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Speech by the Hon. Minister at the LUISS Event “Mediterranean Project” on the issue “Italian Foreign Policy and the Crises in the Mediterranean”

“The authentic text is only the speech that was actually delivered”.


Rome, 16 May 2017


President Emma Marcegaglia, (President of LUISS)

Honourable Chancellor Paola Severino, (Chancellor of LUISS)

Director Giovanni Lo Storto, (DG of  LUISS)

It is a great pleasure to be here for this wonderful initiative taken by LUISS and by the Fondazione Terzo Pilastro Italia e Mediterraneo (Italian and Mediterranean Third Pillar Foundation). I welcome and thank all participants and the speakers. In particular, my greetings are addressed to our foreign guests: the President of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (connected via Skype) and the president of Petra University Marwan El Muwalla.  


No other sea in the world has witnessed the birth of flourishing civilizations that have left their mark on mankind, as is true of the Mediterranean.

At times we have run the risk of losing our humanity, faced with great challenges provoked by the waves of the Mediterranean.

Today, the highest wave of the Mediterranean is the migration crisis.

But as Italians we can be proud because with courage and solidarity we have saved thousands of human lives. We have defended the honor of Europe. These words are not mine. They were spoken by the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

And, to quote the words of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission, ‘we have defended the honor of Europe’.

I would even go further: we have put Italy and Europe on the right path of history: we have saved Europe’s soul because Europe’s soul and destiny are in the Mediterranean

As Aldo Moro once said: “no-one is called on to choose between being in Europe and being in the Mediterranean because the whole of Europe is in the Mediterranean”. 

We have a common destiny in the Mediterranean.  And yet many Europeans nurture the illusion that their destiny is separate and distinct from this Sea. And so Italy has found itself alone in the face of the crisis: from the collapse of Libya to the great migration wave, from the massive arrival of refugees from Syria to the attacks by Daesh, from Tunisia all the way to Iraq.   

Imagine the map of the Earth with its great oceans: the Mediterranean compared to other seas has the appearance of a small lake, but it is in those waters that the fate of Europe and of the world have been and continue to be challenged.

Giorgio La Pira once said: “The Mediterranean is like the continuation of Lake Tiberias: a small sea, a lake, where once again we place a wager on the destinies of the world, the destiny of peace, of security and freedom”.

There is no denying that some of the most dangerous threats against security and stability come from the Mediterranean.

The first to bear the brunt of this reality in Europe were the traditional political parties that found themselves under simultaneous pressure from three fronts: terrorism, migration flows and fragile economic growth. And it took little for the populists to set their fire.  Instability in the Mediterranean is like a “hot wind, the sirocco” that adds fuel to the “flames of populists and demagogues”. 

If we want to prevent the populist flames from spreading and burning the foundations of our democracy, Europe must stop ignoring the Mediterranean crisis.

If we want the European debate to be authentic, rational and thorough we must focus more on the stabilization of Northern Africa.

This debate not only has the connotations of foreign policy, but, also and above all, it has implications for our domestic policy because what is at stake is the robustness of our democratic institutions with two profoundly different visions opposing each other: those who believe in growth, development and prosperity for the Mediterranean, and those who want to build walls.

The debate is no longer between left and right, but between those who are pragmatic and see that only through a united Europe can we be the protagonists in the Mediterranean, and those who believe that by destroying Europe we will somehow be more successful, alone and apart, in handling the crisis.

In a Mediterranean that is still in the grips of a raging storm, the “compass” of Italian and European diplomacy has only three “cardinal points” that have been at the heart of my action since I set foot in the Farnesina:

First: stabilization of Libya and putting an end to the Syrian conflict, two crises that are closely intertwined with migrations and terrorism.

Second: orientation of NATO southwards and bringing to fruition the project of a European Common Defense so as to provide the security required by the times and focus on the asymmetric threats coming from the Mediterranean.

Third: a more robust economic diplomacy in the Mediterranean because we must not forget that the collapse of the Libyan and Syrian markets have cost us dearly: more than 20 billion euros in lost trade opportunities, not to speak of the risks for energy security.

