President Donald Trump met with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House, on Monday, July 30th, as the U.S. is kicking off new trade talks with the European Union.
Trump welcomed Conte to the Oval Office for the Italian prime minister’s first trip to Washington since he took over the country’s new populist government. “Many other countries in Europe should follow the example of Italy on immigration,” is one of the very first things Trump said to Premier Giuseppe Conte. He added, “frankly you’re doing the right thing in my opinion.”
The meeting at the White House on Monday came after President Donald Trump signed a truce in the trade confrontation with the EU last week. Conte is the latest member of the European Union to hold meetings with the president amid ongoing trade negotiations over existing tariffs. Conte’s visit follows that of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who agreed to work with Mr. Trump towards “zero tariffs” between the U.S. and EU.
This is the Conte’s first visit to the White House. The prime minister addressed the issue of duties but not only that. Conte arrived in Washington well aware of the role of “facilitator” that Italy can assume in relations – not simple at this stage – between the US and Europe, and strong leadership role that the Trump administration recognizes Italy to have in the process of the stabilization of Libya. Precisely for this reason during the bilateral the prime minister asked for the support of the United States for the Conference to be held in Italy regarding the agreement of the political, legal and security conditions essential for the development of the next Libyan political and presidential elections.”
The Italian Premier and the US President have addressed three main issues, on all of which an agreement was reached. First of all, Italy is counting on the US’ support for the Conference on Libya to be held in Italy, as announced by the same Conte a month ago at the NATO summit, and which may represent a crucial step in the process of developing the conditions policies, legal and security essential for the conduct of the next Libyan political and presidential elections. President Trump has agreed to this.
Moreover, Conte also had another important goal in mind: to obtain Trump’s support for a “permanent control room” between the US and Italy for the enlarged Mediterranean in terms of fighting terrorism, greater security, immigration and, above all, Libya. With this control room – to be implemented through the mutual ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense – Italy would assume a role of reference point in Europe for Libya and a privileged interlocutor with the US. The idea is that Italy and the USA can together be promoters and supporters of the stabilization of the North African country. Mr. Trump has agreed to this as well.
Lastly, the issue of trade and duties: Conte’s goal is to also obtain guarantees from Trump that the interests of Italian companies will not affected, with particular reference to agri-food products. This is why Italy is satisfied with the agreement reached between Trump and Junker and hopes for a quick implementation of such agreement.
“With this fruitful meeting we have taken a further step forward to update our cooperation: we are two governments of change, so many things unite us,” stated Mr. Conte. “We are two heads of government who want change,” continued the Italian Premier. “A change which creates contrast with the established assets, the establishment: this is a common struggle.”
This meeting also comes at a time when when Conte’s two political sponsors, who share Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric, have stepped up their confrontation with European partners.
League leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said Italy would back the U.K. in trade talks with the EU, in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper. Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio said in an interview the government will forge ahead with its bold spending plans, setting up a clash with the bloc’s fiscal rules.
Italian government bond yields are up on the latest political noise, with the 10-year benchmark rising to as much as 2.8 percent on Monday. Since the political crisis in late May that led to the creation of the populist government the returns on Italy’s debt have increased and are now closer to that of Greece than of Spain.