An intense week of international meetings and the case of little Alfie
Minister Angelino Alfano went to Brussels on Monday, 16 April, to attend the EU Foreign Affairs Council where the issues on the agenda focused on the difficult situation in Syria and the relations with Iran and the Russian Federation, and where he participated in a working lunch on the Western Balkans.
In his contribution to the Council meeting, Minister Alfano spoke on the first point on the agenda: “Italy considered the operations carried out on Saturday morning as a targeted, motivated and restricted response to the chemical attack on Douma. We offered our allies our political support, reaffirming that we do not want to consider what has happened as the beginning of an escalation.” “In our opinion, it is important and necessary to do everything possible to rigorously ascertain the facts in respect of the existence of evident proof against Assad’s regime in the Douma attack,” he said, specifying that “on the basis of past actions, it is extremely likely that the regime is involved in the recent chemical attack. We confide in the assistance that may be provided by the OPAC experts who are already on the ground.” He added: “We cannot do without recalling that there is no military solution to the crisis and we must have a political strategy. It is fundamentally important to keep Washington engaged in the UN-led negotiation process and, in this perspective, we must continue to keep dialogue open with the major players in this crisis, and first of all Moscow.”
Another complex, albeit entirely different, issue engaged the minister on Monday. The EU Foreign Ministers meeting offered the opportunity to meet with his British colleague, Boris Johnson, on the human drama of little Alfie, who suffered from a neurodegenerative disease and in respect of whom British authorities have decided to turn off the life support. It is a sad story intertwining ethical and legal issues not easily solved. Minister Alfano recalled that “Alfie is a UK citizen and Italy respects the decisions taken within Britain’s national jurisdiction” and that “the British national health system and medical standards are among the highest in the world,” but hoped that the wish expressed by Alfie’s parents be granted to transfer the child to Rome’s Bambin Gesù hospital – a very high-level medical facility fully equipped to provide the best possible assistance in a case like this – which is willing to hospitalise Alfie on the basis of a concerted decision.
The minister celebrated the Day of Italian Research in the World with a tweet in which he said: “Our Country is a developer of science, technology and innovation and we are proud of our researchers who, with their work, contribute to supporting scientific diplomacy and the excellence of our Country in the world.”
The conference “70 Years since the 1948 Elections”, organised by the De Gasperi Foundation on Wednesday, 18 April, gave Minister Alfano the opportunity to speak of the European defence system, which is “never antagonist but complementary to NATO,” and of Atlanticism as “one of the pillars of Italy’s foreign policy”. The United States “were decisive not only then but remain essential now and for our future,” said Alfano recalling that American soldiers “gave up their lives to give us freedom and democracy”,
On Thursday, 19 April, the minister defined the Austrian bill on the consular protection of the German- and Ladino-speaking citizens of Alto Adige “absolutely non-compliant with the EU regulations on European citizenship and consular matters and in complete violation of international law”. He added: “For this reason, yesterday we mandated the Italian Ambassador in Vienna to submit a formal complaint to the Austrian Government on the cited bill on the basis of specific points of law.” However, that same day, Austria announced that it had withdrawn the bill: “We have learnt with satisfaction that the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed us that the bill on Alto Adige has been withdrawn and the legislative process has been stopped,” he said. “Stopping this text is the right response to the commitment and readiness with which the Italian Foreign Ministry followed the case from the beginning. The decision taken today by the Austrian Government proves that cooperation between European Countries is something to preserve with great care and equilibrium.”
The minister also expressed his satisfaction for the European Commission’s report “recommending the opening of negotiations for the accession of Albania and of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” he said, “as the deserved recognition of the important reforms implemented by these two Country’s on the road towards European integration and their citizens’ legitimate aspiration to become part of the EU in the future.” He went on: “Italy has always supported the EU enlargement process and will continue to support it as a strategic factor on the European agenda, fostering prosperity, security and stability of the whole continent.”