The migration crisis continues to proliferate because of the unending instability in Libya. But the migration phenomenon is both a symptom of the instability in Africa and the cause of the propagation of populist movements in Europe.

I am convinced that in order to neutralize the demagogic topics used by many populist movements, we need to curb the migration flows across the centre of the Mediterranean.

The matter is to be dealt with within a long-term perspective and with all Europeans shouldering the responsibility because migration issue will go on being on the European agenda for years to come and it cannot be dealt with as an emergency or by one or two Countries alone.

There is also a need to understand the deep causes of this crisis: the collapse of the political systems in the Middle East – in Libya, as in Syria, Iraq and Yemen – and the exponential demographic growth in Africa. By 2050, Africa will double its population to about 2.4 billion.

The vicinity of the young, populous and as yet underdeveloped African continent with the nearby rich, but constantly aging, Europe generates a migration pressure that some have even described as being “physiological”. 

It is illusory to think that with the Agreement with Turkey we have solved the problem, overlooking the fact that the Central Mediterranean route continues to be exploited by unscrupulous traffickers who have brought more than 500,000 people to Italy in the last three years.

We need to take stock of the facts: on the Central Mediterranean route there is a new “Checkpoint Charlie” called Lampedusa which is precisely the frontier between a space of freedom and wellbeing and a place from which to flee.

While waiting for the reconciliation process in Libya, in other words until the Libyan national authorities reinstate their control over their territory, we will have to work with our main European partners, with the EU, with OIM and UNHCR to induce the main Countries of transit, like Niger, to strengthen their barriers against the migration flows.

It was with this objective in mind that in March I signed an agreement under which I allocated 50 million euros to Niger’s budget to contribute to a more effective control of the border between Niger and Libya.

And it is with this very same spirit that, in agreement with the German Foreign Affairs Minister, Gabriel, and the High Representative, Mogherini, I have convened in Rome a ministerial meeting with the transit Countries on 6 July.

And then, as I was saying, it will in any case be necessary to stabilize Libya. In order to succeed with this strategy, I have pursued a wide-ranging approach:

I have made the commitment to put the Mediterranean and Libya back on the European foreign policy map.  

As soon as conditions made it possible, we reopened our Embassy in Tripoli, a decision that turned out to be of strategic importance for providing assistance to the Country.

We continue to support the East-West dialogue with determination, convinced as we are that an inclusive political process is the only way out of the crisis.

The meeting between the Speaker of the Tobruk Parliament, Mr Saleh, and the President of the Council of State of Tripoli, Mr. Sweili, that took place in Rome on 21 April, was an important step forward in the dialogue that we are encouraging between the Libyan factions. Today we can say that the “doors are open to dialogue”.

Then in March, in Rome, I launched the Africa Fund supplying it with 200 million euros which has Libya among its priority Countries. The Africa Fund makes the Agreement on migration flows signed with Tripoli operable, and it will support agreements with the tribes of the Southern Region of Sabha. The principle that solidarity and security need to be combined is firmer than ever, but now more attention is being paid to the deep causes of migration and to the responsibility of the Countries of origin and of transit.

With a contribution of 10 million euros from the Africa Fund we will be supporting the UNHCR Plan for Libya. It is crucial that the UN has access to the detention centres for migrants and that it can perform registration operations, provide humanitarian assistance and ensure protection of human rights in the field.

And during my recent mission to Tripoli, I even proposed that the economic dialogue be relaunched: the idea is to organize in Sicily, in the very near future, a meeting between the Libyan Government and Italian companies that want to invest in Libya.


We do not have the luxury of being able to stop now – we need to speed things up, especially in view of two major appointments for making further progress: the G7 Summit in Taormina on 26-27 May and the Ministerial Meeting on migrations on 6 July.

We want to continue to follow the logic of cooperation and we are ready to facilitate any action that will ensure security, fight against human traffickers and stop migration flows.

And if we speak about the future, besides a future where Libya is stabilized, we must also think of a future where Syria is in peace.

