On the issue Coast Guard vessel Diciotti, Salvini won’t take no as an answer. After his clash with Fico obliged him to disembark the minors, the Interior Minister did not consent to allow the adults disembark. Yesterday Salvini said: “Not one more person is going to disembark in Italy unless Europe wakes up and does its share and starts receiving [migrants] as we have been doing all these years.” Di Maio commented: “If tomorrow [editor’s note: today] nothing is released on the Diciotti ship and on the redistribution of migrants, I and the Five Star Movement will no longer be willing to give 20 billion euros to the EU every year.”
Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi has the task of bringing the decisions of the two Deputy Prime Ministers back within the tracks of diplomacy. In politics, form is always equal to substance, said the chief Italian diplomat, but this does not do away with the problem of European bureaucracy’s indifference to what is happening on the southern borders of the Union. Today Moavero is scheduled to speak at the Rimini meeting on Italy, Europe and Development.
Mr Minister, how far have we got in Europe achieving a unitary management of migration flows?
The progress made is still extremely insufficient. Last June’s European Council for the first time set forth a basic outline for a EU migration policy, making repeated reference to the need for a common approach among the Union’s Member States. However, there is still a lot left to do in concrete terms. In particular, we need to adopt appropriate provisions enabling us to proceed in an orderly, stable and systematic manner.
Does the EU Treaty enable us to do so?
Yes, but up to now the only operational measures in force concern the vetting needed to recognise the right to asylum. These are the so-called “Dublin Regulations”. As we all know, only a much smaller percentage of migrants usually coming into Europe are entitled to asylum (according to the figures on migrants coming to Italy, they are less than 10 per cent), which means that the real challenge lies in correctly managing all the rest of the migrants.
So, what does Conte’s government intend to do?
We claim that migrants seek Europe and arrive in Europe; not in one or the other European Country, depending on the route taken. We think that Europe shoulders a shared responsibility in this respect and therefore we refer to the statements made in the formal conclusions of the June European Council meeting. I am convinced that in order to manage migration flows it is necessary to shift the focus from the end-point (arrivals) to the source, namely the Countries of origin. This is where the Union must invest – a lot – to instore peace and democracy and to improve the socio-economic conditions and eliminate the causes that induce people to leave their own birthplace.
And what about the Countries of transit?
It is essential for the EU, together with the UN Agencies, to act in the Countries of transit to assist migrants in their dramatic exodus towards our continent and, where possible, help them return home.
And what about the migrants that come to Italy?
I think that, in the prospect of making a joint effort, the Union and its Member States should take charge of them so as to speedily verify who is entitled to asylum and who is eligible to receive a job offer. Ideally, wherever possible, this verification should be performed in the Countries closest to the Countries of origin or even in the latter. Then, for those entitled to asylum or with a job offer awaiting them, the journey to Europe should be organised in safe and decent conditions. This is why it is essential to combat the traffickers and exploiters of human beings as they represent full-fledged criminal organisations sadly interconnected from the migrants’ Countries of origin to our Countries, passing through the Countries of transit.
These are ambitious goals.
To achieve these goals in a cooperative and shared effort between European Union Member States and through the direct action of their common institutions represents the main aim of the Italian government’s efforts on the medium term.
However, on the short term the situation is discouraging.
In these last three months, we have continuously asked our other EU partners to share in receiving people who have been rescued at sea and we affirmed our willingness to do the same should a similar request come from our partners. We are witnessing a positive and innovative mutual aid process.
Does this also apply to the Diciotti rescue boat?
In the case of the Diciotti, we have taken the same line of action, initiating the customary bilateral contacts and also asking the European Commission to coordinate the action; it is an unprecedented request that has induced it to take action, spurred by a sense of responsibility and consistently with a community spirit. These efforts and negotiations are still underway and an extraordinary ad hoc meeting called by the Commission to make some headway on the issue is being held in Brussels today [editor’s note: Friday].
Minister Salvini has evidently unscrupulously used the case of the Diciotti rescue boat as an instrument of pressure. The formula could also be reversed: allow them to disembark and in the meantime use moral suasion. What is your opinion on this?
