Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-17)




  1. May I begin by thanking you very much, Ambassador and your Political Councillor, for coming to spend a little time with us today. I know you have had a very, very busy day, you have been in Downing Street on the Working Group Task Force on the IGC. I hope you will find this a reasonably relaxed occasion.

  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) I am impressed.

  2. I know that you will make a short opening statement on the record. Ambassador, you are welcome to invite your political councillor to intervene as you wish. Could I ask you to begin with an opening statement?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) In the opening statement the first thing that I want to stress is that I am not an expert in European Union affairs. I was a bit frightened by some of the questions that you kindly forwarded because they were so technical, such as the ones on the chemical industry and others of that kind. I prepared some written answers on these which, perhaps, I might leave with the Committee if you deem it fit. Rather than going through the priorities of the Italian presidency what I would like to say is that certainly it is a presidency that falls at a very complicated and very important time for the European Union, not only because of the international situation but because in the life of the Union we are going through a very important phase, with the ten new members that have become part of the Union and with the results of the Convention and with the new constitution, which is going to shape the European Union not forever but for at "least 20 years". I do not think that anybody can be more ambitious than that. The European process is an on-going project and this is certainly very clear. I know it is time-consuming and psychologically difficult every now and then to go through this constitutional-building process but that is how it is. It is very difficult to forecast what the results of the presidency will be. All presidencies start with very ambitious programmes and then the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What I think should be stressed is that on previous occasions the Italian presidency has been successful in helping to overcome some very big obstacles in the path of Europe. I am quite confident that this will also be the case this time. What is also certain is that the administration, the diplomats, the officers, and the Government will do their best to act in the interest of all of the member countries. I do not believe for one moment that the doubts that you have seen, in the press, and repeated now and then, on the fact that certain developments connected with internal politics in Italy might reflect themselves on the Union are founded. This is not the case, and it has never been the case for any other member country. If we let the internal difficulties and the internal debate reflect on the life of the union then the task of our Presidency would become even more complicated than it is now. I might stop at that. I think the general priorities of the Italian presidency might come up in the course of answers to questions.

  3. Thank you very much indeed. I would like to start with the IGC, this is fresh in your memory from your travails this morning, I understand from your presidency paper that if negotiating conditions permit you should be able to conclude the IGC, not sign it, during the Italian presidency, it probably would not be signed until 2004. Is it a realistic timetable to think that the IGC can be finished by the end of the Italian presidency?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) Yes. This is the core question. This is the number one problem. This is the priority not only for the presidency but indeed for all Member States. We are convinced, and I think this is a conviction that is widely shared by other member countries, that the results of the Convention are reasonably good. They are certainly a compromise, they were bound to be a compromise. They are very easily criticised, indeed they are criticised both by those who think they are not bold enough, they do not go beyond what is now possible in the field of political integration, and by those that say they are too much already and they represent a kind of prerequisite to a unified state. Indeed there is a French member of parliament who was also a member of the Convention who came out with a very witty remark—you have probably seen it—he said, "it is not very fair to criticise the results of the Convention by comparing this document to the document that came out of the Philadelphia Convention for two reasons. First of all in Philadelphia there were only 13 states, whereas in the Convention there are now 25, and then in Philadelphia the English problem had already been solved". Jokes apart, we think that it was good. Indeed in the context and in the dialogue that we have had with other member countries I think that there is a general consensus in approving, as much as possible of this document without starting to fiddle too much with the things that any Member State does not like. Of course in this document there are certain things that are not particularly acceptable to one country or another, but if we start again we will never, ever reach a conclusion. If we are honest enough with ourselves, and remember that this is not going to be the Magna Carta for centuries, because so many things will have to change, and if we remember that at best this is going to be useful for "the next 20 years" I think we can all live with the results. Beyond the political statements that any government or any politician might want to make because of the eternal problems and the eternal needs of politics I think the consensus is not to start dissecting this document again. There are many things that are vague and there are many things that can be rephrased. In fact, as it happened today in London, we have this task force that goes round the capitals in order to prepare the groundwork for ministers and then for the heads of government. It is the intention of the Italian Government to convene the intergovernmental conference on 4 October in Rome. We have already asked for the opinions that are necessary of the Commission and of the European Parliament. After that, there will be other meetings and it is quite possible that the final work could come at the time of the second council in Brussels on 12 December. At that point the new treaties will be more or less written and then, it seems like a dream, but it is not unrealistic, we might try and sign them some time between the official date of accession on 1 May of the ten new Member States and the European elections. The practical reason for choosing this period is, of course that, if we wait for a new European Parliament to be sitting in Strasbourg then they will want to start the discussion again on the results of the Convention. The Italian Government would like to sign the Treaty in Rome, even if it is not in the period of our presidency. My personal opinion is that the new "Treaty of Rome" sounds better than the new Treaty of Maastricht, or something of that kind. This is not a big problem, the important thing is to sign the treaty. I do not want to say it is not important to sign it in Rome but, of course, signing the document is more important than the choice of place. Yes, in short, it is a realistic perspective.

