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The World of Parliaments
 Special Guest

The Rt. Hon. Pier Ferdinando Casini
President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies

"Parliamentary diplomacy is changing gear"

Pier Ferdinando Casini
Mr Pier Ferdinando Casini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies

Q: Italy is strongly committed to combating world hunger. The situation has given rise to great concern since the last FAO summit in Rome. What do you think can be done?
Pier Ferdinando Casini:
We cannot deny that the overall picture is disappointing. Governments are reluctant to take decisions that might be misinterpreted by public opinion. It's easy enough to say, "let's help the poor countries", but much more difficult to actually do anything about it. For example, Europe is trying to convince the drug producers in Colombia that their coca plantations have to be destroyed; but at the same time we are closing off our rich markets to Latin America's agricultural products, to keep our own farmers happy. And this is only one of many contradictions. But we are moving forward. Following 11 September the war against terrorism has become a sacrosanct priority, yet we must not lose sight of North-South relations - relations between the rich and the poor. We are deceiving ourselves if we imagine that we can build a better and more peaceful world without addressing this issue.

Q.: Should the parliaments be more closely involved?
Parliaments must constantly scrutinise what their governments are doing. They have an extremely important function to perform, not only because of the enormous development of parliamentary diplomacy at the present time, and the new visibility of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, but also because they represent all the political forces in the country. Governments change, but by their very nature Parliaments remain everybody's home, and this is why they must ensure that their governments discuss these problems, which are everybody's business.

Q.: But can we really succeed?
We must! It is not a matter of charity or philanthropy or a mere rhetorical exercise. I hope that politics in the future will not be built on mere pragmatism, without ideals. The problems raised at the latest FAO Summit were not only worthy of debate on moral grounds - discussing them is also in the interests of the wealthy countries, which would be very short-sighted if they were unable to work to establish a global balance. It is natural for the weak to appeal to the powerful: when illegal immigrants land by the thousand on Europe's shores, Europe and European public opinion must look beyond mere immigration issues or the problems of Africa. Seeing the issue from that point of view alone will never enable us to understand the complexity of the world.

Q.: Is there really such a thing as a right to food, with all that this entails?
Of course there is. But saying as much is little more than futile rhetoric if we are incapable of distributing food to the hungry. The rich countries must help the poor ones, firstly at the local level, because as the FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf, put it, it is at the local level that we must teach people to fish instead of giving them fish to eat. I also think that a multiracial, multiethnic and multifaith society of the kind we already have in the West has to stand up to fresh outbreaks of xenophobia and racism. We have to combat corruption, waste and terrorism.

Q.: You mentioned the Inter-Parliamentary Union. How do you see the IPU's role in terms of international co-operation?
Parliamentary diplomacy is changing gear. In the European countries, as in the rest of the world, there has been a huge revival of inter-parliamentary initiatives. Bilateral contacts are important, but there also have to be multilateral fora where parliamentarians can meet. Indeed, I believe that the initiatives taken by parliaments and by the IPU may run the risk of duplication. In the Italian Parliament, for example, there are associations of parliamentarians that have signed agreements with associations from other Parliaments, and at the same time there are friendship groups within the framework of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I think that the IPU should become the world organisation of Parliaments. All of us should be committed to fostering its development, both by increasing the number of its members and by enhancing its importance. This "forum" for parliamentary diplomacy, which brings together representatives of Parliaments from all over the world, is also vitally important to the United Nations.

Q.: You are also deeply involved with the question of the Middle East. What do you think about it now, considering the situation there?
For us, the Middle East is crucial. I recently received Avraham Burg, the Speaker of the Knesset, and I have also been in contact with Ahmed Qorei "Abu Ala", the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. We want the State of Israel to be able to live in peace and in security, but we also want to see a future for the thousands of desperate Palestinians who have the right to a state of their own. The Italian Parliament has unanimously voted a motion on this issue. To be absolutely clear, the problem will not be solved by violence and terrorist attacks, or by incursions by the Israeli army. The only key to progress is returning to the negotiating table and urging the Palestinian Authority to take a stand against terrorism.

Q.: Can the IPU help in this respect?
The IPU is certainly one of the best possible places in which to work to achieve this goal.


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