New Humanity Movement

Politics and P.A.

Porto-GenovaThe Italian government and the EU have recently given final approval to a project to construct a railway link connecting the ports of Genoa and Rotterdam. At the heart of the events that have unfolded in the last few days, is an extraordinary story of a group of Genoans who, many years ago, simply but decisively, put their skills at the disposal of the city, in response to the sufferings of the Carrugi. Today we recount the unexpected outcome.

By Paolo Balduzzi (with a contribution from Roberto Zanovello) Genoa (Italy)

"You shall see a right royal city, set against a mountainous hill, proud in its people and its walls, and whose very appearance proclaims it as Lady of the sea.” This is how the poet Francesco Petrarch described the beauty of Genoa, one of the ancient Maritime Republics, which today is one of the largest ports in Europe and was the European Capital of Culture in 2004. It is known as the city of the Lantern, which is the lighthouse that guards the ancient port and is the symbol of the city.

And if Genoa was for Petrarch the lady of the sea, recent headlines in the local newspapers indicate that, in addition, ‘Genoa will also be Queen’. Final approval has been given to the third stage in a project to construct a rail link between Genoa and Rotterdam which will make a major contribution to the European transport network.

You might say that this is simply a political exercise, so what’s special about what has been happening?

We have to look back to 1991, to a group of people particularly concerned about what happened in the city and who were motivated by a strong desire to promote the common good using a ‘method’ based on fraternity linking both individuals and the community. They decided to combine their efforts to respond to the needs of the Lantern.

‘We had been asking ourselves whatspecific contribution could we make to the Ideal of fraternity in Genoa and that year we wrote to Chiara Lubich and we told her how we had decided to use our professional skills to carry out a project for our city that would address the greatest problems it faced at that time: unemployment and pollution’. These are the words of Roberto Zanovello, one of those involved in these events, who went on to say, ‘With the encouragement of Gianni Predieri, a member of the group, who suggested that we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to local concerns but to extend our attention to the wider world, we hit on the idea of linking the ports of Genoa and Rotterdam. This meant taking a unifying approach which meant going against the culture and the spirit of the time. The prevailing culture consisted not of forming alliances but of open warfare between the two ports and this was supported by politicians, transport experts and logistics companies.

From then on this idea, continually reviewed by the group as it evolved, attracted people who helped it on its way. It brought together new people as circumstances and situations demanded, in a way that we could not have imagined. The things that happened, over the course of years, brought the project to the attention of high ranking politicians.

‘Practically speaking,’ continues Roberto, ‘the project came together, thanks to a group of professionals in Genoa, who were not Christians, but who were inspired by an incredible passion and hope for humanity; they had an attitude that enabled us to conceive a project totally relevant to the city and to express it in technical language. One of the engineers decided to dedicate himself exclusively to working on the project and it was as if he found in it his professional vocation. He and I went together to Rotterdam with the declared aim of building together unity between that port and the port of Genoa.’

These two unexpectedly found the funding to carry out the necessary research: the results were presented at an international convention in Rome, in the presence of worldwide experts on ports, global logistics operators and the principal international navigation companies. From here, the study was sent to the World Transport Conference in Seoul where it was judged, ‘A practical opportunity for the development of the worldwide maritime economy’, while Karel Vinck, responsible in the EU for rail projects, confirmed: ‘This is the most advanced project funded by the EU, with the agreement of the national governments.’

It was decided, together with other lay associations, including the New Humanity Movement, the branch of the Focolare Movement active in the social field, to raise public awareness of this project. Genoa gets the message, its inhabitants make the plan their own, supporting it with their efforts. They recognised this ‘phenomenon’ as an extraordinary opportunity for the city, not only its end products, the job opportunities and the anticipated regeneration of several parts of the city that were particularly polluted, but also the ‘inclusive way in which it had been carried out so far. The outcome of this action was the signing of a ‘programme agreement’ between the Italian State and the local bodies, aimed at cleaning up the most polluted industries and based on the development of the clean and sustainable activities proposed in the project.

The project was also taken up by the Movement for Unity in Politics and from there the political aspect and the international element developed. Now it has taken on a life of its own; it is apparently no longer governed by its original promoters, it is producing unimaginable political results and has given a vitality in the community which gives witness to fraternity in action. Some speak of the ‘miracle of Genoa’, the local press talks of this ‘truly innovative’ strategy for Genoa, the focus on dialogue between different parties and economic bodies in order to find a common approach to the development of the city which, through the ‘bridge between two seas’ Genoa-Rotterdam, has found a starting point.

Representatives at the highest level, whether in the PD (Partito Democratico) or PDL (Popolo della Liberta), indicate today that the only possible way forward is to draw up a ‘citizens’ pact’, ‘a new model for Genoa’. This will facilitate the necessary cooperation between different elements of the city infrastructure and allow the work to start that is planned for March 2010 and which will make Genoa a ‘bridge’ for Europe.

So the plan now has become part of the culture of the Institutions, constituting a common heritage, involving the Port, the Province and the City of Genoa, the Regions of Liguria, Piemonte and Lombardia, International Logistics Operators and for the Port of Genoa; the Chambers of Commerce of the principal European cities situated along the rail route, finally becoming the axis of a declaration signed in Genoa on the 26th May 2009 by the governments of Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium and Holland, that it will take place, a sort of ‘pact of mutual support’, to resolve the bottlenecks that currently exist.

One initial practical application for improving the infrastructure, is a proposed train link between Genoa and Duisburg, in the heart of Europe and this is a good illustration of the effect the project can have. This proposal has been approved and will be co-financed by the EU as an example of how the European infrastructure can be developed.

The value of this project is also seen to be of strategic importance to the port of Hamburg which is proposing to set up something similar between itself and Duisburg, to integrate completely with our project, which will unite it with the port of Genoa as well as with Rotterdam.
As confirmation of its importance, the EU has most unusually increased its provisional financial support for the two projects by 50%, making them now a single joint project

So the Genoa-Rotterdam rail corridor will provide a model for moving both goods and passengers and will improve, in the first instance, the rail-sea interconnection and, secondly, the air-rail interconnectivity through the largest European air and sea ports.

Zanovello concludes, ‘I was recently summoned by, Marta Vincenzi, the MP for Genoa, to give presentation on the project: various officials were present, including the Deputy MP and the General Secretary of the Town Council, the person responsible for urban planning and a university doctoral candidate, acting as a consultant for urban aspects. I spontaneously described the beauty and the extraordinary nature of the Genoa-Rotterdam corridor for the city of Genoa, highlighting the profound importance of the role of the fraternal aspects and that of the city. It has been decided that the strategic approach to the realisation of this corridor will provide the blueprint for city planning at a strategic level; the new regulatory approach will have an international bent such as this project has given to the city".

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