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Gentiloni: “Europe must not go back to being lethargic on migrants. Populism can be defeated by combating fear” (La Stampa)

Minister Gentiloni, the week started with the elections in Austria. Half of the voters chose the extreme right; can we be comfortable with that?

«No unfortunately. There are sure to be domestic reasons underlying that result – the same two parties ruled for 70 years – but Vienna has given us a dual lesson».

What lesson?

«The first is that it is possible to fuel fear over migration also in those Countries, like Austria, in which there are no dramatic social tensions. The second is that when left-wing and traditional parties chase populisms they end up against a wall. And this is what happened in Austria, also in the case of the border on the Brenner Pass».

They have deployed another 80 police agents: do we deserve so much distrust?

«It’s sad that one of the most historically important European borders, in both symbolic and economic terms, be used solely for domestic purposes for weeks. Now that the election campaign is over, the party that won, albeit by a small margin, will make dialogue easier».  

Populism is quickly spreading in Europe. How should we react?

«There is a wave of populism but it’s not a tsunami. It can be defeated. We must combat fear-mongers knowing that, as in the case of Italy, not only is it possible but it is our duty to rule without breeding fear and divisiveness».

You started the meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the six EU Founding Countries: is this dialogue continuing?

«We met in Brussels last Friday and we will meet again in Berlin immediately after the British referendum: the aim of this “Rome Group” is to voice the opinions of the six Founding Countries in order to relaunch the EU, because Europe risks a lot if it just stands still».

Are you confident of the result of the June 23 referendum?

«I hope that the Remain option wins; all reasonable economic and political analyses come to the conclusion that a victory of the Leave option out of the EU would be a bad decision for Europe but disastrous for Great Britain. We must however remember that reasonable analyses risk being insufficient unless they are underpinned by brave leadership».  

What do you mean?

«Today in Europe it is no longer sufficient to be right: you also need the strength and courage to represent an anti-establishment drive, meaning thereby the portion of the people who uphold different forms of protest. Government leadership coupled with anti-establishmentarianism is a difficult but necessary mix».   

One of the reasons for the growth of populism is the migration crisis: is it Europe’s fault for having underestimated the problem too long?

«Europe did not face the problem until May 2015, when [Prime Minister] Renzi asked to convene a European summit on the matter. Now we must be careful and prevent the EU from returning to its state of lethargy: our Migration Compact proposal was made precisely to avoid that Brussels downscale the priority given to the issue. Europe must not go back to being Sleeping Beauty, otherwise it will risk waking with a start smack in the middle of an emergency situation».

What progress has the Migration Compact proposal made in European debate?

«Last Monday in Brussels the Foreign Ministers unanimously approved a document stating that the Migration Compact must be the basis of our strategy. On the medium term, our proposal is to earmark EU cooperation funds for migration issues: approximately 5 billion euros which, by leveraging additional public and private funding, could multiply to 50-60 billion. And, on the short term, develop a first response plan targeted on 17 African Countries (with pilot projects in the first 7) worth a few hundred million euros to be drawn out of Europe’s budget».

The Libyan government has asked the EU to help train the Coast Guard: is this a step forward in the Country’s stabilisation process?

«It is another small step towards consolidating the Government. I would like to add that a couple of days ago the recruiting criteria for the Presidential Guard were finally decided and they are still seeking an agreement with General Haftar, who must recognise al-Sarraj’s government and be given a role in the Country’s new security structure».

Is it true that it will be Italy to train the Presidential Guard?

«Up to now, in the meetings with al-Sarraj, we discussed diplomatic support and humanitarian aid and possible exemptions from the weapons embargo. Italy has done and is doing a great deal, in full harmony with the U.S. and with Europe. Once the stabilisation process is well underway, the Libyan government could ask for training and we will talk about it. The process must go through Parliament and be supported by the UN: I’m planning to talk about this in New York today with the ambassadors of the 5 [UN] permanent members».

When are the Geneva negotiations on the Syrian crisis due to resume?

«Unfortunately it is difficult to predict yet. This week will be decisive: if the truce is strengthened and humanitarian corridors are opened giving access to the cities under siege, then it might be possible to resume the Geneva negotiations before the Ramadan. If not, an air rescue operation will begin in the besieged areas on the 1st of June».

Are there any news on the Regeni case?

«Contacts between the Egyptian authorities and the Chief Prosecutor’s office in Rome have recently been re-established. We will decide what to do also in consideration of how this cooperation evolves».

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