The script was practically written. The press conference, at times amused by Mario Draghi's refined Roman irony, had been effectively dispatched by the prime minister. About to finish, the former president of the European Central Bank, a man used to measuring his words to the millimeter, got out of the lane and called the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a “necessary dictator”. A few words that took journalists by surprise, a large part of those around him and the Italian and Turkish diplomacy, which took a few minutes to call their ambassador in Rome for consultations and fire a bullet at Italy. An excess of frankness. Or the first slip, according to the consulted diplomatic sources, of his recently inaugurated political career.
The unusualness of the Italian prime minister's departure from tone is not limited to calling the Turkish president a “dictator”. Draghi, asked about the incident in which the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, was snubbed at the meeting she held in Ankara together with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, also had no qualms about adding that Erdogan is a necessary dictator. "With these, let's call them for what they are, dictators that we need to collaborate, one must be frank when expressing different points of view, behaviors, visions about society, and also be ready to cooperate to ensure the interests of the own country. We must find the balance, "he said during Thursday's press conference.
The unexpected words of the premier Italian could put in difficulties Italy, Turkey's second European economic partner (the exchange is 18,000 million euros and there are about 1,000 Italian companies on Turkish soil) behind Germany. But they also starkly show the cynicism of European relations with certain countries. They are even more striking considering that the prime minister's diplomatic adviser, Luigi Mattiolo, was an ambassador to Ankara. Sources from the Chigi Palace, however, consider that it was not an error and that it is Draghi's way of communicating, "frank and direct." They also point out that his words coincide with the position already expressed previously on the violation of human rights in countries such as China and Russia and that they are in line with the line set by the president of the United States, Joe Biden. The predominant idea in the Chigi palace, the same sources point out, is that Draghi defended the president of the European Commission and the institution she represents.
An idea that is only half shared by the senior diplomat and former Commissioner of Industry of the European Union Ferdinando Nelli Feroci: “I have the feeling that these were not calculated words. A bit ultra vires. Erdogan is not a popular character and there are many reasons not to converge with his positions. But technically he cannot be described as a dictator. He is an elected president. With elections that, in general, respond to Western European standards. His words may have been a mistake. Although it does not seem bad to me to raise my voice before the Turkish president ”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu, in fact, immediately condemned the words of the "appointed" Italian president against the "elected" President Erdogan. Turkey immediately took Benito Mussolini out for a walk, essentially meaning that Italy is not there to give lessons on dictators, and yesterday it continued to demand a rectification. In addition, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Italian ambassador to ask him for explanations.
Some members of the government, such as Ivan Scalfarotto (Italia Viva), who considered Draghi's words a "lesson in international law", applauded the prime minister. Also some members of the PD, one of the majority parties in the Executive, and the far-right Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini. The leader of the League, in fact, called a demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy in Rome which he later had to cancel, probably to avoid an escalation in the conflict.
Just the only thing that should not be done at this time, recalls Stefano Stefanini, diplomatic advisor to former President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano from 2007 to 2010, former ambassador to Washington and former permanent representative of Italy to NATO. “No matter how many criticisms Erdogan can be made for autocratic aspects of his presidency, he is not a dictator. It is an authoritarian regime, on which great aspects weigh that collide with our countries. But he is not a dictator. And by calling him, he is given the moral authority to be on the side of reason. In addition, the one known as sofagate a protocol error is being revealed in the organization of the European Union. In each visit, those in charge of protocol and diplomacy from both countries discuss the slightest particularity. And if they haven't, it's a glaring mistake. It is the ABC of any diplomat ”.
No Italian prime minister has spoken in those terms so far. And the opportunity of the moment would point to different origins. Germano Dottori, Scientific Adviser of Limes, Professor of Strategic Studies and expert in relations with Turkey, believes that it was "an untimely exit, in which he had to see the ugly episode suffered by Ursula von der Leyen, but also some assessments arising from his trip to Tripoli", he points out in reference to the first international trip of the Italian head of government.
Libya is one of the places where the interests of both countries now intersect, especially in the exploitation of hydrocarbons. “The feeling is that the Italian premier has underestimated the Turkish irritation and Erdogan's ability to react. Turkey will demand that it retract and the crisis will ease in a way that everyone can look good on. Because Turkey has already shown in the past that it has the capacity to condition Rome by threatening to cancel purchases from Italian companies, ”insists Dottori. The diplomacy that has been lacking in the first hours of this crisis will have to work hard in the next few hours to smooth out Draghi's first landing on the more slippery side of politics.