Still on Thursday, the minister chaired the meeting of the Joint Committee for Development Cooperation, at which he recalled that “Italy is among the Countries that recorded the biggest net increase in Official Development Assistance this last year, reaching the appreciable amount of 5.7 billion dollars, 10.2% up from 2016. This confirms our Country as the 4th largest G7 donor country in percentage terms and the 6th largest in net contributions among the member Countries of the Development Assistance Committee". He added: “We have approved programmes and initiatives worth a total of more than 16 million euros concerning different geographical areas, spanning from Africa to the Middle East, from Asia to Europe.”
On Saturday, 21 April, Minister Alfano flew to Toronto to attend the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting. Before travelling to Canada, Mr Alfano commented on the new conciliatory steps taken by North Korea with the suspension of the nuclear tests and of the launch of ballistic missiles and the closing of a site. He said: “It is a positive development and a step in the right direction. I hope that it will favour the success of the imminent summit meetings and contribute to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Peninsula.”
At his arrival in Toronto on 22 April, the minister’s first tweet was precisely on Italy effort to “boost peace and security in the world".
The agenda of the G7 meeting addressed a large number of issues: Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Myanmar and Venezuela. At a working luncheon at the residence of his Canadian colleague, Minister Alfano “reaffirmed Italy’s commitment to assist Ukraine in its efforts to achieve full economic recovery and support negotiations for a sustainable political solution to the crisis”.
While the minister was still in Toronto, there were new developments in the case of little Alfie. On 23 April, news was released that Alfano and the Minister of the Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, had granted Italian citizenship to the little boy “hoping that, as an Italian citizen, the child might be immediately transferred to Italy,” the Foreign Ministry announced.
On the following day, the minister informed: “Meeting the request submitted by Niger’s authorities a few weeks ago, a humanitarian flight took off today with a load of approximately 15 tones of medicines for the local population.” The flight took off from the United Nations Humanitarian Defence Depot (UNHDR) in Brindisi managed by the World Food Programme carrying medicine kits for the most widespread diseased in the Country and hard-to-find medical supplies.
Syria was again on the international diplomacy agenda on 25 April, when the second ministerial meeting was held in Brussels. Minister Alfano said: “We reaffirm our firm condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and our request that it be liable for crimes of war. It is essential to reach a United Nations-led political solution in Syria. Millions of people in Syria and in the neighbouring countries are suffering and need immediate assistance. This year Italy is contributing with 48 million euros.”
On Thursday, 26 April, Minister Alfano went to Paris to attend the conference “No money for terror” on combating the financing of Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
The conference offered the opportunity to stimulate the international community to raise its efforts to combat terrorism. Minister Alfano conveyed the following message: “Let’s be clear: our enemy is strong. But if I think of the strength of our freedoms and of our founding values, I am certain that we will prevail over any criminal or terrorist intent. This is why it is important to be here in Paris today, with the intention – stronger than ever before – to all work together.”
Following with his international engagements, on Friday, 27 April, Minister Alfano returned to Brussels for the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting. The meeting’s agenda was on the following issues: NATO-Russia relations, defence expenditure, Iran and Western Balkans, and gave Alfano the opportunity to meet with the newly appointed US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
"Today’s meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas is an encouraging sign of conciliation that I confide will be followed by further tangible progress,” said the minister after his meeting with Pompeo. He added: “I strongly hope that, thanks to Washington’s strong impulse and leadership and to the determination of the whole international community, it will be a step on the road towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Peninsula.”
The week ended on Saturday with the sad news of the death of little Alfie. “Goodbye, we loved you,” were Minister Alfano’s words of grief.
"L'incontro di oggi tra i leader delle due Coree rappresenta un incoraggiante segnale di distensione cui confido faranno seguito altri concreti progressi" ha fatto sapere il ministro, dopo l'incontro con Pompeo. "Auspico vivamente - ha aggiunto Alfano - che, grazie al forte impulso e alla leadership di Washington e alla determinazione di tutta la comunità internazionale, si tratti di un passo verso l'obiettivo della denuclearizzazione completa, verificabile ed irreversibile della Penisola".
La settimana si conclude sabato con la triste notizia della morte del piccolo Alfie. “Addio ti abbiamo voluto bene”, sono le parole di cordoglio di Alfano.