Antonio Tajani is on an Ita flight to New York. On the tray table in his front row seat is a folder marked “United Nations”, containing the Plan for Africa that the Italian Government is working on. Wearing a shirt and trainers, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs flips through the agenda of the three-day American mission, from the inauguration of the Farnesina Collection art exhibition at the Consulate in the presence of the President of the EU Parliament Roberta Metsola (“A sign that Italy is being given attention”), to today’s speech at the UN headquarters. Then, the leader of Forza Italia takes stock – “deeply concerned” – of the migrant situation and does not spare Salvini any digs.
Did Meloni and von der Leyen try to undermine Salvini and Marine Le Pen in Lampedusa, who are climbing the polls, overtaking the right-wing governments of Rome and Paris?
“Le Pen is rising, I don’t know about Salvini. However, it is short-sighted to see it from an internal perspective, to use tactics would be a mistake. We have to find solutions, not compete in the election campaign to see who can make the biggest promise”.
Is the Government’s failure on immigration more evident because the right wing has raised the bar too high with its election promises? The leader of FdI and Salvini campaigned with the slogans “ports closed” and “NGO taxis of the sea”…
“Salvini? I answer for myself. I’ve been saying the same things for 10 years, since I was EU commissioner and talking about a plan for Africa”.
Will you and Prime Minister Meloni, who will speak in New York tomorrow night, ask the UN for help?
“We could ask the UN to create centres like the UNHCR centres in Niger, but bigger, containment situations along the migrant routes in Africa. There is enormous pressure. The phenomenon must be seen as a whole, not just from the end. Even if you close Libya and Tunisia, tomorrow they will come from Morocco, Algeria, or Egypt”.
Has the premier succeeded in convincing von der Leyen to go down the road of a new naval mission, even though it may become a pull factor according to Lega?
“A new Sophia mission would do well only as a deterrent signal. I am convinced that the only solution is a diplomatic one. The priority is to make agreements and investments in Africa, in those countries from which migrants depart. The situation is explosive, indeed it has already exploded”.
The Lega fears that migrants intercepted by the ships of a possible EU naval mission will end up in Italy anyway. Is this the case?
“Let’s be careful with slogans that do not bring results. You can also create detention centres to make irregular migrants understand that you won’t let them enter Italy and will send them back, but without agreements we won’t solve the problem”.
Has diplomacy failed, as is also argued by Lega?
“No, it has not failed, without diplomacy instead of ten thousand migrants, fifty thousand would be arriving by now. The numbers are very high, when they arrive from all over Africa you have to stop them from leaving. Khartoum is a destroyed city. Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso have explosive situations”.
Can the record wave of boats to Lampedusa be repeated?
“Tunisia is now a bottleneck, from the Horn of Africa to Guinea it is an unmanageable situation. Then you add Libya and Morocco with natural disasters, throw in Syria and Afghanistan and you see the gravity of the situation. Even France and Germany are becoming afraid”.
Do you really believe that Europe is moving?
“Yes, Europe has understood that this is not a Lampedusa or Italian problem and it is bigger than it appears. France has understood that we risk a biblical exodus”.
Did Macron open up to the naval operation during the phone call with Meloni?
“Making temporary interventions in the face of wars, population growth, global warming and terrorism is useless. They flee not to die. In Africa in 2050 there will be 2.5 billion people, not the ten thousand of Lampedusa. After the EU and NATO, we will tell the UN that the Italian case is just the tip of the iceberg”.
What purpose, then, does the Government’s hard stance serve?
“To stop smugglers currently operating in Lampedusa. However, a strategic vision is needed to solve the problem structurally. Premier Meloni will give a targeted speech on the matter at the UN”.