«There is no alternative to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis. And there is no alternative to Europe as a whole getting the job done. I reiterated these convictions in recent talks with the EU's High Representative Josep Borrell, who once again aired the proposal of appointing a special European envoy to Libya. An envoy should be chosen from among those Countries that have no direct or indirect involvement in the conflict. A neutral figure, capable of giving a fresh impetus, along the path laid out in Berlin». The Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio answers some questions by Repubblica on the situation in Libya, further complicated by the latest move by Khalifa Haftar to proclaim himself leader of the entire country.
Minister Di Maio, in a television announcement the other night Haftar claimed he had received "full powers from the people", a very obvious political coup. How do you view these new developments?
«The Italian government is clearly concerned by Haftar's declaration. We appreciate the European position and have also adopted a stance on the matter.The population is suffering hunger, it is necessary to get the oil industry back on its feet and Italy intends to defend its geostrategic interests in the Country, also by supporting the internationally recognised legitimate Libyan authorities. For us, the political dialogue solution adopted at the Berlin Conference is and remains the only concrete option for solving the Libyan crisis».
Haftar's military attack on Tripoli has been lasting for over a year now. Adopting a real politic approach, you had travelled to Bengasi to meet him. Do you believe, today, that Haftar has any chance of military success? Is Haftar still part of the solution in Libya?
«It's not my job to make forecasts. I have repeated a number of times that it's one thing to try to enter Tripoli, but an entirely different matter to then control the city. They are two different things.All the groups on the ground and the representatives of the Libyan people are part of the solution. Italy supports a united, entire and sovereign Libya. The first step in this direction is toblock the flow of arms and stop this proxy war, through the timelines and instruments of diplomacy».
In January, Haftar blocked oil exports, damaging the economy and posing an energy threat to Italy as well. However, you have never firmly called for oil exports to resume…
«On the contrary, Italy, like all the other EU Countries, has expressed concern for this oil blockade on a number of occasions. I also addressed the matter with my colleague Le Drian the last time we met in Paris and, more recently, with Minister Maas of Germany, and even with Haftar himself various times. The oil blockade must be lifted, because the situation is starving the Libyan population and this is unacceptable, nor does Italy intend to neglect the objective of protecting and preserving out geostrategic interests».
The Serraj government installed itself in Tripoli also thanks to Italy's support. Today, however, Italy seems to have lost interest in Libya, displaced by Turkey, and even the Serraj government seems to have drifted away from us. Tripoli is irritated because of the lack of military aid, as well as political and medical support. What brought this on?
«Italy supports the UN-recognised government. My last meeting with Mr. Serraj in Tripoli was cordial and agreeable, and also with Mr. Bishagaand Mr. Maitig, with whom I am in touch. I have always spoken openly to them: Italy will never support a military solution because we are convinced that we must take the opposite path to reach a ceasefire».
Haftar relies heavily on the support of foreign military personnel (from Syria, Sudan and even Wagner Group mercenaries from Russia). But the government in Tripoli has also deployed Syrian fighters, via Turkey. In Libya, today, there is a concentration of former terrorists, Islamist militia fighters and criminals. What do you fear?
«We fear a new escalation leading to yet more warfare. Libya and its people can no longer sustain this, but nor can Italy and Europe».
Turkey is making a lot of enemies in the Mediterranean and the EU. Its agreement with Libya on the continental platform has already infuriated Greece and Cyprus, highlighting a design to extend its military power even to the central Mediterranean.
«We understand the concerns expressed by Greece and Cyprus. Energy is one of the cornerstones of the strategic dialogue between Italy and the eastern Mediterranean Countries, based on the region's potential as an "energy hub", also for supplying Europe. Now more than ever the energy resources of the Mediterranean basin must be used to benefit and develop all the Countries in the region, in a spirit of openness and collaboration». And now, several domestic policy issues:
The 5 Star Movement has always said, in its institutional role, that it wishes to put Parliament at the centre of national life. Don't you think that it's high time to stop using Prime Minister's decrees, which, instead, gives full power to the government?
«We are in the middle of an emergency, which requires the government to act swiftly. Today, Prime Minister Conte will inform the Chambers about the measures for the economy. It is my opinion that, at times such as the present, dialogue and discussion with all the political parties is essential and this is precisely what the government is committed to».
You have advocated a pragmatic approach to EU negotiations, while considering the ESM inadequate. Seven 5-Star MPs, however, voted in favour of a parliamentary motion tabled by the opposition Brothers of Italy Party. Do you fear a split in the party?
«The 5-Star Movement has always had many different shades of opinion. For ten years now the media have fuelled conspiracy theories regarding the possibility of schisms within the movement and, to be honest, I have lost the will to answer these questions».
Can the recent moves by Alessandro Di Battista and his followers weaken the government or cause it tofall part?
«Alessandro is one of the earliest 5-Star activists and freely expresses his opinions. What I can say to you is that the government is solid and that we are engaged in rebuilding this Country at one of the most difficult times in its history».