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Gentiloni: «There is no need for a blitzkrieg in order to stabilise Libya» «We must avoid having a Failed State at our door»

He is in continuous contact with the Crisis Unit over the developments in the situation in Sabratha and the repatriation of the two Bonatti engineers released on Friday. He feels on his shoulders all the weight of these responsibility-laden hours, carefully weighing his words and even more so the decisions expected from a Country like Italy, in the front line in the struggle against terrorism, the migration crisis and in the stabilisation of the Southern shore of the Mediterranean. However, there is one point on which Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, does not seem willing to backtrack; it is impossible to think of solving the Libyan crisis with a Blitzkrieg and confuse counter-terrorism operations with international stabilisation missions.

It is essential to avoid that Libya “fall into chaos, in which case tragic events like the ones that involved our hostages can proliferate,” emphasised Mr Gentiloni.

Mr Minister, then let’s explain why the political-diplomatic option is the only viable one at present. It must be clear that there are no illusory shortcuts or show of muscle. It’s true: time is running short but there is no Blitzkrieg in the waiting. The government is aware of the errors of the past and is working to create stabilised conditions in Libya. It is an operation that is political more than military and this is the big challenge put to the international community, with Italy in the front line.

But why does the EU seem so divided and absent on Libya? It is nothing new that the EU does not dispose of a common army but on Libya it has always moved in unison, starting with the naval mission to combat human traffickers. Every Country may have specific interests but it is not true that the 28 member countries are proceeding haphazardly.  

Many months have now elapsed and there is yet no sign of a national unity Government in Libya. Don’t you think that former UN Special Representative in Libya, Bernardino Leon, wasted valuable time? Diplomacy can overcome obstacles but it needs time and impatience is dangerous. The war in Syria has been going on for six years and it took 13 years to finalise the Iran Deal. In mid-December’s Rome Conference, at the proposal of Italy and the United States, the international community decided a course of action that has represented a quantum leap compared to the previous one and a half years. Immediately after we obtained the Skhirat agreement and subsequently the United Nations 2259 resolution. The promoters of this course of action have always defined it absolutely frail and it is unaccomplished because there is a majority in the Tobruk Parliament that can vote in favour of a government of national accord but this majority has not been enabled to express its vote yet. In the upcoming weeks Martin Kobler, also with the support of the international community, will explore the way in which this majority can express itself.

What more needs to be done in order to instate a Government? First of all, enable this majority to express itself while escaping the threats of extremists. Martin Kobler mentioned this at last Wednesday’s United Nations Security Council meeting. In addition, it is necessary to include in the process local, tribal forces as well as those connected to the militias, which have been on the margin up to now, or to those that are hostile because a new government must necessarily aim to be as all-inclusive as possible in a Country that is highly fragmented. Moreover, the government must be installed in Tripoli as soon as possible. All this is entrusted to an intense UN-led diplomatic activity but let us not forget that in addition, all this is mainly in the hands of the Libyans.

What are the risks underlying this process? It is necessary to prevent Libya from falling into chaos, in which case tragic events like those that involved our hostages might proliferate, and from becoming a “Failed State” like Somalia, only a couple of hundred kilometres from Italy. Our task is to help Libya recover its sovereignty, as is now being gradually done in Iraq but only after a long wait. Only a sovereign Government can dry up the pond in which Daesh moves, help us to eradicate migrant trafficking and valorise the Country’s large number of resources. Italy and the international community are ready to meet the requests of this Government, also in terms of security. But confusion should not be fuelled over this readiness.

From where does this confusion arise, perhaps from media organisations? No, I am referring to the very idea that such complex problems may be solved with a rolling of drums. It worries me because it is fuelled by dangerous expectations. Do people perhaps think of stabilising Libya with a few dozen air strikes? But where were they in 2011? Haven’t they learned the lesson? And could anyone really think that French, British, Italian or Martian special forces can control a Country extending over 1.6 million square kilometres in which there are 20,000 armed men subdivided in several militias? I am perfectly aware that we must always keep our defences high against the growth of Daesh in Libya but confusing the necessary stabilisation with targeted counter-terrorism operations is taking candles for lanterns. They are two different things.   

In Rome there was full harmony among the international community. So why are the Americans even specifying the number of troops we need to deploy? This is not the case. We are in full agreement with the United States: Libya needs a Government and Italy is ready to coordinate the fulfilment of its security requests.

Instead, is an interesting perspective of hope opening on the situation in Syria? Despite its fragility, we are witnessing the opening of an almost miraculous window of hope. It could also close but, in the meantime, the cessation of hostilities decided in Munich in mid-February has been holding for two weeks. If this hope does not dim, we could not only alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis but the Geneva proximity talks with the UN envoy Staffan De Mistura could also resume by March 15. Friday’s conference call between European leaders Matteo Renzi, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and François Hollande with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was precisely aimed at consolidating this window of hope by fully involving the Russian Federation in the cessation of hostilities.

The agenda of tomorrow’s Brussels meeting of the Heads of Government and States will again focus on the migration issue. What can we expect from it?   Europe is experiencing the most difficult times of the past 60 years. The migration crisis, the effects of the economic recession that are still being felt and that determine a confidence crisis among our citizens and in EU policies, and lastly the Brexit referendum which is keeping us holding our breath. This is why tomorrow’s European summit, first with Turkey and then with the 28 member countries, takes on particular relevance.

Will the summit succeed to avoid an escalation in the migration crisis? As I have repeated on several occasions, in order to save Schengen we have to gradually supercede the Dublin Regulation. The idea is making headway; there is a first proposal by the Commission and a joint document by the Interior Ministers of Italy and Germany. The very decision to allocate emergency aid funds to Greece reflects the awareness that the Countries of first entry cannot handle the situation on their own. Tomorrow European leaders will have to make the situation of the Balkan routes more manageable by reducing migration flows in cooperation with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and by putting their stakes on the ceasefire in Syria. The challenge is to avoid that this attempt be frustrated by unilateral actions that could convert current intensified border controls into full border closures which, if this occurred, would undermine the efforts to manage the phenomenon and make the free movement of persons mechanism fall through. In the second part of 2015 the number of migrants using the Balkan route grew exponentially while it remained stable on traditional routes from Libya.

Is there a risk that the Balkan route, which has been used by an ever-increasing number of migrants during the past few months, could also extend to Italy through Albania? We cannot ignore this risk but our long-standing cooperation with the Albanian Government can prevent traffickers from offering boats, which is the first step in diverting the Balkan route towards the Adriatic.