If left unmanaged, migration flows are bound to increase: from Ukraine, if the war persists, from the Balkans should a Serbia-Kosovo crisis break out, and from the African continent, which is predicted to contain at least 2.5 billion people by 2050. Inaction is not an option for Italy, the geographical pier of Europe. This is why, only a few days after swearing in and with a strong thirty-year-long international competence at topmost level, Antonio Tajani, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister in Giorgia Meloni’s cabinet, relaunches our Country’s natural diplomatic leadership “in the name and on behalf of Europe”, especially in the Balkans and in Africa.
Minister, only a few kilometers from here – as the crow flies, Bari and Pristina are closer together than Bari and Rome – the old wound of the Serbia-Kosovo war seems to be acting up again.
«We are doing our best to promote a de-escalation. Yesterday I spoke with the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and with the Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti and I called upon both to work for stability. I told them that we appeal to their leadership to avoid unilateral actions. We must try to pour oil on troubled waters, also because we are present in the area with 720 troops in the KFOR, another 70 in EUFOR-Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 20 in EULEX in Kosovo and a unit of the Guardia di Finanza in Albania. I too plan to go to the Western Balkans as soon as possible to try to foster dialogue. Italy is also active through the Quintet (Ed. Note: the NATO Quintet with USA, Italy, Germany, France and the UK) which is mandated to act to try to keep the Balkans in a situation of stability, also because it is an area that is in Europe geographically and in which Countries like Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania are accession countries and, let me remind you that, in the case of Albania, the opening of negotiations was also a success of our Country. Furthermore, there are Countries that could become Candidate Countries for EU accession such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo itself. Therefore we, as Italians and Europeans, must be present in the Balkans to foster stabilization and to assure the presence of Europe there, in an attempt to avoid the invasive presence of others». Minister Tajani went on: «Remember that they feel European, they believe in freedom, justice, and democracy, and we must facilitate them to move closer to Europe and work to achieve stability. Also because a destabilized situation would worsen the migration issue. Of course, we have immigrants coming across the Mediterranean but also through Greece and North Macedonia. And they don’t only go to Germany: our western border is also at risk of being crossed. The migration issue from the Balkans represents a priority for us».
Considering – whether we like it or not – Serbia’s bonds with Russia, many observers see the crisis in the Balkans as a “clockwork” threat.
«Look, I don’t worry about reconstructions that are not supported by evidence; my only concern is that Italy have a pacifying role in those territories. We must work to make the Balkans a European region characterized by political stability. There are possible EU accession and candidate countries and therefore our and the EU’s interest is to work to achieve stability and avoid friction, also because there are different populations, which makes the situation uneasy. However, I must admit that our troops are well-liked both by the Kosovars and by the Serbians, both by the Muslims and by the Christians. They always succeed in playing a constructive role. Therefore, we must work to make everything proceed in the best of ways and enable Italy to be a key player. Is greater Italian presence necessary in the Balkans? This is how I see it: Italy must turn into a key player, both because of its direct interests there and because of the geopolitical situation and the migration issue. I can tell you that this issue is a priority interest for us. Our spotlights are focused on the region, not only at the Farnesina but also at the Ministry of Defence. I have briefed the Prime Minister on what we are doing. In the wake of a historic tradition, Italy is greatly committed to assuring an Italian and European presence in the Balkans ».
You mentioned migrants. The Pope said: “lives must be saved but the EU must not leave Italy alone”. Do you agree?
«Absolutely. In fact, this is the position always expressed by the Government and that I too have expressed many times over. It is a European issue, and I will put it on the agenda of the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels next 14 November. The problem does not only concern the Mediterranean but also the Balkans, and we also discussed this at the Berlin Process meeting last week (Ed. Note: the Berlin Process was launched in 2014 at the initiative of the then German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, with the aim of fostering regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and of supporting European perspectives). In my contribution, I repeatedly reaffirmed the migration issue. And, as I said, it does not only concern the Mediterranean; it is a general issue. We also have the arrival of refugees from Ukraine, and they will continue to arrive because of this war. Therefore, we absolutely need a European policy. Pursuant to the subsidiarity principle, Europe is obliged to do what the single States cannot do; it must not do the little things but do the big ones. Unfortunately, Europe often deals with the little things and lacks the force to do the big ones, and it lacks a strong foreign policy, a strong defence policy, a strong energy policy, a strong immigration policy. However, when the EU did move, as in combating the pandemic, it moved well and, in that case, even if with a delay, it came up with the recovery plan and purchased vaccines. In that case, Europe was present as a policymaker and as a key player. We need a stronger Europe, and we also need reforms».
So, more Europe in Europe and more Italy in the Balkans?
«More Italy but together with Europe. As Europeans, we must become a key player. Also because, in the European team, we are the ones that have proved to receive the best approval ratings. Why are our troops well-liked by both parties? Because they act properly. And our Armed Forces are a foreign policy tool. As they are well-liked by all, they can optimize their role. And Italy has a natural vocation for the Balkans. Suffice it to say that there are 20,000 Italian entrepreneurs in Albania. And there are Albanian minorities in Italy for a good reason. Ours is a historic presence in the region. Therefore, we want to play a role in the Balkans not because of a whim but because we know how to be well-liked and because we can play an important role in the name and on behalf of Europe».
There is also the issue of Africa
«Forecasts say that there will be almost 3 billion Africans by 2050 and, unless we act now, unless we act to combat climate change, terrorism, hunger, disease; unless they achieve economic growth, we will be faced with migration flows that we are unable to stop. Not even the Roman Empire succeeded in stopping migration flows from the East. It is not only a security issue; it is a strategic issue and we had better take strong action and find solutions».
Also because, if you leave a void, somebody else will fill it. Russia has informed that it wants to open an embassy in Libya.
«Russia, China, and Turkey, they all pursue their interests while we have to pursue our own and Africa’s. Italy, like other Countries, has a cooperation policy but I think that all European Countries should coordinate better. In addition, Italy is an excellent ambassador of Europe in Africa. Italy can play a role, also for Europe».
While awaiting the meeting of 14 November, is there a last-minute opening in the ongoing migration crisis?
«Today I spoke with the Libyan Foreign Minister (Ed. Note: Najla Elmangoush). We intend to enhance cooperation, we intend to give patrol boats to the Libyan Coast Guard and we intend to strengthen the MoU currently in force. We should act to decommission human traffickers’ boats there to avoid them from transporting people at cut-throat prices who then risk dying at sea. And we must make sure that people are not treated like slaves. It is complicated but this is what must be done. Also with a view to regularizing immigration and knowing who is coming. Think of the ships that fly the flag of a Country that is not the Country of docking, well, the captain is required to say ‘who’ he/she is carrying. Human traffickers do not rescue people, they receive huge amounts of money to bring them here. But ‘who’ is onboard? Of course, there are families fleeing famine but we are entitled to know if there is a terrorist. Ship captains must tell us who they have onboard. So, the safety of people is essential, and the Pope is right, but Italy’s 8,000 kilometers of coast are the borders of Europe. If they decide to bring them all to Italy, then the decision is not aimed at rescuing people at sea but there’s something more to it. And please consider that the flows are bound to rise if the war continues and if Russia no longer sends wheat and corn to African Countries in distress. It is foreseeable that people will escape north, towards Europe. We must also find solutions for the Balkans. We not only need decisions to manage the present, we need strategic decisions from Europe ».