The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a complex structure that provides a huge amount of services in the name and on behalf of the Italian state and of the Italian citizens, either living in Italy and abroad. The Ministry is also called "Farnesina" from the name of the land where it was built, called Orti della Farnesina because it belonged to Pope Paul III Farnese. The Ministry is divided into several Directorates General: in particular, the one that communicates with the diplomatic and consular network abroad and with our compatriots living outside Italy is the Directorate General for Italian Citizens Abroad and Migration Policies.
It is an important and difficult task, the one that is up to its Director, Ambassador Cristina Ravaglia. As we wrote in another interview, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs carries out its many activities weighing on the state budget for just the 0.2%, a proportion that is much lower than that of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of other Western countries with which we usually compare our country. This is not a complaint, but a fact that has to be known. We are very to glad to welcome Ambassador Ravaglia in our interviews section.
Ambassador, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs you have been, for almost two years now, at the helm of the Directorate General for Italian Citizens Abroad and Migration Policies. What are the activities assigned to your office?
We have two distinct souls. As for Italians abroad, we follow the activities of our Consulates, first of all ordinary consular services like passports, citizenship and registration data.
Then we deal with the organizations representative of Italian communities abroad, Comites and CGIE, and we distribute the funds to the institutions who teach the Italian language abroad: originally these were intended for the descendants of our emigrants, but that is now changing, with a greater inclusion in local school curricula as language of culture.
We also manage the foreign elections: voting for the parliamentary elections, as most recently in February of last year, and voting for the European elections last May, limited to Italians resident in the European Union. Also there will be, hopefully soon, the vote for the election of Comites.
Then we follow the assistance to compatriots abroad. Each year, about 10,000 cases of Italians that, for various reasons, need assistance from our overseas embassies or consulates coordinated by us here, keeping contacts with families and - where needed - with lawyers. Of these 10,000, about 3,400 people are incarcerated; there also are frequent situations of repatriation for health reasons.
We also follow the judicial cooperation, including rogatory letters and extraditions. Furthermore, we deal with the sensitive issue of contended children abroad. We follow the cultural activities in favor of the Italian community in the world. Finally, we support INPS in its relationship with Italian retirees abroad.
Funds for our actions have suffered significant cuts in recent years: today we are called to do much yet, but with much less. It has been a painful situation that led us to the necessity to rationalize our actions.
Then there is the part of the Migration Policy, which includes two main areas of activity. The first is the one about visa: we manage and coordinate all visas issued to foreign nationals who want to enter Italy. Last year the number of applications for entry visa in Italy, a steadily growing number, was approximately two million and two hundred thousand: which means that every 15 seconds a visa has been issued. The figures are impressive: from the business of issuing visas, which has obviously a fee for foreigners, last year about € 104 million were received - not by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as perceptions go directly to the Ministry of Economy; in addition to money generated by tourism and trade (and employment) for our businesses.
Finally, the second activity in the area of migration policies concerns the bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the field of migration - for example, the landings in Lampedusa are responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, but we are those who negotiate in different institutional environments with the countries from which these immigrants come - and some aspects of the delicate issue of international adoptions.
Based on your experience, which are the main differences and similarities between Italians who live in Italy and those living abroad?
Certainly in my experience I have seen a great attachment to our country by our compatriots living abroad. I would say that the main difference with Italians living in Italy is that sometimes those who are abroad, especially if residents and now citizens in distant countries, have an idea of Italy in some ways romantic, which stops at what they remind or at what they have been told by their families. Italy is of course changed a lot, the whole world changes, and sometimes great distances does not allow to come back often or how much one would like: and so the memory in a sense stands still to times long gone.
Our country is experiencing difficult times: there are costs to be cut, innovations to be introduced, bureaucracy to be fought, everyone - including the Farnesina - is trying to cope with difficult tasks, with very scarce resources. The Italian community in the U.S. has seen the closure of the Consulate in Newark, and other Consulates feel at risk. Given that political decisions are not taken by your office, what can we say to our fellow citizens in America about the difficulties encountered in the rationalization of an already very low budget?