  4. If I can have a brief supplementary, I am testing your diplomatic skills in asking this question. You recounted that lovely story about Philadelphia, the fact that the English problem had been solved. Is there a feeling amongst Britain's partners in Europe that in the course of this IGC the biggest obstacle they are going to come up against is the United Kingdom?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) No, no. The United Kingdom is not perceived as the biggest obstacle. The latest decisions of the British Government are perceived to be important. Of course we understand the problems and difficulties of many member countries, there are problems that are symmetrical really. There are special psychological reasons why Italy has always been so keen in having the United Kingdom as a very prominent, active member inside the European Union, there is also a great understanding of the need to wait until certain problems and certain convictions come to maturity in this country. If you read the report on Europe that was written by Sir Con O'Neill after the accession of Britain to the then European Community there are two pages devoted to Italy where the role played by Italy during all those long years of negotiations are very well explained. I think that the psychological attitude in Italy has not changed. Sometimes one reads in the press these over-simplifications, the Bonn-Paris axis, the Rome-London axis and they are obviously gimmicks and slogans that do not respond to reality. What is really very true, what I have witnessed grow in the course of the 40 years of my service in the course of my life span, is the birth of a real "European society". European Countries have become so closely interconnected and intertwined that they cannot be separated any more. It is a physical and psychological perception that is very clear if you go round the European continent. That is perhaps not so clear and so vividly felt here. We need time. What I tell my British friends the whole time is that relations between European countries are like relations between a husband and a wife: you may quarrel during the day but you are married and your life is bound to be together, at night you go to bed and you exchange a kiss and make peace. This is how it is. All of these exercises in futility, the rows, the irritations are minor problems which may be useful from time to time to sell more newspapers but are totally ridiculous.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Lord Jopling

  5. Ambassador, perhaps you will forgive me for not having diplomatic good manners but manners such as they are for a mere politician. Have you got the slightest sympathy with those people who say that they find it unfortunate that Italy's turn is the one which has come up to preside over the IGC? I say that thinking of Italy's behaviour and record as a member of the community. I was looking at the internal market score board which tells us that the implementation deficit of internal market laws expresses a percentage of directives which have not been written in international law after the deadline but also Italy has significantly the worst record of all of the countries in the community. My memory goes back again to the period when I was Minister for Agriculture when we introduced the milk quota—the blood of most of us in Europe as agriculture ministers is on the carpet because we implemented the decision that was taken—and of course Italy did not and Italy was confronted with a very large fine. Italy has done its best to wheedle its way out of that fine and even within the last few months has, by what I would regard as sheer blackmail, made a deal to reduce the impact of that fine by agreeing to the new savings tax regime. The truth is in the view of many people, and I am one, it is a pity that the country who preside over the IGC is not one who had rather a better record in observing European law.
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) If the question is, "do I have sympathy for the people who say this?", let me say, frankly, I do not care. I think there is a lot of political prejudice behind that. I have heard many people saying it is a pity that the IGC comes at a time when Italy holds the presidency because of the extreme, excessive pro-European record of Italy. We may have different and divergent opinions on this problem. It is one of those problems, like criticism on the constitution, that sometimes go both ways and lack different according to your point of view. I am not really an expert so I could not possibly tell you on how many of these laws that have been implemented the Italian record is worse than that of many other countries. A solution has been found on the milk problem and I understand the fines will be paid. Italy could be criticised harshly for some very good reasons, but either it is pro Europe or it really wants to sabotage the European Union, and those two things cannot be true at the same time.

