“Identical views” on the Libyan and Ukrainian crises but also a “shared commitment” to tackle the increasingly pressing issue of immigration together in Europe. That is the balance sheet of Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s first mission abroad to – significantly – Berlin, Paris and Madrid, each a major European Union capital. The mission opened in Germany, a friendly nation that, as Minister Gentiloni acknowledged, has a symbolic value.
In France, Gentiloni underscored the potential of a fruitful alliance for growth and described the two countries as extremely close, at all levels. “We have the same concept of Europe and of the world”, as the Minister summed up. In Berlin, where he met Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Gentiloni noted the convergence on crucial questions such as the need to prevent Libya from breaking up. Italy is pushing for the mission of the United Nations Envoy to be strengthened. Turning to relations with Moscow in managing the Ukraine crisis, the need for dialogue with Russia – a partner close to Europe – must not be forgotten.
The economic crisis
Steinmeier expressed similar concerns to Italy’s on the economic crisis, noted Minister Gentiloni. “With current growth levels and very low inflation, we are nearing a state of deflation – problems that are shared throughout Europe. A problem or malaise that we might have thought was linked to one single country actually affects us all”.
The agenda for the meetings also included immigration. Gentiloni assured his colleagues that the Triton mission has a different name but shares the same humanitarian approach as Mare Nostrum. Efforts to address the refugee emergency are being redoubled.
Immigration, a shared commitment
Minister Gentiloni’s mission began in the middle of the night, with “the wonderful news that the Italian hostage in Libya had been released”. His long day ended in Madrid, where he once again discussed the immigration problem, this time with his Spanish colleague José García-Margallo.
Figures quoted by the Minister before his talk with his Spanish counterpart suggest that about 80% of the 60,000 migrants landing in Italy are from Libya. Of the 160,000 refugees who have left Libya for Europe, 135,000 are not Libyan but desperate people leaving the African continent from its coasts. The figures cover the period 1 January to 31 October 2014.
As Minister Gentiloni observed, “migration is a highly topical issue. It’s clear that any strategy to reduce the flows must include the promotion of peace, dialogue and development throughout the Mediterranean. This strategy must be accompanied by humanitarian intervention”.
Until recently, Italy’s activities came under the framework of Mare Nostrum, our armed forces’ mission to rescue migrants at sea. “We’re please that the mission has been ‘Europeanised’ with the transition to ‘Triton’”, commented Gentiloni, referring to the EU’s Mediterranean border control programme. “A vital concept has been acknowledged: migration from the Mediterranean’s southern shores is a problem for the whole of Europe”.
“Of course, more could be done”, continued Foreign Minister Gentiloni. He pointed out that under the Italian Presidency of the EU Council Frontex (the Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union) has been strengthened. Turning to the financial cover for Triton, Gentiloni said that “we have not given up hope for a greater commitment from Europe It’s a cultural battle – not a problem for 4 or 5 countries but for all 28”.