“Europe needs to be more engaged on immigration, to authentically share the burden at all stages, from the countries of origin to those of transit and up to the final miles and reception. It has to spend more resources on Triton”. Minister for Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni will raise the question at the next EU Foreign Affairs Council on 16 March. “The flow of illegal migration continues, in fact it is on the rise: 7882 arrivals since January 1st, compared with 4548 in the same period last year. I am grateful for the Commission’s rapid response to my letter with additional emergency funds and an extension of Triton. But more has to be done”.
Should Triton be pushed forward?
«It needs to be strengthened. Leaving aside petty disagreements, Triton is obliged to carry out search and rescue operations in seas such as Mare Nostrum. There is little difference between a 50- and 30-mile range of action, considering that Libya lies at not much more than 200. Those migrants, 90 per cent of whom arrive from Libya, are not Libyans but Syrians and from other African countries who find in Libya a nation out of control with criminal organisations that generate 10 percent of Libyan GDP. A problem that is not only Italy’s but Europe’s».
Will Italy be proposing an Italian as successor to the UN envoy for Libya, Spaniard Bernardino Leon, on 13 March?
«I cannot comment on what will take place in the future. Certainly, our interest in the Libyan crisis is clear».
Is a UN mandate necessary to intervene?
«Directly threated, we have activated our entire intelligence and security apparatus—we certainly are not a defenceless country. Besides, all international treaties, starting with the United Nations Charter, permit individual nations to defend their interests and citizens. We have expressed our complete understanding of Egypt’s retaliation for the murder of Christian Copts on the beach at Sirte, which concluded with one of the many symbolic threats to our country. But the common investment must be in a government of reconciliation and national unity that includes all the forces that have rejected extremism and terrorism. The Daesh (ISIS) threat to Tobruk, Misrata and Tripoli must lead many to choose the path of a negotiated solution».
Even in advance of a peace-keeping operation?
«It is up to the UN to speak; actions against terrorism are one thing, a military intervention is another. At the very least, the solution must be rooted in Libya itself. Unilateral interventions aimed at forcing negotiations would be unrealistic. Italy will not fail to do its part in full, but without embarking on improbable quests».
Will Italy accept a divided Libya?
«There is no way that one of the parties can come to occupy the entire country. To accept division or else permanent conflict would not only be a mistake, but also be against our national interests. It is for that reason also that we have contributed to supporting institutions such as the National Oil Company and the Libyan Central Bank».
Do you feel like a «crusader» minister?
«The Daesh propaganda would have it that way. They invoke images of the Crusades, of black flags flying over St. Peter’s, of Rome as the enemy of the Muslim world. We are fighting against the terrorism of Daesh, and certainly not against Islam, which, on the contrary, has been the victim of a sort of kidnapping by various terrorist forces, not only Daesh. We counter the jargon of this dark propaganda with the weapons of counter-terrorism and mutual understanding with the Islamic and Muslim community. A far cry from a crusade, I would say!»
Let’s move on to Europe. How do you view the Greek reform plan?
«An initial act of courage that goes in the right direction; Tsipras is going to have to take on a traumatic crisis and some domestic criticism. It seems to me that both Greece and Europe have chosen the key of political flexibility. Italy is hoping that this will be part of a gradual change in EU economic policy that France and Italy and other countries have been promoting in the interests of the entire Union. Debts and rules cannot be cancelled, but the direction Union is going in must change».
Shall we go eastward?
«Toward Russia? We continue to share the firm stance of NATO and the EU, ratcheting up air surveillance in the Baltic countries and applying sanctions—even though Italy is one of the countries that has most suffered their effects. We have said, however, that this firmness must not lead to the end of dialogue but to a constructive attitude subject to daily assessment. Russia is an actor that needs to be involved in a positive way in crisis theatres from Syria to Libya to Iran. It is clear that Putin holds the key to the solution. We cannot accept permanent, frozen conflict in Ukraine».