Libya: 100 Italian firms return their business home / News / News agency Inforos
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Libya: 100 Italian firms return their business home

Interview with President of the Italian-Libyan Chamber of Commerce

Libya: 100 Italian firms return their business home

In Libya, it is necessary to cease hostilities and return to the political process of rebuilding the country. The long civil war forced Italian enterprises and investors to terminate their activities or even leave the country. That's what President of the Italian-Libyan Chamber of Commerce Gianfranco Damiano thinks about this.

- What is the situation on the ground, according to your colleagues?

- We have an acting office in Tripoli, which we maintain daily contact with; and although the situation is critical outside the capital, life in the city goes on almost normally. However, it is complicated by a significant number of refugees, constant power and communication outages, lack of water and fuel, as well as problems with receiving money from banks. In Cyrenaica the situation is much more stable, there is a tendency towards restoring it, but in the south there are hot spots associated with the ongoing military clashes.

- How does the Chamber manage to function amid those military clashes?

- We function and have very close friendly relations with the Libyan members of the Chamber of Commerce and with many Libyan entrepreneurs. We were the first European country to run two economic conferences with Italian companies last year in Tripoli and in January this year in Benghazi. By September, we are preparing the third one (on health matters) in Misrata and Benghazi.

- And what GDP volume was previously provided by Italian companies' income in Libya?

- Excluding the oil and gas sector, several tens of billions. But today it is only a tenth of this amount.

- How many Italian companies are still operating in Libya? And how many are back home?

- Today there are very few Italian companies here, except for the oil and gas ones, they are engaged in consulting and maintaining Italian processing facilities.

- Is it possible to assess the damage caused by the conflict in Libya to Italian companies?

- Accounts receivable amount to approximately 350 million euros since 2011; also some of the loans of the 1990s are still in circulation, accounting for 230 million euros. The damage to installations and equipment at the sites of Italian companies has not been fully assessed, but should be some 25-30 million euros.

- Is there a threat of expropriation (nationalization of Italian companies' property – ed. note)?

- As of today, we have no reliable evidence, but I think there is a strong presumption against this.

- How is the compensation for the past expropriations exercised?

- Today Libya is not able to fulfill its previous economic obligations. The problem must be solved by the Italian government on an ad hoc basis, by means of adopting an economic support plan for the affected companies: some of them have already ceased to exist, while others are on the verge of survival.

- What can the Italian government do to support our entrepreneurs working in Libya?

- Government intervention is inconspicuous, primarily due to the sizeable instability in Libya. It is necessary to support companies that have for many years invested economic and human resources here and contributed to Italy's GDP. Today, without the help of the government, they will inevitably leave Libya, giving way to other countries, and lose their international standing and competitiveness.

- Conflicts with France affect Italian chances to affect the Libyan crisis, don't they?

- You bet. Given the European Union's policy, or the lack of it, to be more precise, especially as regards migration, the common line of Rome and Paris could become strategic. I trust Sassoli and Von der Leyen, who promised a new EU policy in the Libyan chaos. Italy is still unable to determine the direction of its policy in the region and is also subjected to pressure from Donald Trump. It's not us who manage the situation. The failure of the Palermo conference and the subsequent Haftar offensive have brought our shortcomings into sharp focus. The situation in Libya is a rich soil for terrorism: France has the ultimate price for this - I mean human lives - but keeps fuelling the conflict in Libya. For this very reason, such a multi-component context requires joint actions from Russia and the United States to immediately suspend hostilities.

- Looking backward, is it necessary to regard the decision to support Sarraj as wrong? How do you assess Haftar's offensive?

- It goes without saying that foreign policy failures of the countries involved, including the EU and the UN, have been affecting Libya from 2011 to the present time. Italy did not remain as neutral as Germany in the war against Gaddafi, so it missed the future strategic role of a mediator and, despite the repeated appeals by the African and Arab world, prevented the initiative of Romano Prodi to convene a round table, which had a good chance of success back then. The constantly changing UN and EU envoys fail to find a structure with minimum stability: in Libya, apart from the struggle for economic interests, there is a battle for the leadership between the countries concerned.

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