Strengthening security by multiplying agreements such as the one finetuned with Niger but also investing on the age-old unifying and not divisive idea of the “Mare Nostrum”, 200 million for the Africa Fund, an Erasmus programme for the Mediterranean, and one thousand cultural cooperation projects. Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano heralds the opening of the Med Conference with a package loaded with actions which does not overlook, he insists, the imperative of protecting human rights in Libya.
Much is being said about investing in Africa in order to constructively tackle the issue of migration flows. What progress have we made and with what countries have we built the best prospects?
«Increasing migration flows from Africa to Europe have posed challenges that we must tackle with a global and structural approach.
Global, insofar as no Country can manage the phenomenon on its own. This is why Italy is on the frontline, playing an important role in stimulating Europe and the United Nations. This month for example, fighting human trafficking was the priority set by the Italian Presidency of the Security Council. Moreover, we are the first contributors to the EU Trust Fund for Africa: our commitment is real.
But our approach must also be structural, as it is a phenomenon destined to last years. In 2017, we increased the resources allocated to cooperation efforts in the African countries of origin and transit. In addition to these already significant amounts – approximately 60 million euros – we have further increased our commitment by establishing a 200-million-euro Fund for Africa, that I have asked to also renew for 2018. »
Does the Migration Compact, of which nobody talks any more, still exist and is it still viable?
«With the idea of a ‘migration compact’, a partnership with the countries of transit, origin and destination of migration flows, we offered Europe food for thought in developing a medium-to-long-term strategy. The New Migration Partnership Framework with Third Countries adopted by the European Commission is the result of this approach and is reaping its fruits: for example, the external investment plan aimed at bringing private investments in Africa. »
Is there, on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean, a young civil society that, even if it has grown surrounded by problems after 2011, is ready to dialogue with Europe and to imagine business partnerships, and design joint cultural projects like the Erasmus of the Mediterranean?
«Investing in youth is strategic. It is necessary to act on two fronts: on the one hand, we have to stimulate new business activities capable of creating new jobs in the MENA area; on the other hand, we must intensify cultural and university exchanges. It is with this spirit that I have strongly supported an economic diplomacy towards the region and that we are working to close Agreements with the Countries in the area to promote an Erasmus of the Mediterranean and create new mobility programmes for young university students and researchers. But the linchpin is to invest broadly in the cultural sector. And this is what we have done by launching an ambitious programme entitled ‘Italy, Cultures and the Mediterranean’ that envisages 500 initiatives in several Countries of the Southern Shore of the Mediterranean in 2018. »
Two years after the mammoth 1million-migrant arrivals in the summer of 2015, whose curse seems to have now also reached Merkel, has Europe designed a common strategy for the Mediterranean or is every country still going its own way?
«As acknowledged by President Juncker, by saving hundreds of thousands of lives at sea, Italy also saved the honour of Europe. When a boat with 200 people sinks, so does the honour of the international community. Our Country was long left alone but something is now moving: there is greater awareness in Europe and, for example, thanks to the EUNAVFOR MED, we were able to offer support to Libya’s coastguard, by contributing to train their crews. »
Last week Strasburg gave green light to reforming the Dublin Treaty, which is good news for Italy. What do you expect will change now, seeing that the amendments refer to asylum seekers and not to the much larger number of economic migrants?
«We need to make a specification: the European Parliament only voted the position it will adopt in negotiating with the Council. At the moment therefore, nothing will change. However, it is an important political step that the Council will have to take into consideration. »
Is it possible to imagine legal access channels for economic migrants like the ones recently evoked in his j’accuse by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Al Hussein, who said that the quota system is practically closed and that, no matter how much we invest in Africa, migration flows are not likely to stop overnight?
«It is certainly possible, but the limit of similar solutions objectively lies in the enormous flow of irregular migrants. Only once we have succeeded to reduce them will we be able to revise the legal quota system. »
Does Europe in general and Italy in particular have a possible role to play in the crisis of the Eastern Mediterranean, starting from Lebanon?
«Italy has a primary role to play for the stability and security of Lebanon. Proof of this is our participation in the restricted ISG-International Support Group for Lebanon and by the more than 1,000 Italian troops in UNIFIL, to which we are the leading contributor. As for the affair of the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri, we relaunched our call for the unity, sovereignty and independence of Lebanon; however, in order to assure stability to the Country and to the region, it is equally essential that security be only entrusted to the institutional armed and police forces, trying to limit the role of militias and paramilitary forces. Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, made a point of coming to Rome to open the MED Dialogues conference: an important testimony of the special ties that bind our two Countries. »
Leaving the many distinctions aside, migrant arrivals have dropped compared to last year. Does this mean that also security in the Mediterranean has progressed?
«It means that barely one year after taking office and after having had to tackle the extremely serious threat posed by Daesh in Sirte during the first couple of months, the albeit fragile Libyan institutions have started to exercise control over their sea borders thanks to the activity of the local Coastguard, which also has our support. In addition, migration flows also decreased thanks to the contribution of the Government of Niger, to which we have allocated 50 million euros, and that had the merit of drastically cutting the number of passages through the southern border of Libya. But the reduction of arrivals does not per se mean more security: after the military defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, we are called on to tackle the risk of the possible return of foreign fighters. »
The reduction of arrivals entails a very high human cost, as we have seen in Libya. What can Italy do for security to proceed hand in hand with human rights and to keep us from continuously being reminded of the agreements signed with Gaddafi, who kept departures under control by keeping migrants in prison in fierce conditions?
«We are fully aware of the serious situation in Libya’s reception centres. This is why we call on all those imparting lessons to give more funds and logistic support to Libya, in order to solve a situation that concerns the whole of the international community. Italy is doing its share: we financially support the IOM and the UNHCR and we have made available 6 million euros to improve the living conditions in the Libyan centres with the help of our NGOs. »
What is Libya’s and Italy’s state of progress in their talks?
«The UN Special Representative Salamé has put on the table an important Roadmap, which we support because there is no alternative nor military shortcuts to negotiation. We have repeatedly told all the parties that it is necessary to reduce all the unsuccessful negotiating formats to one, under the leadership of the UN. I am going to bring up the subject again with Deputy Prime Minister Maitig, when he comes to Rome in the next few days to attend the MED Dialogues. »
Is Russia – which is apparently also engaging in the South of Libya – playing on the Mediterranean scene on the same side with Europe?
«We acknowledge the role of global player and essential interlocutor that Russia is playing in the Mediterranean crises. Like us, Russia dialogues with all the Libyan interlocutors and is supporting Salamé’s action. This year we established a fruitful dialogue with Moscow on Libya and not only. We will take stock of our cooperation with Sergei Lavrov in a meeting to take place at Villa Madama next Friday. »
What is the ‘Mediterranean’ challenge that you are most optimistic about right now and what is the one that worries you most?
«The Mediterranean challenge that I am most optimistic about is Tunisia. Tunisia has succeeded to fight terrorists, cooperate with us in combating irregular migration flows, reinforce the protection of human rights and strengthen the Country’s economy. This is proof that it is possible to build a project of peace and liberty also in North Africa.
The one that worries me most, especially in view of its geographical proximity, continues to be the crisis in Libya. However, it spurs us to increasingly do more at political, diplomatic and cooperation level to stimulate Libyans and the international community to support a political reconciliation process. »