Cristiano Musillo is quick to point out that while Italy is best known for food, furniture, fashion and fast cars, the country’s most impactful products are its factory equipment, the machines that make other countries productive.
The birthplace of the Renaissance has long been known as a place that blends the aesthetic with the efficient and beauty with pragmatism.
Now, as the world’s eighth largest economy uses a raft of EU funds build back from a pandemic that ravaged it first in the West, Italy hopes to bring that same sense of balance to the world’s pressing environmental issues, the consul general in Miami said during an interview with Global Atlanta.
“The challenge we have to embrace is around the interconnection between climate change, the preservation of our mother nature, and on the other hand, the increase of competitiveness,” Mr. Musillo said during a virtual Consular Conversation sponsored by Miller & Martin PLLC.
With a massive $250 billion in EU recovery funds earmarked for Italy, the country sees an opportunity to shore up its battered economy while joining the rest of the world in solving a riddle that has eluded it since the Industrial Revolution: how to decouple growth from environmental degradation.
“We have the opportunity to make the most out of these huge resources, especially for the young generation, especially for the environment, and for the health care system, in order to increase the competitiveness of the country,” Mr. Musillo said of the EU funds.
This idea of balanced growth is driving Italy’s presidency of the G20 group of industrialized economies this year, which rests on three pillars of “people, planet and prosperity,” Mr. Musillo said.
Italy also jointly holds the presidency of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference with (G7 president) United Kingdom, which will host the event in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. (See their Miami consulates’ joint Feb. 24 webinar on Resilient Cities and climate change here.)
Italy’s efforts at multilateral outreach largely depend on its own internal political cohesion.
This week, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, famous for his work shoring up the euro in the aftermath of the 2009 financial crisis, formed a government in Italy. The new prime minister faces the task of reviving a stagnant economy slammed by the pandemic while holding together a fragile coalition in a country where fractious governance and high levels of public debt have become the norm.
Mr. Musillo, the consul general, joked that the adage of avoiding politics and religion in conversation certainly applies to diplomats, but that he could foresee Mr. Draghi being “the right person at the right time,” given his extensive financial and economic background and a professed leadership philosophy embracing “knowledge, generosity and humility.”
‘Wheat from chaff’ in Georgia
Italy’s need to find new pathways for global growth is resulting in more ambitious outreach around the Southeast, and Georgia has proven itself a willing partner, Mr. Musillo said.
Already, Italian institutions have strong links with Georgia universities — both in research and study-abroad arrangements — and the need for solutions on the health care front has only deepened the push for collaborative solutions, whether in the creation of new drugs, medical devices or protocols for COVID-19 treatment and testing.
Mr. Musillo pointed to a partnership between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Rome Fiumicino International on COVID testing protocols as a prime example. The two airports worked with their respective health authorities (the CDC in Atlanta on the U.S. side) to create a way for approved Delta Air Lines passengers to bypass quarantine requirements upon arrival in Italy.
The consul general’s latest trip to Atlanta was to finalize that agreement, but on previous trips, he has promised to focus more on the city and state.
“if I can recall, we made some promises. And I’m very proud to say now that we kept those promises,” he said at the interview’s outset.
He was referring to a few things: First, he brought Confindustria, the Italian industry association to Atlanta in February 2020, the waning days of free-flowing air travel before the pandemic shutdowns.
Then, he helped spur the Georgia chapter of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Southeast, a 30-year-old institution in Miami that had never had a formal arm in the state.
Despite the pandemic, the chamber has been a galvanizing force for the considerable Italian industry presence here, signing an MOU with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and pledging a more robust slate of in-person activities when possible.
“From a timing standpoint, the only thing worse that we could have done would have been to open an Italian restaurant,” said Eugenio Fumo, the vice president in charge of the Georgia chapter, said during the Global Atlanta event. Still, virtual gatherings have helped sustain the chapter’s momentum, he said.
Lastly, “Team Italy” has been further bolstered with the addition of Filiberto Calascibetta, who for the past 18 years has worked in Atlanta with the tax and advisory firm at Roedl & Partner, where he now leads the Italian practice. The week before the event, Mr. Calascibetta was officially installed as the new honorary consul of Italy in Georgia, replacing Ryan Kurtz, a partner at Miller & Martin.
Mr. Calascibetta, who spoke toward the end of the Global Atlanta call, said he is looking forward to making use of his office’s power to renew passports for Italian citizens in the state. He’s also excited about efforts to bolster Italian language study at local schools, as well as future trade missions — both inbound and outbound.
“When things get a little bit more normal, we surely can open up with projects that will be more effective,” said Mr. Calascibetta, who has traveled on multiple Georgia trade missions to Italy.
Mr. Musillo said the consulate is using this time of crisis — a word he said comes from a Greek root meaning to separate wheat from chaff — to weigh its priorities in Georgia, where Italy has recently grown as a reliable source of investment.
In his last words, he returned to the need for Italy to help set the tone for the world’s future growth patterns post-recovery.
The country wants “sustainability — not in itself but linked to business, linked to the industrial base, linked to the scientific research, so we can work hand in hand with the prestigious universities, institutes of research in order to cooperate together to give nature-based solutions to this important topic.”