Meloni Touches on AI’s Potential to Wipe Out Middle Class, Pledges Support for Ukraine

LaPresse via AP
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks in Rome on Jan. 29.

The following is the full text from a written interview with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The answers were given in Italian and translated into English by the Italian Prime Minister’s Office.

Relation with Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What do you hope to achieve during your upcoming trip to Japan next month? And regarding bilateral relations between Italy and Japan, what medium to long-term goals do you hope to achieve?

Outside of business, what personal experiences, impressions and perceptions do you have of Japan, and what connections do you have there?

Meloni: On a personal level, I have always had great admiration for Japan. It is a country I have visited in the past and it is always a pleasure to return, and I do so with a sense of curiosity, attracted by its ancient culture, traditions and advanced technologies. Japan is also a source of inspiration for those who, like me, believe that the role of politics is to interpret the national interest and a population’s deepest identity, at the same time as supporting peaceful coexistence and the international rules-based order.

The historical friendship that unites our two nations was further strengthened last year when Prime Minister Kishida visited Italy on 10 January and we launched our ‘Strategic Partnership’. Our cooperation is expanding on all fronts and my goal for the coming years is to support this important revitalization. I am thinking in particular of our launch of a structured policy and security consultation mechanism, the strengthening of industrial partnerships above all in high-tech sectors, and the implementation of joint scientific research projects. It is also essential to promote interpersonal contact between our citizens: the coming into force of our bilateral agreements regarding social security, working holidays and the co-production of films will play an important role. I also intend to support the impetus given to our defense collaboration by the launch of the program to develop a sixth-generation multi-role aircraft together with the United Kingdom, by encouraging other projects of common interest.

In the current geopolitical context, marked by multiple crises and attacks on the international rules-based order, it is fundamental that like-minded, allied nations like ours work together on the major global issues, and my visit is an important opportunity, at the beginning of the year, to carry on an in-depth exchange of views with Prime Minister Kishida, with Italy having just assumed the Presidency of the G7, continuing on from the impressive work carried out by Japan in 2023.

G7 presidency, AI

Q: Can you explain why you selected the AI for one of the major themes at the G7 Presidency, and why do you believe G7 framework for collaboration on handling the AI Measures is important? Do you think the regulation is necessary? What kind of communiqué or other specific outcome do you envision for the G7? Can you also elaborate on the potential concerns you may have about generative AI’s impact on employment in particular?

A: Last year, the Japanese Presidency of the G7 did an extraordinary job of drawing attention to a technology that can generate great opportunities but can also conceal huge risks for our societies. Generative AI systems can have a decisive impact on the world of work, information, global balances and our security. The Hiroshima AI Process is of crucial importance in this context, as it states the need to adopt guiding principles and a code of conduct for companies that develop artificial intelligence. For our part, we will further develop this work to ensure that AI is both human-centered and human-controlled, taking into account the fundamental ethical principles of humanity. We are also facing the real possibility of many, even highly skilled, professions being rapidly replaced by algorithms, causing social crises and contributing to a widening of the gap between rich and poor, potentially wiping out the middle class. It is for precisely this reason that we intend to focus our partners’ attention on the impact of AI on the world of work, involving not only companies but also civil society and trade unions in order to provide responses to what is a very real risk for our workers.

Q: What do you think about the political impact the flood of false information AI causes? What kind of solution do you think it will need?

A: This is a very topical problem that is spreading everywhere at great speed, with impacts that go from internal polarization of our societies to interference in elections and democratic processes. False information is a major part of hybrid warfare, which puts cohesion in our democracies under threat. We must strike the right balance, countering attacks and external interference while, at the same time, ensuring freedom of expression, which is a founding pillar of our democracies. I believe that our responses, which we are continuing to define thanks also to our joint work in fora such as the G7, must necessarily combine technical solutions and regulatory instruments that are appropriate for the scale of the challenge.

Q: As presidency of the G7, other than AI, what core issues would you like or plan to address and why?

A: In addition to the Summit that will be held in the Apulia Region on 13-15 June, our Presidency involves an intense calendar of meetings and institutional events. We will host 20 ministerial meetings, addressing issues of great importance. First of all, we will confirm our support for Ukraine. We will then address the conflict in the Middle East and relations with developing nations and emerging economies, with a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific and Africa, to which I dedicated this year’s first international event, also in view of our comprehensive Plan for Africa. Our ambition is to use this Plan to build a new and equal partnership model, that is neither paternalistic nor predatory and that brings benefits for all.

Italy will also focus efforts on key issues such as migration, climate, global health, energy security, food security, and the challenges arising from an ageing population. Also in this regard, we will build on the work carried out at the Hiroshima Summit, furthering discussions on supply chain security and the fight against economic coercion.

