x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Italy sees G8 role for UAE

Italy hopes the UAE will be a key strategic partner in the Middle East when the European nation takes over the G8 presidency.

ABU DHABI // Italy hopes the UAE will be a key strategic partner in the Middle East when the European nation takes over the Group of Eight (G8) presidency in January. Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, visited the capital on Sunday and had meetings with his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Mr Frattini expressed his wish for the UAE to play a more prominent role in G8 activities, especially in regard to regional issues, such as Iran's nuclear ambitions, Paolo Dionisi, Italy's ambassador to the UAE, said yesterday.

Italy wants the country to be involved in regular ministerial and monthly working group meetings held by the G8 as part of its outreach programme and is considering inviting the Emirates to the annual summit in La Maddalena, Italy, in 2009. Ministerial meetings are held throughout the year on topics that include economic and social development, energy, environment, trade, justice and health. During his visit, Mr Frattini described relations between the countries as a "true partnership". Sheikh Abdullah and Sheikh Mohammed plan to visit Italy before the end of the year and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is expected on a return visit early next year.

"The UAE will be invited to all the G8 outreach exercises next year, even possibly the summit," Mr Dionisi said. "We believe it's strategic, it's important and it's obvious to invite the UAE because they are contributing in this region, not only financially but in terms of leadership and political thought. We need the UAE, we need the contribution of this leadership." As well as the leaders from the five largest emerging economies, which make up the expanded group known as the G8+5, representatives from developing countries including Algeria, South Korea and Ghana attended the 2008 summit in Japan, to participate in some but not all of the activities.

The UAE has never been involved in the proceedings. Addressing an international forum earlier this week Sheikh Abdullah warned that the development of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would "open the door for continuous conflicts" and threaten international and regional peace and security. On this issue and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, where Italy and the UAE both have troops, the two coutries have "exactly the same views," Mr Dionisi said. He stressed the importance of collaborating with regional countries to solve these problems. "Nobody could expect to solve these problems or to tackle them in any way if they don't involve and they don't consult constantly - I would say daily - with the actors in the region," Mr Dionisi said. "Of course the UAE, for us and for everyone, is one of the main actors of the region." A number of G8 nations have expressed their wish to expand the group and its outreach activities. G8 countries account for about 65 per cent of the world's GDP and 14 per cent of its population. The G8 leaders recently agreed to hold a summit to discuss global financial reform and to restart world trade talks abandoned earlier this year. In addition to consolidating political ties, Italy wants to work with the UAE in finance and on economic matters. During his visit, Mr Frattini met executives from the Abu Dhabi Investment Fund (ADIA), and offered to help facilitate investments in Europe and Italy. "We would like ADIA to be an active fund in Europe because we trust ADIA. We trust the government," Mr Dionisi said. The two nations are also considering a joint financial aid initiative in Africa. They have agreed to share research and work together to fight thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder that afflicts one in 10 Emiratis and is common in areas of Italy. Commercially the two countries are also growing closer. On Monday, Finmeccanica, the Italian defence and aerospace company, and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Company signed an agreement to develop common initiatives. Ties between Italy and the Emirates have strengthened over the past two years. Italian diplomatic authorities in the UAE now issue almost double the number of visas and more Emiratis are choosing to study in Italian universities. "We look forward to having an even closer strategic relationship in the future," Mr Dionisi said. lmorris@thenational.ae