His Excellency Pasquale Terracciano was appointed Italian Ambassador to London in 2013. Alain made this Classic Interview in December of that year, when he had been in post for just 6 months.
Is London the Capital of the World?
Pasquale Terracciano, you have been the Italian Ambassador in London for six months now, after previously holding the posts of Diplomatic Counsellor to the recent Prime Minister Mario Monti and ‘Sherpa‘ to the G8 and G20. Before that you were Cabinet Secretary to Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and earlier still Ambassador to Madrid. How are you doing in London?
Extremely well: I believe there is exciting work to be done here, because London is not just the capital of the United Kingdom but the great hub of globalisation too. We also need to reaffirm our traditional bilateral relationship at a time of particular interest for the United Kingdom, as it prepares to debate and decide its own future as a single nation with a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, and another on relations with Europe expected in 2017.
How likely do you consider breaks with Scotland and the EU?
Unlikely but not impossible. Mistaken political choices and events that unsettle public opinion could influence what seems today the most likely outcome. Or to put it another way, Scotland could slip out of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom could inadvertently slip out of the EU.
Would that be a disaster?
Yes, both for the United Kingdom and for Europe. The British government has always enjoyed a special relationship with the United States. But the Americans have warned the United Kingdom that leaving Europe would reduce its importance in the eyes of Washington.
What do you mean by calling London the main capital of globalisation?
All the decision makers central to global finance operate here in London, among other things enabling messages of fundamental importance to radiate outwards from here to convince international investors to continue to back Italy.
How is Italy seen from London?
Very positively, though at the same time through a lens distorted by stereotypes.
And Prime Minister Letta?
Letta is highly regarded. On his recent visit to London he made a great impression on the community of investors and also on Cameron, with whom he has established a good working relationship.
How many Italians are there living in Britain today?
About 240 thousand, but there are probably as many more who are de facto residents.
But do these form a single community?
The older generations enjoy a fairly intense communal life through traditional connections. Those who have come since the nineties are firmly integrated and perhaps feel less need of traditional links, because they feel at home in London.
In what areas do these Italians excel?
There is no area in which they don’t excel. Not only finance and management but also culture and the scientific and medical world, from Professorship at Oxford to the chorus director of the Royal Opera, from the Science Festival at Cambridge to the director of the Tate Gallery in Liverpool…
What sort of a country is Great Britain today?
Fascinating, because it brings together so many contrasting features. A country where London is no longer the capital of an empire but the true heir of that empire because it is the place where globalisation has put down its roots. Britain is also the home of parliamentary democracy and the home of English as the new lingua franca, while her island traditions have distinguished her for centuries from Continental Europe. This has made it possible for the British to live within a situation in constant transformation yet at the same time fixed within centuries-old traditions. This has resulted in political structures divided in a peculiar way between deference and power. Ceremonial pomp is concentrated on institutions like the monarchy that lack real power, while the real power lacks pomp and is hardly regarded with deference at all.
You are Italy’s ambassador at the Court of St. James and thus ambassador to the Queen: what exactly is your real role?
My role reflects what you have said. Formally I am an ambassador whose duty is to frequent the Court of St James rather than modest seats of power like Downing Street. My real work is to relate to Downing Street and the Foreign Office and maintain contacts with those who make the decisions, while my formal homage on official occasions is reserved for the Sovereign. Nor is this homage merely formal, because the United Kingdom has had the good fortune to have a head of state who has fulfilled her symbolic role with unequalled dedication and professionalism.
How is the British economy doing?
The economy is recovering and at the moment is enjoying the strongest growth of any within the G8. So far this has only been felt in London, because it is based on two factors: the financial sector and property, which are concentrated mainly in London and the South-East. The challenge now facing the government is to achieve an equilibrium that will permit this growth to reach the whole country.
December 1st, 2013