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Italian Rogue of the Week – Giulio Terzi

Giulio Terzi was Italy’s foreign minister who nearly cost Italy billions in lost exports. Terzi resigned yesterday after having sparked a diplomatic spat with India over the return of two Italian marines who stand accused of the unlawful killing of two Indian fishermen.

The case which led to Terzi’s resignation concerned two Italian marines on ship protection duty. The marines opened fire on an Indian fishing boat killing two fishermen. It was claimed by the marines that the fishing boat was manned by pirates and that despite warnings, the fishing boat continued to threaten the ship which they were protecting – which is why they started shooting.

After the incident, the marines were arrested by the Indian authorities in order for the killings to be investigated. India maintains that the shooting took place within its waters, whereas Italy claims the incident took place in international waters and so the marines should be tried in an Italian court.

Italy v India

A battle commenced as Italy tried to bring its marines home for trial, but India refused saying it was their right to try the soldiers in front of a court in India.

Italy’s foreign minister at the time Giulio Terzi did everything in his power to bring the two marines back to Italy, but his demands were not met by India. However, permission was given by India for the marines to return home for Christmas – Italy agreed to send the soldiers back to India after their Christmas break with their families and did so.

Then, Italian asked India to return the two marines to Italy so they could vote in Italy’s national elections and promised to return them to India by March 22. India conceded permission to the marines and they came back to Italy.

Italy, almost, Breaks its Promise

Shortly before the marines were due to return to India, foreign minister Terzi announced that Italy would not send the marines back to India. Predictably, India was extremely unhappy and accused Italy of a massive breach of trust. Initially, Terzi stuck to his guns and said the marines would not be going back to India to stand trial for the unlawful killing of the two fishermen.

As March 22, the day when the two marines were supposed to return to India approached, attacks  in India’s press against Italy for breaking its promise intensified. India’s politicians complained loudly and the prospect of sanctions against Italy was raised. However, the Indian authorities waited until March 22 arrived and did not initiate any action against Italy.

Italy 0, India 1

Then, Giulio Terzi capitulated to India’s demands and the two marines were returned to stand trial. Terzi was left with huge amounts of egg on his face. Italian diplomacy was made to look very bad indeed. In fact, had Italy not returned the marines to India, Italy’s reputation would have been seriously damaged as no other nation would believe Italy’s word was worth a thing. As the situation stands now, despite the return of the marines, when Italy promises to do something, others may be reluctant to believe Italy will keep its word.

By intimating that Italy would go back on its word, Giulio Terzi has done untold damage to Italy’s reputation for diplomacy. That is not all though.

Potentially Huge Economic Cost to Italy

If the marines had not been sent back to India, the cost for Italy in terms of the potential loss of one of its biggest and growing export markets could have been catastrophic. Remember that Italy’s economic situation is not at all healthy at present and is worsening, so killing off a massive source of export income would not have been too intelligent, yet this aspect of protecting two Italian soldiers does not appear to have entered Terzi’s thoughts although Indian newspapers have wondered whether pressure was brought to bear on Terzi by business leaders in Italy.

Italy’s Exports to India

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In 2011, Italy exported around 8.5 billion Euros worth of goods to India and exports to India grew by 18.2% in the same year. Annoying India could have extinguished such growth. Italy would have had far more to lose than India if India had decided to boycott Italian goods.

Damaging Italy’s reputation even further, is the case of the CEO of Italian defense giant Finmeccanica who is facing accusations of bribing Indians to take delivery of a €960 million helicopter order. In the eyes of Indians, Italy will be seen as being not only untrustworthy, but also plain dishonest.

A Potential Tourism Backlash

Then there is tourism. India’s economy is growing by the day. Its population is becoming more wealthy and this means Indians are starting to travel more. There is little doubt that Italy will be a destination for curious Indians, but had Italy not returned the two marines, one can be pretty certain many Indians would have chosen alternative nations for their holidays and holiday spending.

Goliath beat David

Giulio Terzi
Ex-foreign minister Giulio Terzi

India has a population of over 1.2 billion and is the second most populous nation in the world. Italy, on the other hand, has a population of around 60 million. This time round, David was soundly beaten by Goliath.

Representing David was Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant’Agata to give him his full name, a former Italian ambassador to the USA who is known to be close to right-wing Italian politician and one time Berlusconi ally, Gianfranco Fini.

As Italy’s foreign minister, Terzi earned himself a reputation for blunders and it does not sound as if he got to where was through innate ability. Instead, he got to the top through knowing the right people, or that is the impression one gets from a recent article on the Linkiesta news website.

The Ugly Head of Cronyism

Cronyism is a problem which afflicts Italy and, more often than not, it ensures the wrong people end up in crucial positions, either as diplomats, politicians, ministers, heads of huge businesses or even as prime ministers.

When rogues end up in positions of power, the trouble starts and Giulio Terzi’s departure from the position of foreign minister is no loss to Italy at all.

For nearly costing Italy billions in export sales, Giulio Terzi qualifies as Italy Chronicle’s Italian rogue of the week.


Image source: Rafik_Abdessalem_reçoit_son_homologue_italien.jpgMinistère des Affaires Etrangères Tunisien

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