May 10, 2018
On May 10 Mr. Donato Scioscioli, Representative of the Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office in Taipei, delivered a talk to NTU students and faculty on the culture and history of Italy, and commented on how both Taiwan and Italy similarly face challenges despite their separate positions in Asia and in Europe. “In every case we eventually come up with the best answer, sooner or later. We have our own way to do it in Italy, and in Taiwan, you will find your own way to deal with your own issues.” He conveyed his best wishes for Taiwan’s prosperity and the bilateral benefits of relations between Taiwan and Italy.
Mr. Donato Scioscioli, Representative of the Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office (IETCPO) in Taipei, was invited to speak at the monthly Ambassador Day Guest Speech Event hosted by the National Taiwan University (NTU) International College Provisional Office on Thursday, May 10. The two-hour dialogue was chaired by Dr. Kuo Hung-Chi (郭鴻基), Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Prof. William A. Stanton (司徒文), former Director of American Institute in Taiwan, and attended by local and international students, as well as some faculty members.
“Through this series of Ambassador Day events, we want to engage NTU more in international exchanges and enhance international cultural understanding,” Vice President Kuo Hung-Chi observed in his introductory remarks. On behalf of the university, he hoped that the students would expand their thinking and learn from other countries’ perspectives.
Mr. Scioscioli began his talk with a brief but interesting video on Italy’s world-renowned culture and lifestyle with representative examples such as the Arena di Verona Opera Festival every summer. Expressing his positive impressions of Taiwan, Mr. Scioscioli described Italy’s Sardinia and Sicily as similarly beautiful islands also full of culture. The Mr. Scioscioli also emphasized that, as in the case of Taiwan, in addition to culture, other aspects of Italy are equally excellent.
“We have a high-speed railway system connecting the north and the south. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to travel from Milan to Rome, which is very convenient and is just like traveling from Taipei to Kaohsiung,” he said.
90% of those living in Italy are Italians, and the rest are increasingly immigrants, including Chinese and Taiwanese communities, and many Filipinos. Most Italian people are Catholic, but it is not a state religion and was instead a result of Italy’s historical heritage. The religious composition of Italy was changing, however, because of the “many immigrants coming from Islamic countries.” Mr. Scioscioli noted how Italy was currently coping with this issue to ensure peaceful co-existence.
Politically, Italy is a parliamentary republic with a large bicameral legislature. Mr. Scioscioli noted that the Italian people had questioned whether there was redundancy and gridlock within this system of government and had voted on a reform referendum in 2016. In the end, however, Italy remained as it has been since 1946, with 950 members in two equally powerful legislative chambers. That was the people’s democratic choice. Italy’s legal system, human rights and liberty are safeguarded by a constitutional court.
Turning to education, Mr. Scioscioli said that in Italy the number of private universities and colleges is increasing, and that Italy is offering more English-taught degree programs. “Traditionally,” he noted, “courses of music and design have been popular among Taiwanese students, but we try to promote diversity. For example, there is now also a medical program taught in English.” Mr. Scioscioli noted Italy is striving to internationalize; in this way “more people can come to Italy and learn our beautiful language.” At the same time, he said, providing more English-taught programs was “more efficient.” He pointed out that Italy would participate in NTU’s EU education fair this coming fall.
Citing statistics on the strengths of the Italian economy, Mr. Scioscioli observed that Italy in general is famous for its various family businesses and world-renowned brand names. He noted, however, that in the North of Italy there are more diverse sectors than elsewhere, including consumer goods and manufacturing, as well as fashion. Entering the 21st century, Mr. Scioscioli acknowledged his government would have to deal with the challenges posed by the EU’s single currency, which had caused great turmoil when the Italian lira was severely devalued. In addition, economic growth had slowed down. Nevertheless, Italy was trying its best to leverage the advantage of a “Made in Italy” label in specific industries, especially in products noted for style and design.
“The legacy of Italy’s rich culture and long history was a great asset,” Mr. Scioscioli said. From unknown civilizations before the Roman era, to the fall of the Roman Empire, followed by divisions among kingdoms and city states, and then unification in 1861, Mr. Scioscioli described how Italy came to be what it is today.
The independence and unification of modern Italy in 1861 were the most significant events in modern-day Italy, Mr. Scioscioli stated. Previously Italy was politically divided, even while culturally flourishing. The small kingdoms constantly competed with each other during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. As a result, many of Italy’s more than 8000 cities and towns today can trace their origins back to those periods.
Among the oldest cities of Europe is certainly Rome, where the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 as the legal basis of the European Union. “As Italians, we are proud of improving understanding among the people of Europe who commonly suffered from the Second World War.” Mr. Scioscioli noted that Italy’s role as a founding member of the European Union was another important source of identity of Italy, adding that Italy has played an “essential role in transforming and modernizing Europe.” (Last year, NTU hosted an IETCPO exhibition celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome as part of NTU’s annual EU week event.)
The advent of the European Union, Mr. Scioscioli explained, grew out of the horror of the Second World War. Back then, “Italy had gone through a 20-year Fascist regime (1922~1943), and then two years under German occupation of its north, while the south was progressively liberated.” Mr. Scioscioli noted that this division nearly “caused a civil war in 1945. Even to this day, we still have mixed feelings,” he added.
