ECB President Mario Draghi holds a news conference at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo: Reuters/Ralph Orlowski
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, shown here during his tenure as ECB president in 2018, met with Joe Biden in the White House on May 10, 2022. Photo: Reuters / Ralph Orlowski

Vienna Cammarota’s planned three-year, 23,000-kilometer “peace walk” from Venice to Beijing, retracing Marco Polo’s 12th-century voyage opening Asia to the West, serves as more than a symbol of the Italian political and economic renaissance coming out of the ashes of the Covid-19 pandemic and a world set ablaze by the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Vienna Cammarota and Countess Dona dalle Rose on #Venice retaking #SilkRoad with Senator Giuseppe Zhu.

For Countess Claudia Modica Dona’ dalle Rose, a respected human-rights lawyer and the founder of Fondazione Dona’ dalle Rose, the 72-year-old Vienna Cammarota’s trek to China through the Balkans, Central Asia, Iraq and Iran is the first step for Venice and Italy in wrestling back its historic dominance over the Silk Road from China and its trillion-dollars-plus Belt and Road Initiative.

The battle for influence between Italy and China for the Silk Road was witnessed during a scene with the president of the Italy-China Association and self-procliamed Chinese “senator” Yuhua “Giuseppe” Zhu, came to commemorate Cammarota’s departure last week from Venice by gifting her a Scuderia Ferrari cap as she departed for her “peace walk” to China.

Senator Zhu, who is also the largest importer of Ferrari supercars to mainland China, was lost for words when asked about the Chinese government’s decision to recall Ferrari cars for safety issues and the subsequent crash in Ferrari’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange.

It is understood that the Chinese government, angered at Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s opposition to Chinese investment in strategic Italian industries, exacted revenge by ordering the recall to punish Ferrari principal John Elkann.

Elkann recently merged Fiat-Chrysler with Peugeot and has become a major news-media magnate owning Italy’s La Repubblica and La Stampa newspapers and London’s Economist Group.

Stellantis (ex-Fiat Chrysler) chairman John Elkann at Milan’s Malpensa airport. June 3, 2014.

Mario Draghi’s unique background as former governor of the Bank of Italy and president of the European Central Bank now makes him someone that the United States can call, as opposed to Henry Kissinger’s quip that there is no one person the US can call in Europe. “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” Kissinger, then president Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, was quoted as saying.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine with all its political, military and economic ramifications has made Draghi the only “go to” leader for the United States, Europe, Asia and the combatants Russia and Ukraine.

This Tuesday, Draghi met with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office to outline the current state of play of the Russian-Ukraine war; the impact European Union and US oil and gas embargoes will have on Group of Seven economies; and food insecurity ramifications  around the world, especially those facing Africa.

President Biden said Italy had “been one of the closest allies we’ve had in responding to [the] brutality of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. And I just think that your cooperation at – sometimes at a greater cost to others to take on Putin and what’s going on in Ukraine has been really incredible.”

Draghi responded, “If Putin ever thought that he could divide us, he failed. There’s no question about that,” while raising the possibility of ceasefire talks between Russia and Ukraine.

“People think that – at least they want to think about the possibility of bringing a ceasefire and starting again some credible negotiations. That’s the situation right now. I think that we have to think deeply on how to address this,” he said.

Just as Draghi angered China by blocking investment, the Italian prime minister earned the wrath of Russia by advising US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on how to freeze Russian Central Bank foreign-currency reserves and barring Russian banks from the international SWIFT payment system, sources in the prime minister’s office said.

Even as EU leaders, such as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, are seemingly in panic at finding ways to replace the energy supplies they get from Russia’s Gazprom, Draghi has been talking to the leaders and energy companies of Algeria, Congo, Angola, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan on finding alternatives to the 40% of energy supplies that Italy currently receives the form of Russian gas.

“Draghi has already gotten promises for new supplies from the gas pipelines from Libya and Algeria and has used the war to open the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) from Azerbaijan through Albania,” an executive of Italy’s oil and gas major ENI gas distribution unit SNAM said, adding: “There is currently only three to four months of gas supplies in storage, but it looks like Italy will be able to survive without Russian gas with a regime of rationing and austerity and the use of Italy’s three offshore [LNG] regasification centers.”

Draghi also touched base with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the global state of play of the Russia-Ukraine conflict after his state visit to Rome in early May.

“Prime Minister Draghi has consulted with all the G7 members ahead of the bilateral meeting with President Biden, so everyone is on the same page,” a prime-ministerial source said.

On Wednesday, Draghi along with ENI chief executive officer Claudio Descalzi was to receive the Atlantic Council “Distinguished International Leadership” and “Distinguished Business Leader” awards at a VIP gala attended by the top political and business elite of the United States.

The Atlantic Council will also honor “The People of Ukraine” with the award being introduced by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who recently visited Kiev as part of an official US congressional delegation. 

While the rest of Europe deals with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic shock brought by the Ukraine-Russia war, Draghi has brought record US foreign direct investment to Italy such as KKR’s $11 billion takeover bid for Telecom Italia (TIM) and private equity giant Blackstone acquiring a 40% stake in the Benetton family’s Atlantia infrastructure group in a private deal valued at $63 billion, a deal even surpassing Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid for Twitter.

Benetton founder Luciano Benetton speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass at Art Basel Miami.

The Atlantia/Blackstone deal would make the Benetton family of Ponzano Veneto led by Alessandro Benetton, 58, a leading infrastructure group directly competing with likes of Australia’s Macquarie, Singapore’s Temasek and Chinese state enterprises for upcoming privatizations of highways and airports around the world.

One major target in Benetton’s scope is the upcoming trillions of dollars of public-private partnership freed up in the United States after Biden’s historic $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

One very attractive target for the Atlantia/Blackstone concern could well be the long-touted privatization of Maryland’s Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI).

Atlantia, which is the operator of what has been voted as Europe’s best-run airport, Aeroporti di Roma (ADR), can easily transform BWIA into the major international hub of the mid-Atlantic as the Port of Baltimore has become one of the best deep-water Panamex ports in the United States.

Like Vienna Cammarota’s lonely “peace walk” to China, Draghi’s behind-the-scenes efforts to bring the world back to peace has already produced real dividends for a nation whose dynamism is all too often ignored and underestimated.

Peter K Semler is the chief executive editor and founder of Capitol Intelligence. Previously, he was the Washington, DC, bureau chief for Mergermarket (Dealreporter/Debtwire) of the Financial Times and headed political and economic coverage of the US House of Representatives and Senate.