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Moavero Milanesi: «Migrants, the EU risks imploding. We hope not to have to close our borders» (Il Messaggero)

The Minister of Foreign Affairs: «It will be very difficult to reach an agreement in the Brussels Summit». «Will Italy put a veto on the EU budget? If we are not satisfied we won’t OK it».

Minister Moavero, a decisive summit on migration will open in a few hours in Brussels while the situation is getting out of control in the Mediterranean. Salvini has closed Italian ports and rejects the ships of NGOs. Do you share this line of action?  

«What is going on depends on the lack of an efficient management in the last few years at European level of the ongoing epochal migration phenomenon. Europe, and not Italy, is the destination of all these people fleeing from wars, authoritarian regimes or seeking a better future. Therefore, as this issue is European, the solutions must also be European. But the EU has been lying back, letting national egoisms prevail. Italy’s present position intends to place the partners’ attention back on the common values of responsibility and solidarity. »  

So, is pushing the ships back a sort of provocation?

«Provocation is the wrong word. Rather, there is the will to shake the conscience of European Member States and Institutions: we are talking about human beings in the hands of traffickers, of people who go through a tragic exodus and put their lives at risk. Since 2016, more than 9,000 have died in the Mediterranean. Everybody has admitted it: Italy has been left alone to tackle the emergency. We cannot continue along this road. »

What proposals will Prime Minister Conte put on the negotiating table today?

«Today’s is only an informal meeting to prepare for the European Council of next Thursday and Friday. It is a moment of reflection. Italy is asking us to change and not only revise the logic of the Dublin Regulation. Its rules set forth that the Country of first entry must give migrants reception, assistance and especially verify if they possess the prerequisites to obtain the right to asylum. In case they don’t, they are to be repatriated or kept on the Country’s territory. A system like this is inadequate and underestimates the numbers: the great majority of migrants are not entitled to asylum as they migrate for economic reasons and these represent 93% of the people coming to Italy. The Dublin Regulation applies to them by default, does not offer solutions and puts all the brunt on the Country of first entry. But there’s more: if the other EU Member States consider that the controls to grant asylum are not rigorous, they can suspend the free movement of people laid down in the Schengen Agreement and close their borders as it happened in Ventimiglia. In short, it is a very sad paradox: what Europe’s Dublin Regulation actually does is fragment the Union. »

This in fact blocks the “secondary movements” from one State to another… 

«Exactly. But it is impossible to tackle the issue of “secondary movements” if you don’t first tackle that of “primary movements”, meaning thereby the arrivals. These can be reduced by acting on migration flows, not at the source, but especially at the origin and along the routes. The European Union must do much more to bring peace and liberty and to improve the economic and social conditions in the migrants’ Countries of origin. This requires a lot of funds and to invest them well. Then, we must set up reception, assistance and information camps managed by the Union and by the States of origin and transit: many people, after a first leg of the journey and after having understood how terrible and hazardous the journey might be, wish to return home and these people must be helped. Lastly, we ask to reorganise and strengthen a full-fledged European supervision at the borders of the Union. Moreover, the people who are rescued at sea must not always be disembarked in the same ports but distributed in the different Countries bordering the Mediterranean, while obviously assuring assistance in the closest port to anyone in need. In this way, the burden of reception and vetting would be shared. It is evident that reallocating people in different places makes it possible to avoid overcrowding and the associated difficulties and the vetting process would be quicker with less people to control in every port of entry. »  

Is it true that Mr Conte, if negotiations fail, is ready to put a veto and threaten to reduce Italy’s contribution to the European budget?

«The European Council functions on the basis of consensus and it is normal that, if there is no consensus on given points, no conclusion be adopted. Therefore, it is not a real veto. As for the 2021-2027 budget, discussions have only just begun and no decision will be taken for at least another year. But in this case too, it is necessary to have an unanimity vote and if we were not satisfied, we would not give our consent. »

Doesn’t Italy risk to be isolated?

«Europe today is greatly divided: between States, within States and even within each one of us. In the face of such tragic events, every person is split between two feelings: solidarity and fear. In a nutshell: the migration issue is divisive. To speak of isolation is to speak of a fragment among all the other fragments into which Europe is now divided. The European Union is an archipelago of many islands. It delays the capacity to come to a fair compromise, share and really cooperate. Whoever sees the migration issue as a very high-risk situation for the solidity of the European Union dramatizes but also could be heralding things to come. »

Are you saying that Europe could break apart?

«The risk exists. The division between groups of Countries, the difficulty of working together and coming to an agreement are producing effects perhaps more disruptive than the financial crisis of 2012. »

Could Europe come to an end? Implode? 

«Maybe not come to an end but it could undoubtedly undergo an important setback. It is not necessary to abolish Treaties because it would in fact be sufficient to make them ineffective. »

Do you think that there is a design behind all this? Do you suspect that Hungary’s Orban, the leader of the Visegrad Group, but also Salvini, are aiming to hit the heart of the Union in the name of nationalism?

«I don’t think that there is a real deliberate plan to formally disrupt the European integration process. However, there is widespread malaise among the citizens for a Europe that betrays expectations and is incapable of solving the most serious problems. If this continues, the situation could get completely out of hand. We could slip, more or less consciously, in a past made of competing and rival nations. This is why we are making proposals: to deliver the right solutions for the present time and thus avoid that the first victim of Europe’s inertia and of the arguing between States be precisely Europe. »  

Schengen is already panting for breath…

«So it seems. Even if, for the time being, within the boundaries established by its own rules. But if all the Countries closed their borders, the freedom awarded by Schengen would no long exist. This would produce great damage: for those who travel on business, to study, for tourism and it could consequently undermine the single market and we would lose our biggest driver of growth and employment in Europe. »

So Merkel is right to be pessimistic on the outcome of today’s summit and of Thursday’s European Council meeting. The Chancellor excluded the possibility of achieving shared solutions.

«Agreeing on some innovative key points is not impossible, albeit difficult. It is obvious that no legislative amendment can be adopted in five days, although it is possible to establish an orientation for our future actions. We must really put a hand on our conscience: already in 2014, the sore spot of the European Council was migration. In its conclusive statements we find lofty declarations but scarce elements of change. We are trying to avoid duplicating the same situation. »

Merkel is now putting her stakes on bilateral agreements to send the migrants that have arrived in Germany back to Italy or to the other Countries of first entry. How will you respond?

«With a ‘No’, which we already said when we rejected the draft circulated a few days ago. I repeat: we can address secondary movements only after finding a real and tangible solution to primary movements. »

Would Italy close its borders?

«We are already now surrounded by many closed borders. The risk of borders closing one after the other exists. I hope we never have to come to a similar decision. »

French President Macron proposed “European closed centres” in which to host refugees in the Countries of first entry. What do you think of the idea?

«If similar centres (but I would call them ‘camps’!) were equally distributed among the several European Countries bordering on the Mediterranean, in which to allocate the arrival of boats full of migrants, we could discuss it. On the contrary, it is unthinkable that large portions of our Country become scattered with reception and control centres, no matter who finances and manages them. Italy cannot go on paying for the whole of Europe just because of its geographical location: the problem is European and the burden must be evenly shared out among the whole European Union. »

You are an understated but staunch Europeanist, how do you get along with Salvini, who establishes an axis with Orban while he gets into furious arguments with Macron?

«I have found no difficulty in reasoning and taking decisions with my colleagues in the Cabinet. There is an open and constructive dialogue among us. This said, if all that interests you is the higher or lower pitch of voice, I think that whoever is active in politics in a democracy is free to choose what tone of voice to use. We have a great variety [of tones] to choose from, in Italy and throughout Europe. »