The pandemic crisis has worsened the situation of democratic standards and rights at the international level; we talk about this with the newly appointed President of the Italian Representation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Marta Grande
, Member of Parliament in the Five Star Movement
since 2013, has been a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies since 2018, of which she became President until 28 July 2020. Now, she is the President of the Italian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Today we talk about this role, her expectations and how she intends to approach her new mandate.
Recently, the Five Star Movement has changed its skin. It is impossible to forget when, in its early days, it was against the European Union and opted for an almost total closure of foreign policy. Now we have Fabio Massimo Castaldo as vice-president of the European Commission and you as head of the Italian delegation to the Council of Europe. How do you explain this change?
The Five Star Movement has grown in recent years and so has its political vision. The subject of ‘foreign affairs’ has always been complex, where dynamics and events change continuously and rapidly. Foreign policy is, for each party, one of the cornerstones of its policy. We had to make some adjustments, too since we had to put it into practice and deal with the outside world.
You come from an experience as President of the Foreign Affairs Commission in which you repeatedly pushed for European integration in the Balkans. In general, what do you bring with you after this experience?
It has been an honour to serve as President of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Our first mission abroad was in Belgrade, where we met President Vucic and our Serbian colleagues; in two years, I have visited the Balkans six times and I believe that our presence is fundamental both for our country and for the whole region.
Do you already have clear ideas on how to approach your new mandate? What are the priorities and expectations for such an important role?
Certainly, there will be a sharing of intentions and activities with the entire delegation. I believe that synergy is essential to work at our best with all our colleague. Among the next tasks, there will be the organisation of the events that will take place in Rome during the Italian Presidency, which will begin at the end of the year. We start, therefore, with the certainty of our will to carry forward the founding values and themes of the Council of Europe.
The European Green Pass was approved. Damien Cottier stated that this is a necessary and due action to return to a cautious normality; however, he warned about some legal difficulties and possible discrimination between vaccinated and non-vaccinated people. What do you think can be done to ensure this will not happen?
I believe that in this stage the need to speed up the Green Pass was due to the will to not penalise a sector such as tourism, which is fundamental for the entire European Union. Tourism has suffered greatly because of the pandemic, and this could be a way of buffering this tourist season immediately. For sure it has some critical aspects, both in terms of the rule of law and respect for human rights, and it is not a perfect instrument, but there is no doubt that in the urgent need to restore normality to our lives and restart the economy, this seems to be the only way to follow.
What can the Council of Europe, which we remind is not part of the European Union but has 47 members, do in its relations with Russia and with the Central Asian area in general?
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe focuses on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Among the most discussed issues in recent years, for example, are the tension between Russia and Ukraine and the permanence of the Russian delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly. This, like any other international forum, is the ground for real political action, so as a delegation we surely can have an impact on cooperation with that region.
A report by the Council of Europe, which we remind that aims precisely at promoting democracy, showed a regression in democratic standards, stating that there is a need for cooperation between all members. What do you, as the new President, think you can do and how do you plan to intervene?
This issue will certainly be addressed in the relevant committees in the parliamentary assembly and there is no doubt that many member countries are regressing in terms of democratic standards. We must always remember that democracy is an achievement and not an unbreakable model. Only by always keeping in mind the pillars of the institutional system in which we live, the possible threats and, above all, what the alternatives to a democratic system are, we can succeed in defending the values and achievements that have been made over time and that have enabled us to live in peace for eighty years.
In addition to its work on human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, the Council of Europe has also been involved in promoting youth policy for years. In your opinion, what needs to be done today for young people, to push them to achieve their goals and how can youth policies be promoted at a national level?
I strongly believe that we need a new social pact to protect young people and the new generations. Young people must be structurally included in the world of work, guaranteeing contractual and economic stability so that they can plan their future. How can this be done? By planning and creating the conditions to use the many resources that our country holds but often let go. Investments in strategic sectors and support for welfare services, for example, are imperative decisions.
One of the next meetings of the Council of Europe, at the proposal of the Cypriot government on June third, will deal with the role of the massive digitalisation of the media and the declining security standards for journalists. How and what can be done to ensure more security for journalists, but also to ensure more informative inclusion for groups marginalised by the pandemic?
During the current legislature, I tabled a resolution, which was adopted, that goes in this direction. The protection of journalists is essential to safeguard everyone’s right to information and truth; unfortunately, journalists face pressure and threats not only in war contexts, but also in many industrialised countries, which is detrimental to our constitutional values. I also think that in recent years the concept of information (and counter-information) has taken a huge step forward, given the necessity to adapt to the new means of communication, and at the same time the possibility to virtually reach a much larger audience than in the past. For this reason, a culture of reliability must be created at the international level, which, however, is still far to be adopted.
In March, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating domestic violence and violence against women, even though it was the first ratifying state in 2012. An incomprehensible and certainly strong choice. Which policies and, above all, which actions should be taken to ensure that the international system on human rights and, in this case, on women’s rights is not weakened?
Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is a worrying sign. In many contexts, I have been able to state my views on the need to increasingly strengthen the protection of women, their rights, and their independence. Turkey’s withdrawal was a great blow to the Council of Europe, as well as to the international community, especially in this historical moment of attention to the women situation.
In order not to weaken these rights, we need to talk about the issues, the causes, and provide institutional responses. In Italy, a huge step forward has been taken in recent years, and I hope that we will be able to show a hidden drama that many of our acquaintances, family members, and friends live in silence.
One last question. Let us conclude as we started, with the Five Star Movement. A personal opinion on the upcoming local elections and especially the elections in Rome, where the most decisive game for the Movement is being played, but also the most uncertain.
The Movement, in Rome, will have to face the challenge of reconfirmation, but I think that the efforts of the municipal administration will be repaid. Over time, the many people who have supported Virginia Raggi have been able to see the daily work, often done without media support, put into practice in these years. It is certainly one of the most exciting challenges of the next local elections and I believe that the Five Star Movement will be strongly in the field and therefore present to support our future list.