University, Professor Franco Pavoncello. This innovation shows a main line of action that operates through the relationship with the universities. Ultimately, we are very proud of the presence of Ambassador Ronald Spogli in our board.

On one hand, the figure of Ambassador Spogli has a political and affective value, since he represents the relationship between United States and Italy. On the other hand, we are very glad of his commitment to our invitation, because Spogli is also working at Stanford University, San Francisco, where he founded the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. We are thus very happy to have, through him, a bridge to a significant American University and to a side of the US that is very far from us and still is a relevant point of attraction on a global level. Therefore, thanks to Spogli, we are managing to go beyond Washington, with which the Center has a long-lasting constant relationship.

For the next years, the Center aims at having one or two annual meetings of high level. But the real challenge is assuring their continuity. I really hope that the Center will soon host one initiative a day, and now we are gradually approaching to this objective. However, the real effort lies in transforming this place in a vibrant place, where we could give young and old people, sons and parents, the chance to meet and discuss, depending on our program. All his must happen according to the friendship we have with the United States: a friendship which does not reflect a totalitarian ideological approach, but that enhances freedom of speech and criticism.

An anticipation that I feel to give you is that I would like that the relationship with the Holy Seat will become a trend of analysis and initiative. This year, Pope Francis will be in New York, at the United Nations, being it his first visit to North America. This event is very will be very significant, as it will enhance the geopolitical role that Vatican diplomacy is playing again. I am thinking of what happened in Syria, in Cuba, and in other important countries around the world that we are unaware of. I believe that a relation between USA-Italy and the Vatican is as important as a relation between USA-Italy and the European Union. This is a quite new approach for transatlantic relations, as there is a third subject included. This is a geopolitical challenge, and we would like to understand whether it makes sense or it doesn't. We will talk about it in few months.

The CAS is among the main non-institutional points of reference concerning the relations between Italy and the United States. "We the Italians" has always maintained that Italy needs to install more relations with the US. How would you judge the status of relationships among the two countries? What do you think should be done to improve them?

We think that our country, although there is a strong capacity of soft power by the US), doesn't focus enough on nor know enough about American hard power. Within the public debate we often hear authoritative people speaking of and criticizing the international situation as caused by US's tactic and strategic errors. Inter alia, in such a disordered global condition, the temptation to have a cross-eyed overview on Italy's is very dangerous. Therefore, the Center aims at offering points of view and contents that will strengthen that unwritten Atlantic bound, which is extremely relevant for our country.

One of the main themes regarding Italy (as well as Europe) and the United States are the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. What are your thoughts about it?

I think that the TTIP is a very efficacious political answer to the idea of a Eurasian future, which in Italy is raising hopes of success. The transatlantic Free Trade Agreement supports the idea of a strong commercial bound between our countries. This is of course a difficult path to follow. There are many issues in the Agreement, and we are still in a phase of negotiation.

I have to say that I read and listened to several critiques, mostly of which were totally baseless. I believe that it will be useful to encourage a good information strategy about the Agreement in the next months, and for once I think this is not only difficult for Italy but also for the US. Both countries are in fact dealing with the contradictions of the democratic system, to which, though, we have not yet found a good alternative. US's difficulties are increased by the European States. Stated that, I am convinced that the political and economical interests could be the boost to get a signature for this Agreement (hopefully in 2016), which could really have a major effect: Italy is the European country that could benefit the most.

One last positive remark for our often criticized country: thanks to the engagement of Deputy Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda, our country is now playing a positive role in this dossier. This is very unusual, but worth noticing. I have recently met and spoken with Ambassador Michael Froman – International Trade Representative of US Administration – and I believe they realized the positive role Italy is having both within the European scene and – more generally – in the negotiation to achieving the final result.

With these regards, We the Italians maintains that a fundamental role should be that of the Italian American community, whose merits are unfortunately not well known in Italy. This long cycle of interviews serves for this community to get closer to our country, by reporting its numerous aspects and presenting its positive figures. What are your thoughts about it?

I consider your analysis sadly true. The Italian community living in the US, as well as the smaller American community that gradually moved to Italy, are of fundamental value, but this is likely to remain hidden. From this point of view, We the Italians is a precious source that should be promoted, and the Center would like to contribute to its mission as much as possible. I hope that a great collaboration will rise, beyond the already established friendship and respect among these two initiatives.

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