After the chemical attacks in Idlib, I convened an unplanned extraordinary meeting during the G7 meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers in Lucca, which was widened to the Countries of the Region (G7 + Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Emirates, Jordan and Qatar).

It was not at all a given that it would come about. But we succeeded quietly and with down to earth realism. We worked to relaunch diplomatic activities and to reinstate confidence in the dialogue between Washington and Moscow on Syria.   

In Lucca we reiterated the central role of political dialogue as stated in Geneva under the aegis of the United Nations, and we urged Russia and Iran to exercise their influence to convince Damascus to respect the cease-fire, open access to humanitarian aid in the besieged areas, and comply with international obligations on the use of chemical weapons.

The American military operation in Syria, in reaction to the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, the G7 meeting in Lucca and the subsequent visit to Moscow of Secretary of State Tillerson seem to have generated a new dynamic that has led to the new Astana agreements and a partial resumption of the Russian-American dialogue.  

On 4th May the three guarantors of the Astana mechanism (Russia, Turkey, Iran) signed an MoU that envisages the reduction of violence by creating “de-escalation zones” and “buffer zones” with check-points and points of observation. Parallel to this, the cease-fire was relaunched, which had been largely undermined. Caution is necessary, but the political fact that emerges is that of a renewed attempt of Russian-American dialogue that we Europeans need to encourage.

This is a matter that I will be going over in depth in the next few days at a meeting in Rome with Special UN Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan De Mistura.

Besides managing borders, we need to have the capacity to defend them. This is another issue that is of concern for our citizens. An issue that is not to be confused with migrations, as the populists do, thus sowing the seeds of suspicion in the population against migrants.

Today the main threat to our security is the return of the European Jihadists from Syria and Iraq – while the fight against terrorism in these territories advances – and online radicalism that attracts all too many young people.

The terrorist threat has a single objective: destroy Europe and the fundamental freedoms that Europe ensures. 

Defending our borders effectively means protecting the space of rights that we have built on the continent during the last sixty years. 

We must not be afraid, because he who is afraid is not free. The fight against terrorism is the essence of the fight for our freedoms.   

We must respond to the asymmetric threats that derive from the Mediterranean on two complementary fronts: shift the NATO axis from East to South, and launch a concrete project for a European Common Defence.

Common Defence and NATO are complementary because the Mediterranean is the theatre actions linking the EU to NATO, and then also to the U.S. Our Transatlantic relationship has never been put into question.

With this strong awareness, the Rome Declaration of 25 March signed on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties indicated the clear need for a Europe with heightened security and defence capacities.   

The time has come to offer our citizens a tangible project. So far the debate has been technocratic. We must turn it into a political debate that inspires people to take part in an issue that is of crucial importance for our future!

We need to handle all the crises I have mentioned with strength, determination and creativity. These are complex challenges that in some cases have been engendered over time also thanks to some European Countries, but Italy is footing most of the bill.

We need to solve these crises with the awareness that the Mediterranean is a great opportunity: a regional market of 500 million consumers that generates 10% of the world GDP and is crossed by 20% of the world maritime traffic and 30% of the oil traffic.

For this reason, Italy’s diplomatic action for the Mediterranean contains a large amount of economic diplomacy: the objective is an increasingly integrated market, with great attention to energy and infrastructure, and where the Mediterranean is to become a global economic hub.

In addition, through our Development Cooperation there are also large investments for the development of entrepreneurship and of SMEs in our Mediterranean Partner Countries, with special emphasis on youth and women.  At the Taormina G7, there will be an outreach session with the African Countries on sustainable development, innovation, infrastructure, energy, migration crisis and food security.    

And last but not least, culture! This issue will be thoroughly dealt with in our next interventions. Thousands of years of history in the Mediterranean teach us that culture is an instrument of diplomacy and peace: because with culture the human being rediscovers the richness of interaction with others: opening up to others, mutual respect, sincerely understanding what the other is saying. With these precise intentions we can generate the dialogue that builds up peace.

 Civilization arises from “intentions” but then grows through “facts” and “actions”. Your project to train 20 students from the Mediterranean area embodies this very idea. What you are doing is an example for many other universities and I am sure it will be very successful!