  Chairman: We are moving on to foreign affairs.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

  6. Ambassador, in contrast to Lord Jopling may I say I warmly welcome the Italian presidency. As you will see I am wearing the tie of the Italian presidency as a gesture of solidarity. I personally think that Mr Belusconi has a considerable amount to offer in areas of liberalisation and economic reform. That is my attitude to the Italian presidency. Could I just ask a question, one of the priorities which has been set for the presidency is to repair EC/US relations. I wonder if you can give us some idea what specific steps could be taken by the EU under the Italian presidency to bring that about?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) That is a very good question and this is, in the field of international relations, the number one priority, even if we have so many other pressing problems, like the Middle East, like the war on terrorism. Because good and cordial relations with the US are a prerequisite to any other progress that the European Union can make, not only on the international scene but also to put its own house in order. For that reason you are right in saying that it is fortunate that these six months fall under Italian responsibility because Italy has not only been pro-European but also, as you know, it is strongly pro-American. The Prime Minister enjoys very good personal relations with President Bush, he is going to see him this very week in Texas, and I think it is a good way to start the work of the presidency. According to the polls, public opinion in Italy is overwhelmingly in favour of the on-going process of European integration. It is also overwhelmingly in favour of good relations with the United States. For historical reasons, each European country has it own reasons to have good relations with the United States. Italy has a very big Italo-American community, as you know, in the United States, and that is, of course, at the base of any political judgment. It is very clear, very, very clear to the Italian Government that we must make a very clear distinction from the exaggerations of the press about certain clashes of personalities and about the long-term interest of our societies as a whole. These long-term interests do not leave any space whatsoever for rivalry, let alone controversy with the United States.

Lord Williamson of Horton

  7. Ambassador, could I just ask you a question you have not had notice of, and it is covered by your priorities, and that is the priority which the Italian presidency is going to give to relations with Russia. We recently published a report on relations between the European Union and Russia and, we are very attentive to it here. I see in your document you do say you want to give a "qualitative leap" in relations with Russia. I just wanted to know whether you could comment on the sort of priorities and whether there are any specific points in relation to Russia you wanted to mention?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) It is certainly very important not to leave anybody behind, the world is becoming so complicated one cannot leave anybody behind. Sometimes it is even, I would not say misleading, but certainly complicated to use the word "priority" because in fact we are surrounded by a whole set of priorities. Mending fences—I do not want to use that expression—cordial relations with the United States are essential, on the other hand you have Russia and we need to take into account the feelings and the difficulties of this very big European country that looms so largely on the whole continent of Europe. Russia is bound to become more and more important now that the borders, the eastern borders of the European Union are pushed towards the west. We have seen repeatedly so many times in articles of political analysis that the reason why Russia looks for good, cordial relations with Washington is that there is no alternative. We must be sure that besides the "no alternative" there will be other reasons that might convince these people to have normal, fruitful, important and deep relations with the European Union. I lived in Moscow in the 60s when the "good old Soviet Union" existed and I have lived in Romania. For a while, in the past many European countries, western countries, were very competitive in the approach to these political physical and geographical entities. I think we must go beyond that. All of us have a interest, above everything else, in the education of Russian society. The building of the European Union is very much an education for our own national societies, and this is particularly true of such a big country that has no historical knowledge of democracy and of human rights as we understand them.


