December 6, 2016

1955. Oil and Cold War Politics in Italy

Gaetano Martino Talks Italian Economy and the Upcoming Elections
An Agip service station in Cerignola, Italy 1958 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Rome

March 3, 1955

To: Ed Murrow, John Day, Jim Burke

The following are off the record notes from a private lunch with Italian Foreign Minister Gaetano Martino. The lunch was at the instigation of myself, Arthur Hutchinson of the London Times, Steve House of Exchange Telegraph, and George LaValle of Agence France-Presse. FYI, Martino has an allergy for cheese—literally can't touch the stuff.

Martino is a sophisticated type who speaks careful and halting English, and whose pedagogical background in medicine shows through. He gave an interesting insight into the workings of the coalition government of Premier Scelba. Martino is a member of the Liberal Party. Scelba, of course, is a Christian Democrat. Both are Sicilians. However, politically they often disagree.

Martino quoted as an example the recent visit to Rome of then-French Premier and Foreign Minister Mendès France. In discussing the problems relating to Western European security, Mendès was all for making at least a minimum gesture to get together with the Russians for some kind of negotiation to end the Cold War. However, Scelba followed the U.S.-British line that any such gesture would be interpreted as a sign of weakness and disunity among the Western Allies and was against it. The Italian Foreign Minister Martino, however, tended to side with Mendès on the theory that the West should take the initiative toward peace and not leave this issue at the mercy of Communist propaganda. Martino commented that Mendès France should have rightly been slightly confused by the Italian position when he left town.

One of the growing issues, getting bigger all the time, is the question of oil exploration and exploitation in this country. It already has been proven that oil is under Italian soil in substantial quantities in Sicily and Abruzzo, and some oilmen say that it is possible that the whole of the Northern Italian coast facing the Adriatic might have substantial quantities of the stuff.

Oil, like salt and matches, has long been considered a government monopoly. The question of allowing foreign companies into the country to drill and wildcat has brought great protests from the conservative wing of the Christian Democratic party as well as from  the Socialists—fellow traveling Nenni boys—and the Communists who are resisting American "economic imperialism." Martino said that on this question he also disagrees with Scelba. Scelba is all for maintaining government control. Martino says he is more interested in getting the oil out and into the Italian economy than just who does the job and risks the capital.

The Foreign Minister also said that he is not too sure just how farsighted the present policy of the quasi-government ENI monopoly is in extracting the butane gas from the Po Valley basins which now supply a major source of power to Milan-Torino-Bologna factories. This gas, he said, may be needed in later oil extraction, although very little exploration is being done in the Po area, where American engineers say there are vast oil deposits.

Getting further into domestic politics, the election of the new president by the parliament will come sometime between the first week in April to the first week in May. Martino, who seemed undisturbed by the prospect that he might lose his job, said that at present the possibilities are that current President Einaudi might be reelected or that Sgr. Malagedi, Secretary of the Liberal Party, might win the job. Malagedi is an extreme right-wing politician whose kicking upstairs would be welcome to men like Martino and the more liberal party members.

It is after this election that any immediate change in government, if it comes, will take place. Martino regards Scelba as the leading candidate to succeed himself. However, another strong possibility, the Foreign Minister said, is Christian Democratic Party Secretary Amintore Fanfani. Fanfani is now engaged in working out a reorganization for the party and ostensibly has said he would not have this job done until around August. Martino says that if Fanfani does not seize the opportunity in May he may miss it altogether. He agreed that the Scelba-Martino trip to the U.S. will enhance the political prestige of the present regime.

Martino predicted the passage of the Western European Union on March 8th or 9th with a minimum of sixty votes.

Regarding the Italian Communist Party, Martino says he has noticed no change in Togliatti's position since the Malenkov crisis or since the shakeup in the party.

Regarding the upcoming trip to America, the Foreign Minister said the talks would be general—that the visit is more in the nature of a courtesy call than anything else—but admitted that the question of U.S. investments in Italy plus the question of oil would come up.