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Alfano: «Populism will not prevail. I hope the French will choose to remain in Europe» (La Stampa)

While waiting to take off for Brussels to attend a meeting of the European Foreign Ministers this morning, Angelino Alfano admits he cannot imagine a victory by Marine Le Pen capable of breaking up Europe. On the contrary, he admits that he finds nothing “scandalous” in the possibility of talking of a multi-speed Europe in the declaration of the Rome Summit of 25 March. Then he moves on to speak about migrants and Libya, a topic steadily making the headlines. On Friday, Italy’s leading diplomat talked about the future of Tripoli with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (whom he’ll meet in Bonn on Feb. 16), the last in a number of contacts that involved the other major players in the issue, the Emirates and Qatar, which support Haftar. Minister Alfano said: “I have recorded a willingness to cooperate. Everybody realizes that Libya for us has a strategic connotation that cannot be underestimated in terms of immigration and also security.”

Is it a good signal that Moscow is giving to the Sahara diplomacy?

“This does not mean that we are heading a new process but that diplomacy acknowledges the need to widely broaden the attention given to the issue also beyond the agreement between Italy and Libya. It is up to everybody to do their duty in order to create synergies without paying too much attention to conventional formats: this is the way to work towards Peace.”   

Do we also need the U.S.A.?

“Also America’s engagement is necessary to stabilize Libya. I will talk about it with Tillerson in a meeting we will hold shortly. We need everybody to commit to achieve this goal. We must not reattribute to Americans the stripes of a universal police force.”  

How is the dialogue progressing?

“We explained the specificity of the situation in Libya to the new American administration and told them, as we have told others, that a united Libya can foster stability in the Country and also in neighbouring countries. Scenarios envisaging one part prevailing over the other constitute a danger for everybody.”

Is Libya cooperating?

“We are in an experimental phase and we appreciate their goodwill. Some facts are pushing the situation forward: the approval of the budget bill enables Tripoli to pay security forces while the numerous victories over ISIS in Sirte will make resources available for the protection of the territory. These are very important signals.”

In the wake of Malta, will Europe be able to go beyond words of promise?

“The EU must bolster cooperation with the Countries of origin and transit, chip in with the Trust Fund for Africa and sign agreements with Libya similar to ours. Only by strengthening our external borders and signing targeted agreements will we be able to solve the problem.”

Let’s talk about Ms Le Pen. Populists are advancing.  

“Europe’s political system is divided into two large hemispheres. In the first, there are those who think that Europe remains one of the solutions we need, albeit with a host of limits and delays, which need to be addressed. The other unites those who think it is an unsolvable problem and even the very problem that triggers all the other ones. My playing field is in the former hemisphere, that of those who want to change it and not abandon it. And I will put up a hard fight in Italy to stop those who want to bid goodbye to the Union.”

The Front National won’t compromise. They want to break up the negotiating table in Brussels, along with the EU and NATO.  

“I hope the French choose to remain in Europe. They have the status and the history that was common to the founding fathers. They were part of the leading trio with Italy and Germany, and we must not forget this. They must remain part of it at a time in which we need to find an answer for those who are jobless, especially young people, and make big investments and joint efforts to guarantee our security.”

But if Marine were to win, would it mark the end of Europe?

“Let’s proceed one step at a time. There is an election campaign under way, at the end of which I am convinced that the arguments of those who support the values of the French Republic, such as Fillon and Macron, together with those of the Socialists, will put together sufficient pro-European forces to stop those who want to leave Europe.”

Ms Le Pen likes Trump, who also had a “warm” telephone call with Gentiloni. You draw similar judgments but start off from different intents. How do you explain this?

“I am one of the few people who, before the American vote, did not express support for Trump’s adversary. Of course we have a different vision on several major issues but Trump is doing exactly what he promised to voters. This deserves respect. Then I am convinced that he recognises the importance of the transatlantic ties with our Country exactly as we do with him.”

Do you also agree with him on the wall with Mexico and the ban on immigrants?

“We have a different stand on migration. Italy has done everything possible to wed the concepts of solidarity and security. We have rescued thousands of lives while defending the Country. Other Countries, in order to express this solidarity, had to pay a price. But this does not mean that we cannot agree: on defending global security, fighting Daesh and cooperating to stabilise Libya.”

Angela Merkel wants to include a reference to a “multi-speed Europe” in the declaration of Rome’s celebration of Europe on 25 March. Is this possible?

“Our Europe is already a multi-speed Europe so the idea does not shock me. This format needs to be acknowledged. In full freedom and without any form of coercion, it is possible to unite more ambitious Countries that don’t want to surrender their powers to other Countries which perhaps aim to stop or slow down the process because of a need of sovereignty or populist drives. Our defence system, in this sense, is a perfect example.”