  8. Thank you very much. At this stage could I ask a question about the Middle East peace process. Our understanding is that during your presidency the international conference will take place in Sicily?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) This is what we propose. This has not been chosen. We are at the disposal of the parties concerned if they want it. Why did we propose Sicily? If I am allowed a joke, when I was in Jordan the Arabs used to say, "Sicily is the only Arab country that never declared war on Israel because there is a long-standing tradition of relations with the Arab world". In all the big Sicilian towns there is a quarter which is called the Casbah which was occupied by Arabs in the past and is now again being occupied by Arabs because there are so many immigrants who work in agriculture and in the fishing fleet. Almost all the fishing fleets that go round the Mediterranean have captains that belong to European countries and all of the crews are Arabs. That is a fact of life. The Middle East is certainly a priority. The Israeli/Palestinian process is a priority if we do not want to complicate a solution for Iraq, if we want to put the overall relations between the West and Islam on a good path. The West is perceived as unjust in the Arab world, as biased and deaf to the needs of the poor Palestinian and Arab societies. In order to change this perception, which is very dangerous, we need a new process. On the Palestinian side, but also on a realistic side, peace was always considered possible only in the presence of a great intervention, a military American presence, because it is only the American military might that can safeguard the safety of Israel and, of course, of great economic support by the European Union. Both things are still necessary but the European Union cannot confine itself to sending aid, we must also do something in the political field. The presence of the European Union is welcomed by both parties. If phase one goes well then we must go on. There are certain signs that might induce us to have a certain amount of optimism, particularly because the US administration is determined to push for peace. On other occasions in the past we have been disappointed. Let us hope this is not the case now; certainly this is essential if we do not want to complicate to the point of no return other problems, other crises, and in the last resort, the long-term relations between, as we said in the past, Christianity and Islam but certainly between the West and Islam. Because there is no difference in the perception between the European Union and the United States.

  9. Thank you very much. If the Quartet and the interested parties do determine they would like to have a meeting in Sicily we wish it well. I would like to move on. We were going to ask you a question at this stage about the row going on over biotech products.
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) I have prepared a written answer. It is very important.

  Chairman: Yes, please read it. To get it on the record we had better ask the question first.

Earl of Selborne

  10. The United States and the European Union have a difference of opinion about agricultural biotech products, and the United States are going to take this to the World Trade Organisation. Perhaps you can tell us what the Italian Government's position is on this and how you are going to try and resolve the problem?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) On the basis of the 2002 Agreement on the proposal for a Regulation on genetically modified food and feed the Italian Presidency will work, in the light of the European Parliament's opinion, to ensure that agreement is reached at second reading. The Italian Presidency also intends to push ahead with the finding common rules on the co-existence of GMO and non-GMO farming. The European Parliament has given the green light to a series of regulations governing the labelling of genetically modified organisms in food products. The new legislation will allow produce containing GMOs above 0.9 per cent to be traced from the farm through to the table. Below 0.9 per cent GMO presence will be considered accidental. The decision could pave the way for an end to a four year moratorium on approvals for new biotech-derived designed products, which the US recently asked the World Trade Organisation to overturn. Italy with other Member States, (France, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece) has stressed that watertight rules protecting consumers and farmers must be a condition for any move to overturn the moratorium.

  Earl of Selborne: Thank you very much.

  Chairman: That is fine.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

  11. At the meeting in Cancun at the end of October the European Union is obviously, as always, going to play a leading part. I wonder whether you could tell us whether the Italian presidency would be ensuring that the agreements reached in the Agricultural Council a couple of weeks ago—very broadly welcomed by people in Britain—will be fully translated into the negotiating position of the European Union so that the European Union are in a position to make a real contribution to freeing up trade in agricultural products?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) If I may read a few lines taken from a speech by the Italian foreign minister. Quite frankly I am not really able to give you any detailed position. He said, "the Italian presidency will of course grant a visible and consistent presence of the European Union in relations with the other geographical areas of the world in the framework of international organisations and forums. In this connection the WTO ministerial meeting to be held in Cancun next September should be considered as an important step on the way to international trade liberalisation". I would like to write a piece on this and send it to you[1]

Baroness Maddock

  12. Ambassador, my question is about chemical policy. We would like to know how the Italian Government are going to take forward the proposals from the Commission to reform European Union chemicals policy and specifically the proposed unified system for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals, which is commonly known as REACH?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) I am better prepared for this. With a view to the presentation of the framework legislative proposal on chemicals (due to be submitted by the Commission before October), the Italian Presidency intends to initiate the Council's discussion of the Regulation, ensuring that adequate attention is given to both evaluation of environmental aspects and environment aspects relating to industrial competitiveness. The current proposal is still unbalanced and might charge European companies (especially the small and medium sized ones) with excessive burdens. This responds also to a new approach to environment issues that the Italian presidency wishes to push through in the coming months. The new Member States and the Commission have a duty to learn the lessons of the Johannesburg Summit and to open a new chapter in European environment policies. These should be based on "positive action" and voluntary agreements between public authorities and business rather than on the "system" of bans and by environmental bureaucracy. Is that too vague?

