8 March 2015
Extract of the interview with Abigail Rupp, US consul in Florence for less than a year, published in Corriere Fiorentino on 8 March 2015.
By Paolo Ermini
What is your impression of Renzi’s Italy? A country that is changing or which you hope will change?
«I feel a great energy, on the part of the people and the government, to change the system. And it’s an opportunity. The country needs to develop its economic system, to push towards employment and combat corruption, to ensure Italy’s full qualification to carry out its role in a broadest international scenario, beyond Europe. Renzi is facing a great challenge. I have often heard people say: “If Renzi fails to make it, who else can do it?” I really don’t know if there is no other alternative, but I see a concurrence of opportunities.»
Florence feels it has an international calling, in line with historical experiences such as that of Giorgio La Pira and his peace dialogues with the mayors of the entire world. A Merkel-Renzi summit was held here recently, and the city prided itself with this comeback to the limelight. In your view, can Florence be not only a nice postcard but also a venue for the debating ideas?
«Very much so, in my view. This is the place where theories of government were born, with Machiavelli. I am convinced that here in Florence new ideas can grow, as well as new contacts, new relationships and new dialogues. And this could even be useful, as we saw in the USA. When a president or other ministers have the chance to discuss about State affairs not only in the capital but elsewhere, the atmosphere is more relaxed, more open, somewhat as in Camp David, where the agreements between Israel and Palestine were fostered».
Can the American universities also be a means of dialogue?
«Most certainly. We have over 40 USA programmes or universities in Florence and Tuscany that are in close contact with the Italian universities. And there are certainly very strong links between Obama and Prime Minister Renzi. Moreover, there are realities like Stanford or New York University which have traditions of political encounters, like the “dialogues” of Villa La Pietra (seat of the NYU, ed. note). It may be an opportunity for our experts on theory of politics to create a more extensive experience and dialogue.»
There is a lot of talk about the possibility of President Obama visiting Florence: will you do something about it?
«The President and Michelle Obama do wish to return to Florence, as they did many years ago for a holiday. I can’t make any forecasts but we are discussing a possible visit during the Expo, and are assessing who will be our official guests. The US Ambassador John Phillips told President Obama that it would be fantastic if he could participate in the event. I still have no news. But Florence and Tuscany are in his heart. It would be fantastic, but there are already many other occasions for cultural exchange and events that link our two countries. The year 2016 will be the 50th anniversary of the flood of Florence that involved many of our citizens, many of them were “Mud Angels”. It was a drama that stirred up so much solidarity. As an American I was impressed to see in every building a plate saying “the flood waters reached this level.” Also in Palazzo Canevaro we have a document, a list with the names of the Consulate’s employees who helped the city after the flood. Italians and Americans: we are a microcosm of relationships between our two countries.»
The visit of Mary Dario Nardella to New York, where he also met Mayor Bill de Blasio, had the precise objective of attracting US investments in Florence. Do you think or city has the ability to attract new investments?
«Absolutely yes. We already have important examples of huge US companies here such as GE and Eli Lilly. I heard from various sources that many positively view the actions undertaken in this sense by the Municipality and the Region. Two weeks ago President Enrico Rossi and Nardella came here to the Consulate for an event which the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy decided to hold here and not in Milan, for the first time in many years. This demonstrates the interest on the part of the Americans and investors. Last week our Ambassador visited the startup of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna di Pisa: a demonstration that Sant'Anna is not just a research institute but a reality that also seeks an outlet into business. This bond between research, universities, economy and innovation is highly interesting and diffused in Tuscany. Your region offers not only beauty and culture but also business opportunities. There are qualified workforces and a lot of quality university courses».
Do the Consulate’s aims and initiatives also target closer relationships between American and Tuscan enterprises?
«Yes. We are very focused on creating and attracting American investments here, and also scout out opportunities for Italian businesses in America. Last month we hosted an event which we hope will bring over 60 Italian companies to Washington at the end of March, to discuss with American counterparts. Most of all it is an opportunity for the medium and small enterprises. They have doubled, in one year. And I am constantly in touch with Regional President Enrico Rossi.»
The whole interview (in Italian) is available at: Corriere Fiorentino