The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - For every action there is a reaction. It is as true in politics as it is in physics, even if the casual observer is often oblivious of his environment. In a world consumed with attention directed towards the swearing-in of President Trump, the election of Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament could not have happened at a more propitious time for Canada.
Mr Tajani is a committed Eurocentric politician. A former journalist whose political roots are fiscally conservative, his sorties into Italian politics have never resulted in elected office, Nationally. The consequence is that over the last two decades he has honed his personal, political skills as a non-partisan, Euro Parliamentarian – a “Europe Firster”, to coin a phrase – one dedicated to a federalist “bigger picture”.
His urbane, sometimes self-effacing, non-confrontational, approach won over the majority of Euro Parliamentarians from the Centre and Centre-Right of the political spectrum. He will be a welcome change from his predecessor, President Martin Schulz whose sometimes abrasive and dismissive demeanour resulted in extra work for those tasked with building consensus.
Mr. Tajani could prove to be an invaluable ally in Canada’s goal to ratify the CETA. He has a demonstrated history of supporting those strategies aimed at growth and expansion rather than at austerity and retrenching. His approach is globalist more than Nationalist.
Canada, which is committed to and reliant on market access for its own well-being, especially in the face of a currently, outwardly protectionist President-elect Trump, will need friends in the world’s biggest economic trading block – Europe – to mitigate its risks.
It is helpful that both Global Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland and International Trade Minister, Francois Philippe Champagne, speak Italian. While that is not a pre-requisite for dialoguing in a truly multi-ethnic and multi-lingual environment like Europe, it helps to build the natural affinity and ease of relationships with people who may not require the use of translators except for the exactness of official documentation.
Equally important for the Canadian team is the relationship between Mr. Tajani and his former political colleague, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who is also the leader of the Centre Right political segment of the Italian Parliament.
Mr. Alfano has recently begun to express himself in language that is decidedly more ultra-montane. Perhaps it is a reflection of the impact of his chief of staff, former Ambassador to Canada, Gian Lorenzo Cornado. The Ambassador is an unabashed Canada-phile, having served here in three separate tours of duty. He knows Canada, its Canada-US dynamic and the country’s reliance on extra-territorial trade like no other Diplomat in recent memory.
Italy will be key in the re-organization, real or cosmetic, of the European Union. Mr. Tajani defeated a fellow Italian and close personal friend, Gianni Pittella, around whom the European Left-leaning Parties coalesced. Mr. Pittella is also a personal friend of current Prime Minister Gentiloni and former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, now Party secretary of the PD.
The point of all of this is that regardless the challenges of a new Administration in Washington, to which Canada must rightly direct much attention, our international interests are not limited to one deck of cards.