This past Tuesday, a Memorandum of Cooperation between the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) and the Conoscere Eurasia Association was signed in Moscow. The memorandum is aimed at improving economic and business ties throughout Eurasia. The heads of the two organizations, Antonio Fallico, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the CEA, and Sergei Belyakov, Chairman of the SPIEF, discussed the prospects for cooperation resulting from the memorandum in separate interviews for the Eurasian Communication Center.
Mr. Fallico, could you please tell us about the memorandum which was signed today?
Antonio Fallico: The Memorandum on Cooperation between the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) and the non-profit organization Conoscere Eurasia Association is the result of long-term collaboration between the two structures. We believe that this document will formalize and consolidate the existing cooperation between our organizations and at the same time make it more animated.
Specifically, we agreed that the head of SPIEF will head the Russian section of the Organizing Committee of the Eurasian Forum in Verona. This is very significant because the SPIEF can offer important keynote speakers from Russia and the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, while for our part we will be able to invite speakers [to the SPIEF] not only from Italy, but from other European countries as well. We believe that by combining our efforts, we will achieve the strengthening and expansion of the two forums' potential.
Why was the decision made to sign the memorandum just now? After all, the SPIEF and Conoscere Eurasia have existed for many years, and the situation with regards to relations between Russia and Europe in the recent period can hardly be called favorable.
Antonio Fallico: Presently the interaction between the two forums has reached a level of friendly and fruitful relations, and an understanding of the complexities and the degree of tensions in the international situation has only strengthened our intentions for cooperation. We strongly believe that economics must drive international relations, and not vice versa. We are confident that if we combine our common interests, such geopolitical conflicts can be avoided.
Are there any plans to expand cooperation in the framework of the signed memorandum, possibly with other international forums or government structures?
Antonio Fallico: I would like to emphasize that for quite some time already, we have characterized ourselves not as an Italian-Russian forum (as we did originally), but as a Eurasian forum, and with good reason. We are absolutely convinced that the role played by Russia in the development of Eurasian relations is enormous. Russia is a member of many international organizations, among them the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where it is fundamental to the structure, the center and axis of the organization. To us this is very important and interesting, as it opens up the possibilities of expanding our representation to China and to India –and let us not forget that Russia is also one of the BRICS countries.
How would you rate the level of ties between Russia and Italy in the current geopolitical situation?
Antonio Fallico: In the present situation, there is a big contradiction. On the one hand, our countries are united by a centuries-old friendship. The relations which have developed between the Russian and Italian peoples is something which, as they say, must still be searched for. On the other hand, we see now, for a year already, the strengthening and deepening of a geopolitical crisis.
In my personal estimate, at present over 15 billion euros are blocked by anti-Russian sanctions on business. At the same time, Italians companies are constantly turning to the Russian market, and are continuing to work within it. Of course Italy is an integral part of the European Union, which in its turn works closely with the United States. But [the] Italian business [community] really does not understand how one cannot be aware that the interests of Europe are not just about the interests of the United States.
Mr. Belyakov, what will the signing of this memorandum give the two parties, and what specific items does it contain?
Sergei Belyakov: It is obvious that any form of integration is better than disintegration, and that any cooperation is better than the absence of cooperation. In 2014 we participated in the Eurasian Forum "Innovation and International Integration," which takes place in Verona. It is not a very big event in terms of the number of participants, but is very useful, because there is an opportunity to communicate with Italian other [European] companies and to express our views on events.
The subject of today's agreement is that of cooperation for the long term; in this framework we can take advantage of the Innovation and International Integration Forum in Verona, and not only that event, but also others which take place throughout the year in Italy, which for us is very important in terms of promoting Russia and Russian companies. Plus we receive information about how Italian business is doing and what it may need from the Russian government. For our Italian colleagues it is an opportunity to use the platform of the SPIEF.
Our cooperation is mutually beneficial, and I am confident that it will be effective. Even before the signing of the memorandum, the first results have already been seen. In the draft program of the SPIEF it has been decided to create a Russian-Italian round table. Companies which serve as active participants in the Verona Forum have already expressed their desire to participate. Moreover, a number of serving Italian politicians are also set to be present there. And so, the results of our cooperation are already visible.
In your opinion, will the current situation in terms of sanctions and other economic difficulties affect the composition of the participants of the SPIEF?
Sergei Belyakov: Objectively measured, interest in the forum has only grown. However, the difficulties which influence the decision on whether or not to go to the forum have also grown. The tension which now exists in relations between Russia and its foreign partners has of course affected the composition of participants –this could be observed from last year. In 2014 we saw some refusals, but in terms of numbers there were few. I do not think that the situation this year will change dramatically. If last year we had hoped that business would still be guided by business logic rather than by pressures which have been placed on it, than this year we have prepared for this in advance, and therefore do not have any excessive expectations or unwarranted sense of optimism. I do not think that this will affect the success of the forum; it is organized first and foremost by the program, which we are preparing; we have speakers and experts which will provide for an interesting discussion. It is important for us to make the forum so interesting that that the heads of large companies will come not only to speak, but also to listen and to participate in a real discussion. But to come or not–that's their decision. We have done all that is in our power to make our forum interesting and to motivate our guests. Furthermore, we will be monitoring the situation. There could be factors which may improve the situation, or the opposite. In any case, the forum will not be affected.