2nd Oct 2023

Luxury goods sanctions seen testing Italian solidarity

  • Matteo Cunsolo, offers a specialty "bread for peace" that's coloured blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine (Photo: Carlo Casella)
Listen to article

There's been an outpouring of solidarity with Ukraine in Italy. Flags of the Eastern European country flutter from balconies.

Bookshop windows display essays on Ukraine, novels by Ukrainian authors, and the books on the misdeeds of the Putin regime by the late Russian journalist (of Ukrainian origin) Anna Politkovskaya.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • (Photo: Valentina Saini)

A baker in Milan, Matteo Cunsolo, offers a specialty "bread for peace" that's coloured blue and yellow, using saffron and a blue flower, Clitoria ternatea.

"Even a 10-year-old boy came to buy one euro of bread," said Cunsolo. "He wanted to help too."

Goodwill, it seems, has broken out all over.

But there's a risk that the mood may change.

In Vicenza, for example, entrepreneurs are increasingly concerned about the rising price of energy and raw materials, and the collapse of exports to Russia.

And all the more so after Brussels approved the fourth package of sanctions against Russia on Monday, including a ban on the export of luxury goods where Russia is an important market.

That's a big deal for Vicenza.

Located in Italy's northeast, Vicenza is a wealthy province where exports to Russia exceeded €400 million between October 2020 and September 2021.

But now Brussels has banned the export of individual goods including wines, leather products, clothing and jewellery worth more than €300 per item — all very important sectors in north-eastern Italy, and particularly Vicenza.

And this year, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Russians and Ukrainians will be largely absent from one of the province's marquee trade shows.

The best hotels confirm that, compared to previous years, there has been a drastic drop in bookings from Russian visitors. Vicenzaoro, an international gold and jewellery fair, is scheduled on Thursday in Vicenza, the provincial capital.

But what Claudia Piaserico, the president of the national federation of gold and jewelry companies Federorafi, fears is a double whammy, where trade with Turkey, a major hub for Italian jewellery sales to the Russian market, drops off too.

"Ankara accounts for five percent of our exports, which is about €370m," Piaserico said. "But if Turkey were to start struggling on the Russian market, of course, we would be affected."

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Italy overall exported goods to Russia worth around €7bn, said Giancarlo Corò, a professor of economics at Ca' Foscari University in the nearby city of Venice.

"Now, much of this export is at risk," he said.

"There are 20,000 companies in Italy that trade with Russia, and not all of them can absorb the blow easily."

Luxury entrepreneurs across the country seem to be among the most worried.

Last week, an entrepreneur specialising in high-end women's shoes, who makes 85 percent of his turnover in Russia, told a television news program that he was at risk of bankruptcy, even before the latest sanctions.

Skyrocketing price of energy and raw materials is hitting Italy hard: factories and energy-intensive businesses over the country — from steel producers to fishing vessels — are halting their operations.

Publishers are short of paper for books and pizzerias of take-away pizza boxes. And due to media-driven hysteria in some parts of the country, people are running to supermarkets to stock up on pasta, flour, sugar and sunflower oil.

The economist Massimo Nicolazzi, professor of economics at the University of Turin said he was "more concerned about producers in the agri-food sector" than the luxury goods sector.

The situation was best summed up on Monday by the Bank of Italy's governor, Ignazio Visco. According to him, the war in Ukraine is a tragic event that casts a shadow of severe uncertainty on the global and Italian economies.

But solidarity with Ukraine looks like enduring for a while yet.

That may be partly to do with how Italy hosts the third-largest Ukrainian community in the EU after Poland and Germany, with over 200,000 people.

The former Milan footballer Andrij Ševčenko is a beloved celebrity.

And there is a large Ukrainian community in Vicenza, made up of entrepreneurs, caregivers and workers. Women wearing blue-yellow ribbons and cockades are a frequent sight in the streets of the city.

Tetyana Kuzhyk, who owns a laundry just a stone's throw from the central Renaissance square, Piazza dei Signori, has lived in Italy for over twenty years but is originally from Lviv.

"I'm feeling a lot of solidarity from the Italians," said Kuzhyk.

"Here in Vicenza there is a Ukrainian church, Saint Joseph, and lots of people have brought everything they could, food, medicines, clothes," she said. "We have already sent five trucks from the church to the various refugee camps."

Author bio

Valentina Saini is a freelance journalist specialising in Italian social issues and politics, gender issues and the Middle East and North Africa region.


A call to impose 'sanctions from hell' on Russia

A call for "sanctions from hell" and to put pressure on Putin on every front, by the former Ukrainian ambassador to the EU, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, now back in the capital, Kyiv.

Leaders gather at Versailles after atrocity in Ukraine

Amid the pomp, and the grandness of the setting for an EU summit in Versailles, few breakthroughs were seen on how to rein in Russia's aggression in Ukraine, like the possible "war crime" at a Mariupol hospital.

Putin's rouble shift: mistake or masterstroke?

Russia's plans to demand rouble payments for natural gas purchases from "unfriendly nations," unveiled on Wednesday, further escalated the battle of sanctions with Europe, but experts are divided on what Russia will gain from it.


Punish Belarus too for aiding Putin's Ukraine war

While Belarus has not sent its own troops to fight Russia's war in Ukraine, the Minsk dictatorship has been heavily involved. As a result, Belarus must be punished for its involvement — what can the world do to sanction Belarus?

Latest News

  1. Slovak's 'illiberal' Fico victory boosts Orban, but faces checks
  2. European Political Community and key media vote This WEEK
  3. Is the ECB sabotaging Europe's Green Deal?
  4. The realists vs idealists Brussels battle on Ukraine's EU accession
  5. EU women promised new dawn under anti-violence pact
  6. Three steps EU can take to halt Azerbaijan's mafia-style bullying
  7. Punish Belarus too for aiding Putin's Ukraine war
  8. Added-value for Russia diamond ban, as G7 and EU prepare sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  2. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
  2. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  3. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  4. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us