Mr. Scioscioli observed that since the founding of the EU, there had been no major European wars, although he acknowledged that there had been conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Ukraine. Expressing his country’s appreciation for the peace that came with the EU, he said “Today, we Europeans can make jokes about each other, but 70, 80 years ago we went into real wars.”
Mr. Scioscioli admitted that: “Italy has had this problem of starting on the wrong side. In both the First and the Second World Wars, we started on one side and ended on the other.” As a result of the “problem” of helping to start World War II, Mr. Scioscioli noted, Italy was not in the United Nations in the beginning. “But we sorted out our own business. We joined the UN in the 1950s, then NATO, and the series of organizations leading to the EU,” he concluded.
He linked this experience to Taiwan’s own continuing efforts to join international organizations, improve its relations with the UN, and participate in various international agencies and world assemblies. The Ambassador stated, “The EU supports Taiwan’s participation in many technical organizations. The international inclusion of Taiwan is important.”
Raising the continuing Italian legal barrier to same-sex marriage, a Taiwanese student said he didn’t expect that to see that in Italy since “Italy is a well-developed European country.” “What’s the obstacle?” he asked. Acknowledging this was a hot topic in Italy, Mr. Scioscioli said that some years ago, “Italy had made certain partnerships ‘official.’ It’s not a marriage, but Italy is also at a transitional stage.” He also pointed out, however, that same sex marriage remained a controversial issue in Italy and even in Europe more broadly. While he said he could not represent the opinions of the 50+ million Italian people, he commented “We stand on a common position, which is ‘No discrimination.’ The question was how do you think that the freedom to love might be served by marriage or equivalence to marriage even if it’s not a marriage between a man and a woman? This is still in debate.”
Dr. Stanton asked what Italy’s policy now was toward Libya, a former Italian colony: “Libya has been in a violent mess for many years, divided among multiple armed groups. Despite Libya’s oil wealth, its people are suffering; many other countries consider the situation hopeless. Has Italy any plans or policies to help?” he asked.
Mr. Scioscioli responded that “In principle, if we don’t get involved in Libya, Libya will involve us in any case. As it takes only a very short time to get from Libya to Italy, if anything happens, it could undermine Italian security. Engaging with the Libyan groups in power can be difficult, although Italy has an historical connection with Libya. The difficulty is to the find the right balance, and that’s very complex.” Mr. Scioscioli also noted how arduous the situation is as a result of the haphazard drawing of African borders by Western colonizers.
Mr. Scioscioli acknowledged that political chaos in Africa and the Middle East produces refugees, terrorism and multifaceted conflicts that cross into Europe and cause stress for the EU. Still, Mr. Scioscioli emphasized, Italy is a gateway to Europe, so “Italy needs to discuss these issues with its neighbors and other EU members.” Nonetheless, he noted, to keep danger at bay for the European people, the best way is not to control the European coasts but the African coasts. This doesn’t mean the EU should reject humanitarian support, but the optimal way for Europe to “help its African neighbors was to create stable long-term prosperity.” Having a home land safe and sound means that no one will be forced to leave. “Many people don’t even survive to reach any European coasts.”
As hope turns into real action, Italy has a target of spending 0.7% of its GDP on development cooperation. To this end, Mr. Scioscioli said, “our development aid was 0.15% and it has climbed to 0.35%, which is around the average percentage of the OECD countries.”
An exchange student from Italy asked for Mr. Scioscioli’s views on relations between Taiwan and Italy. Mr. Scioscioli responded that “As in Italy, the Taiwanese care a lot about their relationships with others.” One characteristic he believes both countries share is family values. “For relationships with others, keep an open mind, consider others’ positions,” he added.
Based on his experience working in Taiwan since 2014, Mr. Scioscioli said, “I think the Taiwanese people should allow more of their talent to come to the surface. I sometimes have to push my staff to push themselves to go beyond their comfort zones.” He said this was “actually also very important for governmental workers in general.”
Another NTU student expressed concern that Taiwan’s young researchers anticipate shrinking opportunities in Italian academia in view of Italy’s “one-China” policy. She also voiced the widely shared concern of Taiwan’s disadvantage relative to China as the more promising country for earning money and a better future. Mr. Scioscioli replied, “China is there, there’s no way to remove it. From the Italian and European viewpoint, however, we’re happy to cooperate with Taiwan economically and culturally.” Mr. Scioscioli also assured the audience that political issues were irrelevant to Italian academics and educational affairs.
“As for our relations with China,” Mr. Scioscioli continued, “it involves much more complex factors. Our big interest and concern is that relations should be stable and encouraging to democracy.” He said Taiwan was an example of this. “We understand it’s difficult to live with a big neighbor,” and he indicated Italy and the EU can provide help. He noted that “We increased our trade and other bilateral activities with Taiwan last year and we will continue to do so. We hope that Taiwan can find its own way to maintain a stable economy and be less prone to outside shock, which may come from many directions; diversifying economic options, instead of sticking to one tight partner, is a general strategy. European capitals can be a good target,” he suggested.
“A single state can do less than a number of countries working together, that’s why we in the EU do it together,” Mr. Scioscioli said in concluding his presentation.