The G7 Presidency therefore offers us the opportunity to foster innovative and ambitious solutions, and we will strive, with determination, to achieve these goals.

Diplomacy, security

Q: Regarding diplomacy and security, from Italy’s perspective, what opportunities, risks and threats do you think have emerged for Italy in dealing with China?

You decided to withdraw from the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI); could you provide insights into the lessons Italy has learned from joining and withdrawing from the BRI? And based on those lessons, what kind of relationship does Italy want to have with China in the future?

A: The Memorandum on the Belt and Road Initiative was signed by a previous government, in a different international context, and it did not create the benefits hoped for. In line with what I had announced before I even took office as Prime Minister, I therefore decided not to extend its duration after it expired, and to redirect collaboration with Beijing towards more specific instruments that are suitable for achieving better economic results for both, pursuing our priorities and encouraging a constructive development of relations between Italy and China. This is without the wide-ranging strategic sharing that being part of the Belt and Road Initiative entails.

Q: It has been two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What effect has Russia’s aggression had on Europe’s and Italy’s security? What kind of breakthrough do you think is necessary to overcome the fatigue support by the United States and European countries? As the fighting is expected to be prolonged, what kind of solution do you believe is needed to resolve the conflict?

A: Ever since the beginning of Russia’s brutal aggression, Italy’s support for Ukraine has been – and will remain – unwavering. This commitment has multiple dimensions and it is no coincidence that this is at the center of the Italian G7 Presidency, continuing on from the great attention that was paid also by the Japanese Presidency in 2023.

This commitment stems first and foremost from the moral duty to help a sovereign nation that is fighting for survival, a duty we certainly cannot shirk from. However, it is also about protecting our national interest, because Ukraine’s security is Europe’s security, and because the need to safeguard the rules for coexistence that form the basis of the international system concerns us all.

The greatest weapon we have at our disposal is the unity of our action. Thanks to this unity, we have adopted vital measures to mitigate also the global consequences of this wicked conflict. Food security, especially on the African continent, which has been the worst hit by the impact of the ongoing war, remains at the center of our action, as does the resilience of value chains. By working with several partners and allied nations, Italy has rapidly ensured a clear, and necessary, diversification of its supplies (previously largely dependent on Russia) and of its energy mix, demonstrating the ability of our democracies to manage crisis situations and thwart blackmail. If the expectation was that support for Kyiv would crumble, then this certainly has not been the case.

Today, we are working to achieve a just peace and we will continue to support all efforts in this regard. However, a just peace cannot correspond to an unconditional surrender by Kyiv, as this would deny the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of a sovereign State, which are core principles of the United Nations Charter. We cannot accept a principle whereby those with more military might can invade their neighbours, undoing decades of progress towards the peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations.

European politics

Q: It has been one year and three months since you became Prime Minister. What are some of the accomplishments, including domestic policies, that you have achieved so far? What are your medium- and long-term priorities for the future and your reasons for positioning them as priorities?

A: During these months, the Government has played a key role in Brussels, making Italy’s voice heard authoritatively and contributing to the discussions on major issues. With regard to migration, we have openly presented our position on how to manage the migration phenomenon in a ‘global’ way, favoring the external dimension as a way to limit departures. This approach has gradually come to be shared by the other Member States and the EU institutions, and has been endorsed by the European Council. This was a real ‘cultural turning point’, focusing on the need to create comprehensive partnerships with the countries of origin and of transit that regard not only migration but above all the creation of the conditions to prevent the departures in the first place. Among the most significant concrete steps forward that have been made, I would like to mention the Memorandum of Understanding between the EU and Tunisia and the new agreements the European Commission is negotiating, first and foremost with Egypt, as well as the various EU initiatives to fight migrant trafficking, such as the international conference that was held last November and the new EU legislative proposals on this matter. I am also referring to the new significant funds for the internal and the external dimension provided for by the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework, which the European Council adopted on 1 February this year.

Q: The right-wing political parties are gaining popularity in Europe, such as the AfD in Germany, the National Rally (RN) in France, and the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands. What factors do you think are contributing to this trend, and what are the similarities and differences between this trend and the fact that FDI has gained support in Italy? Looking at the bigger picture, what kind of impact will the increasing influence of right-wing parties have on European politics, economics, and society in the long run?

A: Each European nation has its own political dynamics, which can only partly be attributed to general trends. I am nevertheless convinced, and my political action has always been inspired by this conviction, that the peoples of our continent want a Europe that is able to play a leading role on the global stage, without betraying or overriding national identities. I intend to continue working for a Europe that is a political rather than a bureaucratic giant, in other words that is able to meet the challenges that require unity among the continent’s nations, leaving it instead up to national Governments to deal with those policies that can be best implemented by the institutions closest to citizens.