EEAS Deputy Secretary General for Economic and Global Issues
M. A. R.
Stefano Sannino is already in Brussels, where he will shortly be taking up his new post as Deputy Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) for Economic and Global Issues, after passing the mandatory quarantine. The travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19 forced the until now Italian Ambassador to Spain to leave Madrid last Sunday, despite the fact that he still has a few days’ holiday, because there are practically no more flights to the EU capital.
I imagine you did not expect your change of post to take place under these circumstances.
Not really. The important thing is that we are all fine. Santiago, my husband, is also in Brussels, as he has continued to work here and come to Spain regularly over the years.
Since we are talking about the Coronavirus, you have experienced first-hand the collaboration of the two European countries most affected. Can it be said that it has been satisfactory?
Without any doubt. Bilateral contacts have worked very well at all levels, starting with the presidents of the respective governments, the foreign ministers, etc. The services of both countries, both political and health services, are also working together and it has been seen that the strength that our bilateral relationship already had has been greatly strengthened.
I will not repeat that we are first cousins, but undoubtedly the relationship between the two countries is very strong in all aspects, on a social, cultural and economic level. And that intensity has become much stronger with this crisis.
What do we have to learn from this crisis at the European level?
That we have to increase our capacity to act together. In a sector as delicate as health, which the Member States have reserved for themselves, we have seen the need to work together, to be able to coordinate our medical teams, to have a single purchasing centre to go to third party markets, to share experiences in vaccine research.
To all this we must add the chapter on financial cooperation. The rules for state aid have already been relaxed, but now we have to look at other mechanisms, such as the so-called Marshall Plan’ which the Eurogroup is to debate this afternoon (as of yesterday, Tuesday).
And we also need to look at how to strengthen the EU’s action abroad: consular protection, cooperation in the repatriation of tourists and work in relation to other continents, such as Africa, which are in a very weak position because of this pandemic. As the High Representative, Josep Borrel, has said, we need our own narrative within this great geopolitical game.
In that respect, the image that the 28 have sent has not shown great unity, has it?
We need a stronger European Union. But I am optimistic, I firmly believe in the European project and that crises are the time to test the capacity to evolve and strengthen systems. Over the years, the EU has always emerged stronger from the crises it has faced. It has learned from its own mistakes.
On the other hand, there is always a need to find a balance between the views of all member states. We have to concentrate on what needs to be done to move the European project forward because, frankly, I see no alternative to the European Union. There is certainly room for improvement. But it is our home, and if we throw it out the window we will be poorer and less able to defend ourselves. That is something we have already seen with Brexit.
From your time as ambassador to Spain, what positive aspects do you highlight?
Many things. We have made even more progress in our bilateral cooperation. Not only promoting the Italian in Spain, but also establishing and strengthening ways of working together. That is perhaps the most beautiful thing about the work of these years, that we have opened up new ways of collaboration in sectors such as gastronomy, design or digital manufacturing. And we have created new job opportunities for young people. This is my greatest satisfaction.
Do you miss any initiative or project that you have not been able to develop?
Not particularly. It is true that these years have been politically very complex. The changes of government in both countries have impacted on our institutional relations and, despite the fact that in recent months political contacts have become more frequent, we have not been able to hold a bilateral summit. I believe that this is the only thing we lacked.
What is your personal assessment of your stay in Spain?
Personally, I would describe it as “outstanding plus”. My personal relationship with Spain is very strong. Besides the fact that it is my husband’s country, I have many friends here. Spain was not an unknown country for me. But I can say that I have discovered its soul a little more, the Spanish people’s desire to live and their creative elements, their beauty and their diversity. I take with me many emotions and an enormous human enrichment.