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If you are not at the Vatican you miss out says Australian diplomat

ROME (Agencies): As the departing Australian ambassador to the Holy See, former leader of the National Party, Tim Fischer, packed his bags to return to Canberra from Rome on January 12, he reflected that countries without a resident diplomatic presence in Rome are losing out.

“It is so much easier to do the job if you’re on the ground in Rome,” CNA quoted Fischer as saying. 

He was appointed in 2008, as the first resident ambassador to the Holy See the land down under has had since it first established full diplomatic relations in 1973.

“The Vatican is not entirely a closed shop, but you have to know where to look, which conferences to attend, which contacts to pursue. And if you’re only flying in for four times a year from Dublin or from the Hague or from Geneva, then that becomes very difficult to do in a comprehensive and professional way,” he explained.

Fischer’s comments come as Ireland is embroiled in controversy over closing its embassy to the Holy See in Rome, citing budgetary pressures as the deciding factor. The new Irish ambassador will live in Dublin.

Fischer explained that the general speculation within the diplomatic and political community in Rome is that the recent Irish decision to close its embassy is more political than budgetary.

With Malaysia as the latest addition, the Holy See currently has diplomatic relations with 179 states, with about half of them maintaining a permanent embassy in Rome.

Fischer explained, “It (the Vatican) is the oldest organisation in the world and it does have a huge network.” He added, “As recently as the Balkans War, some of the best information as to what was really happening on the ground was not held by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) or the KGB (central intelligence agency of the former Soviet Union) but, in fact, right here in Rome by the Holy See.”

Since arriving in January 2009, the 65-year-old former deputy prime minister of Australia has also become one of the best-known and most easily recognisable figures in Vatican circles. During his tenure at the Australian embassy to the Vatican, he has prioritised the issues of religious freedom, inter-faith dialogue and food security.

As a Catholic, he describes his time in Rome as both uplifting personally as well as professionally.

In addition to the 179 states with diplomatic representation to the Holy See, the European Union, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation all have accredited ambassadors.

The Holy See is present at the United Nations (UN) with observer status and is a member of seven UN organisations and agencies.

On December 5 last year, the International Organisation for Migration approved the Holy See as a member in Geneva. Pope Benedict XVI also appointed an apostolic nuncio to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on June 18 last year.

On April 29 an agreement was signed with the Republic of Azerbaijan. On June 14, a basic agreement was signed with Montenegro.

On December 7, an agreement was made with the Republic of Mozambique. The agreement consolidates existing bonds of friendship and collaboration between the two parties.

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