  13. If you have anything else that would be welcome.
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) I do not for the time being.

  Baroness Maddock: That is fine. Thank you.

  Chairman: There was a good article in the Financial Times today which seems very much to support the EU chemical plan saying that it could save 69 billion euro in health costs. Obviously a lot of people believe it would be a good thing if the Italian Presidency did get a positive result on that.

Lord Scott of Foscote

  14. Ambassador, I wanted to ask a question, if I may, about the priorities that the Italian presidency will have in relation to matters concerning criminal law and procedure. The background to this is that there has been a very great deal of activity over the past months from the Commission in Brussels in this area and reading the passages in your extremely helpful document (Italian Presidency Priorities—that was circulated to all of us) it seems that the Italian presidency shares the sense of importance that seems to emanate in these matters from Brussels. I will read from the text, it says on page 35, "it will be of crucial importance to emphasise the role of the Commission's Green Paper on procedural safeguards for suspects and defendants", and so on. Over the page it goes on to say, "another major issue will be the gradual harmonisation of various systems for the enforcement of sentences.. for any subsequent progress towards an effective harmonisation of sentences". There is a substantial body of opinion that these sort of matters really ought to be left to Member States. Harmonisation of sentences, sentences must depend on the need for particular elements or deterrents, or whatever it may be, within the Member States concerned. Why is the Italian presidency supporting or giving priority to these sort of matters?
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) I would be hesitant to answer your question because this would be for a magistrate who has experience of the practical functioning of law. The basis is for a push for a European common legislation, not a whole European penal code, but for harmonisation of certain parts of the law. There is a very practical and political conviction. All European countries are embarked in wars that are essential for the defence of our societies, these are wars like the war against organised crime, the war against drug trafficking, against the trafficking of human beings that no country can win alone but no country is going to lose alone either. Any major crime that happens in a European country nowadays, whether it be in Italy or in the United Kingdom is an international crime because the organised crime itself is international, certainly European. I think that some progress must be made. We have our cultural traditions and of course it would be nice to leave these things as they were, instead of adding a further controversial argument, I would not say that this is the task of the Italian presidency but maybe the task of future presidencies of the European Union. Something certainly must be done there. Certain national laws, and I am not thinking in particular of British laws, but Italian laws for that matter, must change in this field, such as the ones that I have personal experience of, extradition, for instance. Finally, it does not really matter so much if someone who commits a crime is sentenced to 10 years in jail here or five years in Italy or vice versa. It matters to have a Europe-wide certainty that criminals are going to be punished and that they cannot exploit the loopholes that exist in our legislation. This is certainly very important. I think that this is certainly the basic conviction, which is certainly a political conviction but it is also a fact. I also have a page that I can read on criminal justice.


  15. You could submit that to us.
  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) This I feel very strongly about.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Ambassador, we have kept you back a long time but we have got one last set of questions that I do not want to miss. Your Italian Presidency Priorities on pages 31 and 33 devote quite a lot of space to justice and home affairs issues. I think that Lord Neill would like to ask a question.

Lord Neill of Bladen

  16. Ambassador, I notice in your list of priorities you have references to asylum and immigration. If I could take asylum first, you mention on page 32 that the Italian Presidency intend as a primary objective to reach political agreement on the proposal for a Directive covering procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status. Could you expand a little bit on that as to what the underlying aim is and what you have in mind for the content of that Directive.

