An interview with the Italian ambassador in Copenhagen, plus other diplomatic shenanigans.
Enrico Letta will become the first Italian prime minister to visit Australia when he attends the G20 summit in Brisbane in November. Yet until recently, his arrival was set to coincide with the end of Italy’s diplomatic presence in the city.
Last July, Letta’s government announced its intention to close Italian consulates in Brisbane and Adelaide as a cost-cutting measure. The move prompted a petition, with 10,000 Italian-Australians opposing the plan. The South Australian government even offered to pay the Adelaide consulate’s rent if it remained open. The pressure eventually led to the scrapping of both closures.
“As the child of a migrant family I’m grateful that Italy will continue to have a presence in this state,” says Grace Portolesi, the South Australian minister who led the campaign to save the consulates.
It will be a busy month for the UN Security Council as three of its peacekeeping operations come up for renewal. Missions in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone all expire in March. Of the three only the operation in Sierra Leone is expected to end, 16 years after the mission was established when the country’s civil war was at its height.
This is very much how one hopes an Italian ambassador would live: an opulent, mid-18th century palace in Copenhagen replete with Venetian mirrors, oil paintings on loan from the Capodimonte in Naples and liveried staff. There are formal and informal dining rooms, original stucco, marble and painted ceilings.
“This is a historical residence and we want as many people as possible to see it,” says Italy’s new ambassador to Denmark, Stefano Queirolo Palmas (above), of the palace in Copenhagen’s royal quarter, Frederiksstaden. “We are trying to use it as a showcase for Italian culture and industry, and a place for the Italian community. We are having a jazz concert in the ballroom next week, for instance.”
The residence was bought by the Italian government from a bankrupt Danish banker in 1924 at a time when the two countries’ royal families were particularly close. For Palmas, the building is a symbol of the maturity of the diplomatic relationship between Denmark and Italy. Two minutes away is another Copenhagen landmark: Marmorkirken. This domed cathedral is in the middle of a building site for a metro station, part of an ambitious new underground circle line being excavated around the city centre and due to open in 2018. The Cityring is the most high-profile example of current Danish-Italian projects; costing €2.8bn, it’s the largest infrastructure investment in the region since the bridge to Sweden was erected and is largely being implemented by Italian contractors and engineers.
“Everything is Italian,” says Palmas. “From the excavation to the machinery and, eventually, the driverless trains. This is cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology, which Italy has a long history of and is very proud to give to the beautiful city of Copenhagen.”
Aside from the metro, Palmas characterises the trade from Italy northwards as being made up of “the four Fs: food, fashion, furniture and Ferrari” (although Denmark’s 180 per cent import duty on cars renders the latter even more costly than usual). “Many Danes have second homes in Italy and there has been an increase in Italians living in Denmark in the past five years,” he adds. “Many of them are from the knowledge community: visiting professors, researchers, members of think tanks and so on. Even in a difficult period [for Italy] we have fantastic human capital.”
- The embassy
Though the ambassador lives and works in the residence in Copenhagen’s royal quarter, the embassy itself is in the suburb of Hellerup. Italy also has a consular office on pedestrian shopping street Strøget.
- The staff
The ambassador has a staff of 22. Italy’s scientific attaché for the region is in Stockholm; its defence attaché is in Berlin.
- The challenge
Exploiting the potential of this prime piece of real estate to widely promote Italian culture, industry and commerce.