Meeting Pompeo – Di Maio, the unresolved contradictions of Italian national security

The coincidence of strategic positions between the EU and the US has disappeared if ever it existed, but Italy still does not decide and finds itself playing on three tables without knowing which one to bet by Andrea Monti – initially published in Italian by Infosec News

The statements made by Italian Foreign Minister Di Maio after the meeting with US Secretary of State Pompeo reveal once again the stalemate in which Italy finds itself, unable to decide between the EU, the US and China. Although it is the Cold War II between the USA and China that occupies the international limelight, the less intense conflict between the EU and the USA is no less essential and requires Italy to make clear choices.

The EU has long since opened at least three fronts towards the US: continental taxation of big-tech profits, protection of EU citizens’ personal data and the need for a flexible relationship with China. To the political, regulatory and judicial actions of the Old Continent (maintaining trade relations with China also in the technology sector, web tax, blocking the transfer of personal data to North America), the USA has responded with the imposition of duties also on Italian products, the -for now only feared- disengagement from NATO and, at least in Italy, an aggressive policy of digital colonisation of public administration, from school to justice.

Another issue is the asymmetry of relations between the USA and individual EU countries in the exchange of information relevant to the protection of national security (a subject that should be regulated by a formal agreement, instead of being left to operational management). Italy is not part of the Five Eyes agreement, therefore, although it provides information to the US, in return it only accesses what the US and the other parties to the Treaty believe it should share.

Finally, at least until a few years ago, the US actively spied on political and government leaders of EU countries by doing precisely what they accuse China of as well as having carried out illegal actions on Italian territory based on the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

It is clear, therefore, that the political agenda of the two powers, although largely coinciding, is not entirely superimposable and the differences – which translate into clear regulatory choices and the “reading” of these choices by the EU Court of Justice – do not allow the simultaneous adherence of Italy to both (geo)political visions to be affirmed tout-court.

The Italian government continues to vastly underestimate the consequences of the ruling known as “Schrems II”, issued on 16 July 2020, in which the European Court expressly recognised the risk to the fundamental rights of EU citizens represented by the fact that American companies process their personal data. The two immediate consequences – but certainly not the only and last ones – were the obligation sanctioned by one of the German Data Protection Supervisors to adopt US intelligence-proof security measures and the investigation launched by the Irish Data Protection Authority on the export of personal data by Facebook to the US parent company, which led the social network to announce the possible withdrawal from the EU. The consequences of this EU policy stance could be of enormous magnitude, from the negative impact on business and institutions to the resulting public order issues.

The absence, in Italy, of an exact political position translates into the extreme difficulty of adopting legislative and regulatory measures already possible, without the need for new laws capable of creating a coherent system of protection of our national security.

The knot to unravel is not the geopolitical positioning of Italy in the Western area, which is out of the question. Facing a composite scenario, Italy should decide whether to first adhere to EU values or to favour those of countries outside the EU.

The choice is essential and indispensable because the Union has already clearly indicated the way and Italy could not afford, for the umpteenth time, to take it last or remain at the pole.

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