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“Enough talk of homework”, says Gentiloni. “Italy is doing its duty” (Corriere della Sera)

The German Chancellor, Merkel, and the French President, Hollande, are urging our government to open migrant registration centres “in a short timescale, by the end of the year”. And Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s reply is that “Italy is doing what it must do, indeed much more: saving tens of thousands of human lives and taking in refugees”. He points out that “at the international level we’re held up as a positive model”.

Is this a new reprimand for our country?

“That’s not how I read it. Asking Greece and Italy to do their homework on immigration would be like telling countries hit by floods to speed up their umbrella production. Europe needs to move in the exact opposite direction from rapping the countries on its external borders on the knuckles. What I see in France and Germany is an awareness of the central importance of the immigration question”.

What does that mean for Italy, in concrete terms?

“The approach to follow can’t be one based on rules conceived 25 years ago – I’m talking about the Dublin Convention – when the phenomenon has actually changed radically in terms of numbers, origins and dimension for each country. If we continue to say that everyone must cope with the situation on their own, the risk is that these terrible images, as they multiply and repeat themselves, from Kos to Macedonia, from the English Channel to Sicily, will end up weighing like a millstone on Europe’s future. The point is to agree on and amend the rules on reception, without forgetting the medium-term work on the underlying causes: wars, poverty, dictatorships”.

What changes are we seeking?

“There are three essential questions to address: the ‘Europeanisation’ of the management of migrant flows, i.e. a European right of asylum with a common, agreed definition of eligibility and repatriation policies. That might seem ambitions, but if we look at the conflicts between neighbouring countries or, worse still, the way the countries on the external borders are passing the buck, then it’s the only road to follow.

The migrants are arriving in Europe, not in Italy, Greece, Germany or Hungary. The way things work at present, the risk is that people will start doubting the merits of Schengen and we’ll go back to the old border system. But limiting the free movement of people means undermining one of the pillars of Europe”.

The second question is to create legal channels for immigration into Europe as a whole. We need legal immigrants with skills and talent.

Third, and last, we need a balance in the burdens borne by the different countries. If the right to asylum applies throughout Europe, a fair distribution will ensure that the migrant flows don’t all head for the richest and most generous countries”.

But will we open these registration centres, or not?

“I repeat, let’s think about how to move on from Dublin. The Commission itself proposed this in its agenda. And just yesterday, Germany set a good example by suspending the application of the Regulation and deciding to examine the asylum applications of all Syrian migrants, regardless of which country they first enter Europe through”.

You alluded to solving the root causes. Stabilising regional crises is one such solution, and Libya is the most immediate and urgent for us.

“For Italy, Libya is a gateway to migrant flows. The talks are resuming in Morocco tomorrow. It’s up to the Libyans to find an agreement. We’re working, as we speak, with all parties concerned. In the next few days Bernardino León will put forward a final proposal, complete with annexes on the composition of the unified government, which we hope will also involve the General National Congress (GNC), the parliament in Tripoli. Anyone cutting themselves out of the talks is taking on a great responsibility, because the process will go ahead regardless. If agreement is reached, Italy confirms its willingness, not alone, to assume a support and consolidation role, including on the security level”.

Will we be ready to intervene, even if an agreement is reached that not all parties accept?

“I don’t want to contemplate the possibility of the GNC opting to stay out. It would be a mistake and I know for sure that it wouldn’t be the choice of the entire Tripoli camp. But it’s clear that perfect agreements, supported by 100% of the parties, don’t exist. We’re not aiming to exclude anybody. But if we reached 80% agreement? That would be a good result.

And that would kick-start the support mechanism. Without an agreement, we’d have an entirely different scenario, hinging on the anti-Da’esh (ed’s note: ISIS) coalition, which in that case could extend its range of action to Libya. But we need to be careful not to exploit the Da’esh threat. It must never be under-estimated, but in Libya, luckily, it’s still circumscribed. We mustn’t say: the talks have failed, let’s intervene against Da’esh”.

The Merkel-Hollande summit also had Ukraine on its agenda. But the two leaders only invited the Ukrainian premier, Poroshenko, and not the Russian, Putin. Is something going wrong with the Minsk process?

“The situation on the ground is still fragile. Ukraine is in the difficult position of having to defend its territorial integrity while at the same time taking forward its constitutional and economic reform process. However, some progress has been made in applying the agreements. Kiev needs to continue with the reforms envisaged by them. And as for Moscow, whether or not the sanctions can be lifted in January, as we would like – well, that depends only on the Kremlin”.

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