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Gentiloni, Steinmeier: “Italy and Germany stand united in the migration challenge” (La Stampa)

After the dramatic events in Paris, Italy and Germany are even more convinced of the need to combat terrorism firmly and cohesively. At the same time, we feel it is vital to avoid any confusion between terrorism and refugees. We must distinguish clearly between those bringing hatred and death and those – thousands of women, men and children – fleeing war, persecution and the violence of Da’esh.

In addition to the dramatic threat of terrorism, Europe is facing a migration challenge on a scale that is era-defining, global and long-term

The stakes are high. In the dramatic situation of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty, and with the moral imperative to save their human lives first and foremost, the very values – values of peace, freedom and the respect for human rights – on which the European Union was founded, are at stake. Indeed, our identity and cohesion, the very future of the European project, are at stake.

As founder members of the EU, Italy and Germany have a historic responsibility in defending its values, a responsibility of which they have given concrete testimony. Italy by saving more than 100,000 migrants in the Mediterranean; Germany by giving shelter to hundreds and thousands of migrants, most recently Syrians. But that is not enough. We are convinced that no Member State of the Union can tackle, alone, a phenomenon of this historic scope, given that in 2014 nearly 60 million people were forced to flee from wars, violence and political persecution throughout the world. A number that helps us to understand just how much of an illusion it is to think that we can oppose these global trends by proposing a return to autarchic societies protected by walls and closed to diversity.

The dilemma the European Union is called upon to resolve is not, therefore, between strengthening its own borders and reception; nor between our well-being and our security, on the one hand, and solidarity towards the refugees, on the other. The choice we must make today is between governing the phenomenon, or being subjected to it. It is time to take a major step forward to draw up a long-term, comprehensive European response inspired by solidarity and responsibility.

To achieve this goal, Italy and Germany will continue to cooperate actively and to channel their common contribution along four main tracks.

First, we will ensure that the commitments already undertaken by the European Council, and which mark encouraging progress, are implemented in full. They include the relocation of 160,000 asylum-seekers from the most exposed member states; the creation of “hotspots”; the activation of an effective system, at the European level, for the repatriation of economic migrants. Relocation, hotspots and repatriation make up a single, integrated package, all elements of which should be implemented at the same time.

Second, Italy and Germany will continue to promote, in the European institutions and the other member states, the need to complete, as soon as possible, the framework of measures available to the EU to manage migration. The principal goals on which our action will be focused are the affirmation of a permanent and obligatory system of distributing the refugees arriving in European “first reception” countries; the replacement of the Dublin Regulation with a common European asylum system; the strengthening of the measures to combat the trafficking of human beings; and the opening of new legal immigration channels to ensure that a rapidly ageing Europe can also grasp the opportunities opened up by migration.

The third track on which we will be working together is that of closer cooperation with the countries of origin and transit of migration flows, with the aim of establishing new partnerships with them. On 11 and 12 November a summit of European and African Heads of State or Government took place in La Valletta. The agenda included all aspects of the migration question, including its deeper causes. Italy and Germany are already working in the Horn of Africa, not least through common projects as part of the Khartoum Process. In addition to the Horn of Africa, the European Union should, as a priority, also intensify cooperation on migration issues with Turkey, on the basis of the Action Plan currently being finalised, and with the western Balkans, by exhorting the countries of the region to implement the measures agreed at the meeting of 25 October in Brussels.

Lastly, Italy and Germany will continue to make every effort to contribute to the stabilisation of the crisis regions in the Mediterranean. We will spare no effort in our attempts to help Libya emerge from civil war and to foster a political transition in Syria.

Reaffirming our solidarity and unity of purpose to govern, rather than to undergo, the migration question would be a crucial step for Europe, not least to restore credibility to an integration process which, otherwise, risks once again merely marking time.

All this is happening as the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, on 25 March 2015, approaches. An opportunity to be grasped, not just to celebrate the past but also to reflect on the future of Europe and prepare one that is even better.