The closing of a Consulate is an operation that hurts everyone: no one easily takes this kind of decisions. For us, the consular offices are an a fundamental part of our work. The closure of one of them involves upheavals and a different, greater redistribution of effort for those who work in the vicinity of the Consulate which is closed: so, when economic conditions oblige the Ministry to act this way, we don't do it light-hearted.
But our country is dramatically changing the dynamics of its spending, and these changes have not spared the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: in recent years the number of our employees has fallen by 25%, because those who have retired have not been replaced, if not in small part. Moreover, Italy is in the midst of a strong and painful but necessary spending review: small hospitals are closed, courts from a same area are merged, everyone is doing his part and is enduring sacrifices and this cannot spare the Italian abroad.
On the other hand, in recent years we have heavily invested in innovation and information technology to provide consular services, and we believe that this model will be increasingly useful and effective to meet the needs of our countrymen, together with the availability and the competence of our staff who work in our offices. One example is the instrument of the "itinerant official", which is a mobile station to gather, outside the Consular offices, fingerprints which must be incorporated in the new passports.
The representation of the Italians abroad are now divided between Comites (Committees of Italians abroad), CGIE (General Council of Italians Abroad) and elected MPs. These representations were born at different times, and perhaps they should be organically rethought. It is a very delicate matter: we ask you to describe the current situation for our readers, and what we should expect for the future
Comites were born in 1985 as the representative bodies of the Italian community, elected by Italians living abroad in each consular district where at least three thousand Italians are resident. Therefore they directly represent the different communities and constantly interact with the diplomatic and consular representations in their territory. They consist of 12 or 18 members, depending on the size of the community that elects them.
CGIE, the General Council of Italians Abroad, was born in 1989 as an advisory body to the Italian Government and Parliament: it has 94 members, 65 of which are elected by Comites and Italian associations and 29 appointed by the Government based on nominations coming from parties, charitable institutions, large associations and other entities.
The MPs elected by Italians registered in AIRE (the official registry of Italian citizens residing abroad) have been established more recently, thanks to the law of 2001, which foresaw the election of 18 representatives and 12 senators in the four divisions of the new Foreign Constituency: Europe; North and Central America; South America; Africa, Asia and Oceania.
As rightly mentioned, they are different forms of representation, born in different times. The matter, actually delicate, is analyzed and debated right now by the political offices that have the responsibility and the power to change the law: it is therefore a responsibility of the Parliament, we are the ones who have to implement it.
As our last question we ask you to share with our readers a curiosity, something that has pleasantly surprised you during these two years of close, daily relationship with the Italians all over the world
In these two years, and in the past when I was Consul in Buenos Aires and then in Monaco of Bavaria, a key aspect that I got to deal with, and whose importance seemed obvious, is that of our language. Italian is always more a language of culture, as well as just a language of emigration: a means of communication but also standard bearer of our being Italian. For our compatriots abroad, language has and will increasingly play a major role. The generations who left were almost forced to forget it, taken by the need to integrate in their host countries, with few opportunities to practice it if not in the family, where they often spoke the local dialect. Their children were born in their new countries, and understandably did everything to fit there, with the result of often neglecting the language of their origins. The third generation, which is often provided with more economic opportunities for travel and communicate through new technologies, is rediscovering the interest and curiosity for the country of their grandparents, for its origins, and for the Italian language. We have to do all we can to preserve this treasure and make it more shareable, available for learning and beneficial to everybody's future career and culture.
The curiosity in some way relates to the language, too: not everyone knows that in Crimea lives a small community made up of people - descendants of Puglia - that no longer have Italian citizenship, but have proudly remained devoted to their origins, and continue undeterred to defend the use of Italian language. We try to keep this enthusiasm alive by sending them books, in order not to lose this little cultural heritage that survives thanks to the passion for Italy by this which is just one example of the many Italians who live abroad but are proud and happy to be able to claim and show their Italian roots.
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