Beijing’s question

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I am in Beijing. Yang Rui, an anchor-man of  the Chinese television CCTV, addresses me with very generic questions. Somewhere in the middle of the interview he strikes: “Do you Italians, realize that your democracy is alternative to modernity? That today counts only the speed of the decisions and of the results?” Then he adds something on the fact that we are no longer able to build a road, a railway, a stage, a gas pipeline, an airport. We are blocked by “votes and vetoes” and do not look towards the future, he adds. He refers also to Europe. Obviously, I talk to him about the complexity of democracy. I praise our freedom, that is obviously not incompatible with modernity. Then, I talk about the high-speed trains that connect in a very short time extraordinary cities such as Rome and Florence or Venice. I describe their beauty and civilization, a suggestion, that always works abroad.

I am quite aware of the fact that I am using old and somewhat stale examples. And, speaking of “vetoes”, come back to my mind – but I am not telling them to you – two numbers: three thousand and eight. Three thousand kilometres of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). It is the pipeline that will bring gas from the fields of the Caspian Sea to Europe, via Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, the Adriatic sea, and Puglia. A work of energy supply which is essential for Italy, especially after tensions with Russia have blocked the other pipeline, South Stream. I have followed the dossier for months. Finally, I went to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, to conclude the agreement on the basis of which the TAP, instead of taking the northern route which would not have touched Italy, will reach the Adriatic Seam as we wanted, taking advantage of the pipelines of SNAM as a point of connection with continental Europe.

This is the point when it comes to the other number: eight. Eight  is the number of kilometres of gas pipeline on the Italian territory. Those which kept the TAP suspended for months. Because it is only in Italy that general unrest, demonstrations, vetoes that were more or less discussed by the local authorities have frozen such a strategic project. Eight kilometres out of three thousand. Make no mistake, in this case the obsessive search for “strong powers” does not hold water. There were no substantial objections that could have justified those resistors. Reassurances on the environmental plan were and are still valid. And that this project represents a priority interest for a country like ours, that has invested more than others in renewable energy and in gas.

The story, however, explains well how Beijing’s question, although brutal, probably scored the thorniest issue of the Western democracies.  After the interview, I linked the meaning of those words back to the speech made some time ago, not by the dictator of an emerging country, but by a democratically elected premier of a member states of the EU and a full member of the European Council. I am referring to the head of the Hungarian government, Viktor Orbàn, who said, in short, that he felt attracted by political systems capable of making decisions and doing things. Turkey, Singapore, China, rather than European democracy.

And rather distant also from Italian democracy, as would say – understandably, I fear – the exasperated small Venetian businessman, who told me some time ago that he had to wait for the seven years the authorization to expand his production site, failing without leave of appeal, the procedures and the timing of our democratic rites.

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