“All of this reluctance to accept the European Commission’s immigration plan seems short-sighted to me”. Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has always taken a cautious approach and avoided any show of triumphalism even when – in mid-May – Italy could have claimed the transformation of the immigration dossier into a shared, European dossier, as a national success. The underlying numbers – 24.000 “placements” in Europe over 2 years compared with 57,000 new entrants to Italy in 2015 alone – suggest that a sense of realism is in order. The Commission’s plan certainly won’t resolve all the troubles with a wave of a “magic wand”. But Gentiloni warns that “a delay would more than anything else be a sign of the European Union’s impotence”.
Minister, things started off in grand style with more or less binding agreements and understandings on accommodating the refugees; on funding; on photo-registration; and on redistribution. Then, what with hair-splitting and increasingly pronounced differences of interpretation, the plan was watered down. How will it end up?
“I think the negotiations are still open; the member states are talking to each other; the balance of power has not worsened with respect to the outset; those opposing the Commission’s proposal, which we have always supported, are the same as ever. I only hope that the EU executive doesn’t backtrack on its own plan”.
What’s your feeling on that?
“In my meetings over the last 10 days or so with the EU leaders, with the commissioner for migration, Avramopoulos, with Vice-President Timmermans and with Federica Mogherini, I’ve received confirmation that they’ll stick to the plan: the proposal to redistribute some of the asylum seekers among the various countries”.
You’ve complained that more money is needed for the countries most directly involved.
“More resources are needed for countries that, like Italy or Greece, are in the front line in receiving immigrants. A commitment of 60 million euro is not enough, it’s too little for the world’s leading economic super-power”.
The EU Summit’s draft includes repatriation of migrants coming to Europe for economic reasons, although the proposals are worded more formally. Is that a solution?
“There’s no one measure that can resolve the question. Not even repatriation”.
“First, the expulsion procedures are individual, and second, we need stable governments as our counterparties”.
A mechanism that looks rather complex…
“You know something? I hear some fanciful solutions on the subject of migrants. Let’s build camps in Libya, let’s send them back to sea, let’s put them all on an island. People who are fanning the flames and painting the situation as though hordes of terrorists had invaded us, bringing epidemics with them. Stirring things up that way doesn’t help and is unseemly for people in positions of institutional responsibility. People fleeing from wars and dictatorships need to be treated according to the fundamental principles of humanity. Which obviously doesn’t mean transforming our city squares into reception centres”.
Minister, let’s look at these measures to tackle migration at the root.
“We’re working with the UN agencies to keep the migrants in the transit countries; we need to establish agreements with the governments of those countries to prevent the migrants from leaving. On this point, we have new and existing agreements with Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Gambia, and we need to tackle the thorny question of the conflicts in countries like Libya, Syria and Eritrea. But we need to be honest: we’ll be dealing with immigration for years. The true, and only, solution is a global, comprehensive one. So the Commission’s proposal is not a magic want; it is, however, an initial response”.
Is there not a risk that compulsory transfers will cause the whole enterprise to founder?
“Take the situation in north-eastern Europe”.
But there are no immigrants landing there…
“No, but the flows change. At present Greece is more involved than Italy, for example. And who can say that the current crisis in Ukraine, for example – and I obviously hope this won’t be this case –, won’t lead to another emergency in the future? So what will the countries that at present oppose compulsory quotas do then? Will they ask for a sharing of the burden? Being, and remaining, opposed to the EU Commission’s draft shows a lack of foresight”.
In the meantime, the French police have blocked immigrants from entering a the Ventimiglia border. But what about the Schengen Treaty?
“The rules apply for everyone, including the Schengen rules. This passing of the buck has got to stop”.