  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) Of course, it is a very hot political problem in many European countries but the countries where it is hottest are the United Kingdom and Italy, for different reasons. Italy has a number of asylum seekers which is minimum if you compare it to the number that you have here but sometimes the asylum seekers arrive in a more dramatic way. You see in the papers these crafts full of poor people who have paid $500, which is an enormous sum of money for them, to these criminal organisations that take them along the Mediterranean, and so many die. Italian public opinion is very sensitive to this. I think that it would be very wise to take action in order not to keep alive the suspicion that exists in a lot of European countries that Italy accept asylum seekers in the conviction that in the last resort they will not stay in Italy but they will go somewhere else, particularly in this country. I think that this is something we must get rid of. The idea of a European Directive makes sense, because of course everybody who comes as an asylum seeker tells the European authorities, whoever they are, "We are persecuted and we are here because we want to be protected, we are entitled to a normal life." But only a few of these are really persecuted. We have to come forward with something that is also easy to explain to the officers that have to process these people, because if it were for one of us to talk to these people would we really be capable of making a distinction in understanding those who simply want a better life and those who are running the risk of being killed if they go back to where they come from? I also have a general feeling that perhaps the problem of asylum seekers and the problem of immigration in general is a bit exaggerated in every European country. I was talking to Giuliano Amato and he told me that if we look at the figures of the population for all the European countries year in year out we see that the difference from one year to the other is very, very small. The European Union's overall population does not grow much, maybe by 100,000/200,000 people yearly for the whole of the Union, which is ridiculous. And so we are not really threatened with wave after wave of people who want to come. We must, I think, let them come in a co-ordinated way whilst they have jobs and also in a humanitarian way, because in the last resort there is no system, there is no way of stopping a group of people who really aspire to a better life and want to improve their conditions and who are desperate where they are. I always thought that it is a paradox that a country like the United States, which forced the Soviet Union to destroy a Iron Curtain which has loomed so heavily in our generation, has been compelled to build a kind of curtain, not an iron curtain but a technological curtain, to stop the flow of immigrants from Latin America on the southern border. Even with these technological devices, with these obstacles still people come. And they come for two reasons. They come first of all because they are desperate and because they want to have a better life for their children. There is no way you can stop a human being trying to improve his life. The second reason is the hypocrisy of any industrial western society, in America and in Europe because those people are very useful and to some extent are exploited. So the idea of having a European Union regulation both of asylum and of immigration (because in the last resort these people would move around) is very, very important, but we must also not be hypocritical. I feel very strongly about that.

  17. Ambassador, thank you very much for that. Can I combine what I want to ask about immigration with my next question. There have been press reports that the Italian government was in favour of a Union agency for patrolling the coast of southern Europe. There are two borders that people express concern about. One is a very long, new land border that arises as a result of the accession of another 15 Member States, it has been described as 3,000 kilometres long, and then you have got this European coast which must be a potential entry point for very large numbers. I think I heard you saying you were not tremendously concerned as far as Italy is concerned.

  (Ambassador Amaduzzi) Yes, we have 8,000 miles of coast line and of course the coast line is per se a problem but the problem, is compounded if you have criminal organisations wishing to exploit this. Anyway, on the importance of an EU agency, the press reports are not accurate. In fact, I prepared a written paper saying that Italy has put forward specific projects to the Strategic Committee on Immigration (SCIFA). We do not propose the creation of a European agency but joint initiatives such as between Italy and the United Kingdom allow us to patrol borders in Bosnia. I think we are going to see more and more of that. This is not for me nor for my children, maybe for our grandchildren, in that we will not have a European police force but more and more instances of co-operation. The Italian Home Secretary, Mr Pisanu, is going to come here next week and we have proposed to Mr Blunkett a joint patrol in the Mediterranean. Common patrolling which takes place on land is sometimes different from having an agency but there we must very well understand that we have a common interest because even if these people come from Romania, they go from Romania into Germany or from Turkey through the Mediterranean into Italy, and they automatically become a common European problem.

  Chairman: Ambassador, there were other questions we would have liked to have asked you but I am afraid we have run over time. I think I really have to call it to a close now. I want to thank you very much indeed for having come and answered our questions and being informative and sometimes quite provocative which is good. We thank you for that and we will send you a transcript of the proceedings. You are free to look through that and tell us if it reflects accurately what you have said. Last but not least, the Italian Presidency is a very important Presidency at a very important time so we wish it very, very well indeed. Thank you very much.

1   A memorandum from the Ambassador is printed below. Back

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