Italy is calling for new efforts by the EU on behalf of the protection of Christian minorities and of religious minorities in general. Minister Frattini will suggest “stepping things up” on 31 January in the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, in the form of the periodic monitoring of the treatment of religious minorities by European embassies. This was the explanation offered by the Minister’s spokesperson, Maurizio Massari, as he introduced the work sessions.
Also to be examined in Brussels: the situation in Albania, Tunisia, Belarus, Ivory Coast and Sudan. With regard to Tunisia, Massari explained, Italy considers it necessary to support the country’s “the peaceful, democratic transition”. Moreover, a “unified EU response” is needed. As Massari pointed out, Frattini “has already called for a high level team to be sent to Tunisia as soon as possible”. The EU “must show signs of encouragement” in negotiations in order to achieve a “strengthened partnership”, because Tunisia is an “essential partner in the stability of the Maghreb region”.
On Italy’s “insistence”, the difficult situation in Albania will also be discussed, in consideration of the two countries’ close ties (Italy is Albania’s top trade partner and second largest donor). Italy, as Massari explained, “is closely monitoring recent events there and renews its appeal for moderation on all sides; normal political dialogue is necessary in order to resolve the issues, and Tirana must hold steady that European objective, of which Italy is its main supporter”.
There is also concern over Belarus, where incidents erupted after the presidential elections in December. Italy “immediately called for the release of those not involved in the violence”. The EU “must send a strong message” to the Belarus authorities that “some behaviours not in keeping with European standards are unacceptable”. At the same time, “it is necessary to pursue critical dialogue” with Minsk.
Sudan: the January referendum was “free and transparent and with a high voter turnout” and the results are expected to come out in February. “Italy and the EU are united in their appeal for maintaining dialogue between the parties as they pursue agreement on peaceful North/South co-habitation. Political stalemate follows the recent presidential elections in the Ivory Coast, and Italy and the EU agree on “ratcheting up the pressure on the persons and bodies that are maintaining it”.
At dinner the foreign ministers will examine Russia, Lebanon and Iran. There is “considerable Italian interest” in the latest political developments in Lebanon (a new premier who is now in the process of forming a government). Italy will reiterate its “full support for an independent, sovereign and stable Lebanon, and the hope that there will be a national unity government as inclusive as possible”. On the Iran front, Italy “regrets” that Iran “has not seized the opportunity” to advance negotiations, but is maintaining a “binary policy” (sanctions and dialogue).
There will also be no lack of reflection on Egypt at the Brussels meeting, a subject on which Italy “renews the international community’s appeal for moderation on all sides”. In general, Italy “is concerned about destabilisation in the region, and therefore urges the further commitment of Brussels in a somewhat neglected area”. The Union for the Mediterranean, for example, “has not yet got off the ground” and needs to get past “bureaucracy and aim at concrete projects” capable of triggering the socio-economic development of a Maghreb where “unemployment is very high and 70% of those without work are young people”.