«It is a perfect storm – says Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni – with Europe and the Mediterranean at the centre. The Brexit referendum, the failed coup in Turkey and the jihadist attacks are intertwined threats. On the one hand, the Mediterranean is the crossroads of global tensions, security issues, terrorist attacks and regional crises. On the other hand the Brexit spark plug risks weakening Europe’s response. For those in charge of foreign policy, the priority imperative is not to give in to fearmongers: fear of migrants, of terrorism, of international trade. We must avoid that fear prevail, exploited by irresponsible politicians. Today whoever tries to collect votes by mongering fear could cause devastating effects. If we give up free trade, if we remain powerless while we witness the break-up of the European Union, if we stir up hatred for migrants, we will soon find ourselves in a worse world.»
And how should we react?
«Stay calm and keep our bearings: first of all not surrender to the idea of giving up Europe, second work with the United States on involving Russia, third defeat terrorism but avoiding crusades and military illusions. This is the challenge. Fearmongers would want us to forget the tragedies of the 20th Century in Europe or make us believe that it is possible to stop globalization or delude our citizens into believing that we can stop migrant flows at sea. I know that security is under threat and that globalization has penalized the middle classes. This is why fearmongers unfortunately find fertile ground on which to sow fear. But woe betide ever giving up our open societies and we are in for bad times if we ever close ourselves up within our rage and our little good old world of the past.»
Turkey’s Erdogan, with the support of the oppositions, managed to thwart the military coup. But his reaction seems aimed at settling old grudges and involves almost everybody, kicking off a new authoritarian crackdown. What can the European Union can and must do?
«We were very clear in condemning the military adventure but now we are equally clear in saying that vengeances, purges and violations of the rule of law are unacceptable. The doors of Europe remain open for a democratic Turkey and the decisions of the Turkish authorities will be decisive in keeping it from closing».
But is it still realistic to expect that the EU accession negotiation process, which was resumed concomitantly with the signing of the agreement on refugees, can help Turkey become more democratic?
«We have made some mistakes, but ten years ago, not yesterday. At the time, closing the door on Ankara surely did not help create a positive trend in the Country and it was certainly not Italy that did it. Now the message must be extremely sharp: we must be just as clear in rejecting any authoritarian turn as we were when we rejected the military intervention.»
Isn’t there the risk that, in order to preserve the refugee agreement, we will be obliged to be lenient in terms of human rights and democracy?
«I believe the exact opposite, meaning thereby that any undemocratic shift will have a negative fallout on the refugee agreement. On this point, Italy has always pointed to Europe’s short-sightedness: there was a time in which the Turkish experiment appeared to everybody to be a possible model of a moderate and democratic Islam and we thought that it would deserve a more open and encouraging approach. I hope that the same short-sightedness won’t now apply to the Balkans: let me remind you that today marks the formal opening of negotiations on some of the chapters in Serbia’s EU accession process».
The Nice massacre, right after the Dhaka attack, comes in a phase in which the Coalition to Counter Daesh is making important progress against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Are we before a strategic turning point in jihadist terrorism?
«We would fall prey to a gigantic illusion if we were to think that terrorist attacks depend on Daesh’s defeats and that leaving it alone for a while would defend us from all risks. It is the call of Daesh and its alleged winning force that drives lone wolves or more or less spontaneous groups into action from Dhaka to Nice, from Paris to Brussels. We must defeat them. We can obtain important results in 2016, in Mosul, Raqqa and Sirte. But it won’t be quick. Italy’s approach is the right one: this match cannot only be won through military intervention, in which we are very present, but we also need to involve the Islamic communities and the Muslim Countries on a social and cultural level».
Does this mean prompting the Islamic communities in our own Countries to be clearer in their decisions and in taking sides?
«This is what I did after Dhaka. We have had some positive feedback but I still expect more and stronger reactions to come».
In a few days you will be in Washington for the meeting of the Coalition to Counter Daesh. What will be the next steps to take?
«Continuing the advance on Raqqa, Mosul and towards Sirte, in Libya. At the same time, we must make sure that it is strong enough to avoid sectarian fragmentation, which would make any conquest precarious. It is therefore crucial to involve the Sunni community in Mosul, that the military operation in Sirte be conducted by the Libyans and that a broad coalition, and not only a Kurdish or Russian-Syrian alliance, be the one to liberate Raqqa».
Kerry’s talks with Putin and Lavrov in Moscow were extremely positive.
«Putin accepted the idea of intensifying the military cooperation with the United States against al-Nusra. In parallel, it is important to begin a negotiation on the political transition on the basis of the proposals made by Staffan de Mistura».
What will you say today to the new British Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson?
«We expect to continue our partnership with London on foreign policy issues. I asked Johnson to give me some clarifications on the post-referendum developments. The point is to avoid that the exit of the United Kingdom act as an accelerator in a disintegration process. Nobody can take it for granted that the 27 Member Countries will react to Brexit in a compact way. London must decide if it is in its interest to have a united and cohesive EU, thus setting clear timeframes and processes, or instead play a divisive role. This would be seriously short-sighted…but I confide that this is not what they will chose to do: to bet on the division of Europe would make negotiations difficult and possibly endless. Yesterday however Johnson spoke reassuring words».