In New York for Monday morning’s opening of Panorama, an installation in Grand Central Terminal, Ivan Scalfarotto, vice minister of Italian economic development, addressed how the Italian government views fashion as a strategic instrument and Brexit’s potential ripple effects.
As Italy’s second-largest industry behind mechanics, the triumvirate of fashion, textiles and beauty will continue to be organized so that visitors will find a more cohesive system of runway shows and trade fairs. In addition, fashion is being marketed more cohesively to make it more identifiable to the rest of the world. Scalfarotto chairs monthly meetings with a committee composed of entrepreneurial associations, trade fairs and city officials from Florence and Milan to strengthen that effort.
Reports have estimated that Italy may lose anywhere from $600 million to $1.7 billion of its $414 billion in annual global exports, according to the vice minister. But he cautioned that the U.K.’s actual exit will be a “very lengthy and difficult process,” since the U.K. will have to renegotiate trade agreements with EU and external parties. With last week’s Brexit vote in the U.K. still sending shockwaves through the global community, Scalfarotto said the EU’s big dilemma is,“‘Where do we go? How do we respond to this trauma?’ Because it was a shock. … I think the only solution is to respond with more Europe rather than less Europe so that Europe can become more cohesive. It should start again to provide people with answers, a vision and hopes. A lot of people think of the EU as only a bunch of bureaucrats crunching numbers.”
He pointed out that the reason the EU was created in 1957 by the six founders was in response to the Second World War. (At that time, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community.) “In Europe, we’ve been fighting each other and shooting each other for centuries, the rivers of our regions are red with the blood of our youth. There have been innumerable wars. The response was to create a peaceful place where business could be discussed. The EU won the Nobel Peace Prize for recognition for having brought peace to a place where people had been fighting each other for centuries. For many people, especially young people, that represented a new rising,” he said.
Scalfarotto said the EU-established Erasmus Programme hasn’t just allowed “hundreds of thousands” of students to study abroad, but has encouraged their parents and friends to visit those countries. Low-cost airlines have helped to make that possible, he said. “It was supposed to be an idea of our future. In the last few years, the financial crisis has really divided the world between the winners and the losers. In the EU we didn’t manage to use the institution to fill the gap, to sustain those who were less equipped to face globalization,” he said.
Scalfarotto said, “We always felt that the world would progress. At this moment, there are forces in the world that are trying to move back. There have been situations — September 11, the Bataclan Theatre attacks in Paris and the attacks in London. The old concept of Daesh or ISIS is to go back to the Middle Ages. While it was clear before that we all had different ideas and plans but we were trying to move everything forward.”
From his standpoint, U.K. voters thought of Europe more as immigration and austerity instead of thinking about Europe as a big opportunity. “I think terrorism impacted on the idea of big immigration flows so people are afraid of people who are different. They think if you are a Muslim, you might be a terrorist automatically, which is completely wrong. They try to escape, to shelter under an idea of their identity as opposed to opening up.”
There is also a more personal undercurrent to the Brexit decision, Scalfarotto said. “Such votes affect people’s lives and their own histories or life stories. It’s about human relationships, friendships, plans for the future, studying abroad or working in another country. Sometimes politicians forget that their decisions have a direct material impact on people’s lives. Every time you decide to separate something, that cut always touches people’s life stories.”
Another attendee at Monday morning’s event, Andrea Illy, president of the Altagamma Foundation/CEO of illycaffè SpA, said, “Brexit will amplify the uncertainty around the future of Europe, and the way that Europe really contributes to solving the systematic unsustainability of our world today. The economy is unsustainable; there is a problem with growth, there is a problem with unemployment, there is a problem with finance and there is a problem with banking. This Europe cannot fix.” Illy said. “There is a huge unsustainability in the social part, not only due to immigration, but also terrorism. And internally there is an uneven distribution of wealth since the financial crisis started in 2008. Last but not least, there is this environmental unsustainability due to climate change. Is Europe the political entity that can solve these problems? The answer is, ‘Who knows?’”
In his view, the European Union has been undergoing an integration process for far too long in which it is not gaining sovereignty because countries are not ready to give that up. “So it doesn’t have power and as a consequence of that we are stuck in the middle of a united market with a currency and central bank, but we don’t have integration of fiscal policies.” he said. “It’s like driving a car with only one side of the wheel. It’s kind of strange.”
Compounding this situation and slowing it down is anti-Europism, the result of uncertainty and citizens being unsatisfied and complaining, Illy said. “This is not only about the U.K. It is about most of the countries in Europe. I believe now it’s a matter of take it or leave it. Either the EU takes the opportunity to dramatically accelerate and improve the integration process so that it can have a positive impact on the images and reputations of its European brothers or it will forcefully go in the other direction, which is progressive erosion.”