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Gentiloni: «Europe will be up against a wall on migration if it does not enforce existing agreements» (La Stampa)

“If the European Union remains nailed to the dogma of decimal points in the economy and to the idea that every Country goes its own way on the issue of migration, it’s going to find itself up against a wall,” repeats several times Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni while reflecting on the future of Europe in the aftermath of the Hungarian referendum.

The quorum was not reached in Hungary but 3 million people voted No to immigrants. How do you interpret these figures?

“The vote in itself was not the plebiscite sought, which means a defeat for the promoter. Unfortunately however it is an illusion to say that this implies a turning point in the European migration policy.”

Would it be right to inflict a sanction on Hungary if it insists on refusing to receive 1,300 migrants?  

“I can’t believe that the EU, which is so tough on decimal points in the budget despite the evident necessity to give momentum to economic growth, could instead be understanding toward Countries that refuse to enforce decisions on migrants and even tolerant towards those who raise walls.”

Is there a double standard therefore in talking about economics or migrants?

“It is as if there were a sort of license to break the rules on migration.”

Indeed, the relocation of migrants has only been carried out to a very limited extent…

“European policies seem to be overridden by vetoes and risk running into a stalemate while waiting for the next tragedy to come. At the beginning of the year Italy proposed the Migration Compact and in June the Commission endorsed it: 4 months have elapsed and not only is the operational part – with agreements with 5 African Countries – at a standstill but so is the albeit modest 500 million euro funding requested by the Commission.”  

So do you think they are backtracking?

“We hope the funds will be released as soon as possible but I have the feeling that Europe considers the migration issue to have arisen in July 2015 and to have been solved in March, with the agreement with Turkey. Instead it arose years ago and is bound to last many more years and also the agreement with Turkey needs to be continuously upheld: for the moment it still holds out although it is showing several cracks.”

We know how long-dated the migration crisis really is: yesterday was the anniversary of the shipwreck of 3 October 2013. What has changed in Europe’s approach since then?

“Something from the point of view of sharing rescue operations at sea, but very little from the point of view of a common reception policy.”

Do you hope in re-founding a new European Union before celebrating the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in March?

“In Rome we will recall that, without the Union, Europe risks becoming irrelevant in a globalised world. But the EU cannot stop living while waiting for an anniversary: we need immediate tangible remedies.”

What will inevitably come are the post-Brexit negotiations: they will kick off in March, said Prime Minister Theresa May…  

“That London has finally given a timeline is a positive fact. Ms. May implied that the UK will essentially exit the single market, which means that it will be necessary to define new customs and trade relations and not only do a little tapering. This will require a balanced, and not preliminarily hostile, approach knowing that it will take years of negotiating.”

Does exiting the single market also mean refusing the free movement of persons? Will it become difficult for Italians to live and work in London?

“Certainly there will be no problem for Italians who already reside in the United Kingdom. For the future, the British invoke the principle of reciprocity. But since they need a customs union, I don’t think they can afford to limit the free movement of EU citizens all that much.”

Mr. Minister, let’s shift our focus to the Mediterranean: what does it mean for Italy to be the pivot in the area, to use a term that you yourself have used?

“It was a way of emphasising the centrality of an area that is crucial for our national interests, as Mr. Molinari wrote in his Sunday editorial on La Stampa. We have succeeded to put the Mediterranean back on top of the agenda of the EU and NATO: up to two years ago the only theme of discussion was Ukraine. We co-chair with the United States the initiative in Libya and play a key role in negotiations on Syria; we promote a positive agenda on the economic opportunities of an area of which we are the fourth-largest trade partner after the United States, China and Germany. Looking forward, we must rebuild the groundwork for coexistence and the mutual recognition of the players in the region: we will be talking about it in Rome in two months’ time at the second edition of Med Dialogues.”

The region also means Syria: are we close to a break-off in US-Russian relations?  

“We were among the first to consider Russia’s presence in Syria as an opportunity, a lever with which to induce the Syrian regime to go from throwing bombs to negotiating. Now there is the risk that Russian-American negotiations fall through: in order to avoid this, we need Mosco to make a clear, matter-of-fact commitment to stop Assad’s offensive on Aleppo.”

Instead in Libya it appears impossible to uproot ISIS…

“It’s true: there are still pockets of resistance although, in slightly more than two months, the offensive of the forces that support al-Sarraj has, even if with numerous losses, greatly reduced the presence of Daesh (Editor’s note: ISIS in Arabic): in Sirte they are reported to still occupy only a couple of buildings.”

Talking about Libya: are there any news on the two Italians kidnapped in Ghat?  

“We have to give time to our intelligence and security forces to work unhindered.”