Let us not forget that for years Italy has saved thousands of human lives; also in the past few months we have continuously assured assistance to people in need of help at sea. The rest of the European States have amply and repeatedly acknowledged this. We now ask that the words of appreciation be followed by facts, tangible actions and real solidarity. The Diciotti rescue boat acted by saving almost two hundred people, showing our Country’s readiness to humanitarian emergencies. We would have expected a prompter effective cooperation from other EU States in order to reach the best possible solution as quickly as possible.
Is it conceivable to close the EU’s external borders?
There is no doubt that we must put in place more effective controls at these borders, especially maritime borders. This too must be tackled at European Union level, with the involvement of all its Member States and allocating thereto sufficient financial resources from the EU budget to meet the security objectives that citizens demand. It is necessary to find adequate ways of interacting with the Countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
I am quoting from an interview you gave in 2016: “Europe is often unequipped. While at economic level it has a fully equipped tool kit (…) in the face of migration it is underequipped and should immediately get to work to pass laws to equip itself.” What exactly do we need?
There is still a long way to go and little has changed since 2016. Unfortunately, the European Union has made scarce and sporadic progress towards meeting the aim of adopting a real, full-fledged migration policy. A signal was launched by the repeatedly cited guidelines decided at the European Council of last June. In compliance thereto, we must pass laws to establish the necessary framework of legally enforceable rights and duties to regulate a comprehensive migration management system in all its phases and profiles, which I partially explained in answering your first question. We are therefore using our utmost insistence at all possible levels that real progress be made both at political and legal level and, above all, that tangible results be achieved.
Rules cannot be changed without political alliances. Who is your privileged interlocutor right now between Brussels and Washington on the issue of managing the migration phenomenon?
Italy, as a founding State of the Union, continues to be strongly involved in the European project. We consult with all our EU partners and they regularly consult with us. However, we cannot hide the fact that Europe is going through a complex phase in which the cooperative spirit of the founding Fathers often seems to have been lost. We need to reclaim their courage and farsightedness. A disunited Union, broken down into “groupuscule” alliances and squabbles of all sorts, risks getting bogged down and lose the support of its citizens.
And with the United States, Mr Minister?
With the United States we have excellent relations, proof of which is the success of the recent visit by the Prime Minister. On that occasion, a significant identity of views was reached by Italy and the US also with respect to the Mediterranean, which can have a positive fallout on the stabilisation of the area, a crucial factor for our security.
Is there an ongoing debate with the Countries of the Visegrad Group? Is any progress being made?
We have an ongoing dialogue with all our European partners, which of course includes the Countries of the so-called Visegrad Group. With these, as with the other States, there are points that we discuss more frequently and on which we are more in sync; it depends on the issues. What is important is to find as many widely shared ideas as possible and a willingness to dialogue, which can successfully contribute to improve European integration.
What differentiates Italy’s migration policy in Libya from Germany’s migration policy in Turkey? What are we doing in this respect?
The two situations are different because of the different political situations in the two Countries. In Libya, Italy is strongly committed to supporting the efforts of its people and institutions to fully stabilise the Country. We hope that Libyan authorities will be able to intensify their collaboration with the EU, thus contributing to better manage migration flows, giving priority to the full respect of humanitarian needs.
What is the reason for Europe’s current political crisis? Its leadership, its institutions or its rules?
I think it is multi-factorial. We are in a historical period characterised by phenomena and challenges that Europe is called upon to tackle. Globalisation has given rise to new strong competitors of the European States; the technology revolution imposes a continuous quantum leap in innovation; the aftermath of the devastating economic and financial crisis must still be fully overcome and inequalities between the Countries of the Old Continent have deepened; climate change determines visible effects also at home; European society is aging and is heading towards an unprecedented population turnover. All this creates a divide in the perception and sensibilities of public opinion in different European Countries on major issues of general interest. Many seek an answer within the national framework; others continue to look at European unification as a positive prospect for their future. The world evolves at an increasingly fast pace and won’t stop to wait for us.
Fine, but what must we do in the face of such a perspective?
We need to seriously delve into the issue in a civilised in-depth debate based on well-documented data. We must promote it everywhere, in all Countries, at all levels, involving all of us citizens, so that we might all be aware of where we could end up without Europe, of where we are, of the many things we must change. And after that we must decide, all of us together.