“A full -fledged conversation with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emanuela Del Re. These are her words on Libya: “It’s necessary to reason from a European perspective because no country can resolve the crisis alone”
Africa, its risks and opportunities, Italian and international efforts, the commitment to defend human rights and the challenge of cooperation which arose after the case involving Silvia Aisha Romano. Emanuela Del Re, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and member of the Five Star Movement, discussed these topics in a long interview with Formiche.net.
Deputy Minister, today Italy co-chairs with the United States a virtual meeting of the 32 members of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS Small Group. Is the Islamic State making a comeback?
The Islamic State has increased its attacks in Syria and Iraq in the past two months. The ways in which these attacks were carried out against regular forces give rise to concern because they suggest the group’s renewed ability to gather information. The partial withdrawal of US troops from Syria, as well as political stagnation in Iraq, are the breeding grounds which allow ISIS to gain room for manoeuvre, and thus to exploit the security vacuum. Today’s session is necessary to review the progress of the Coalition’s activities and to update its strategies to counter the terrorist organisation – also in light of the global health emergency – in anticipation of being able to host the plenary meeting in Italy, which will be scheduled as soon as circumstances allow it.
The meeting focuses on Iraq and Syria, but also on West Africa and Sahel. What is Italy’s approach?
Consistent with its multidimensional commitment in the region, Italy endorses greater involvement of the Coalition in this quadrant, in order to strengthen the security of the entire Mediterranean basin. Sahel represents an area of strategic interest for Italy, an area of the world characterised by an impetuous demographic development, underpinned by a young and enthusiastic human component.
Which are the challenges and opportunities in that region?
There are a large number of problems affecting the region, including the climatic conditions, which are and will be decisive in the future: the region hosts the highest number of people affected by global warming, which has a huge impact on agriculture and live-stock farming. The lack of options and survival at risk provide fertile ground for jihadist groups who recruit members of nomadic communities that are experiencing economic crisis such as the Tuareg, the Peul and the Dossak. Another very serious problem is the high number of displaced people, both internally and cross-border, caused by organised violence and local conflicts.
Are there any solutions?
We should display the ability to create alternative options, especially for young people in the region. Italy participates in the international community’s shared effort to empower the region’s Countries in the fields of security, civil capacity building and with initiatives of development cooperation. On the security front, unfortunately, there is a proliferation of rebel armed groups affiliated to the main terrorist organisations (Al Qaeda and the Islamic State). In response to such phenomena, alongside the traditional French and more recent US military presence, the countries of the region formed the G5 Sahel coalitions, which are under the responsibility of joint military forces supported by the international community. Capacity building missions from the European Union and the UN with an Italian presence operate on site.
Italy provides a growing contribution to the stabilisation of the Sahel region with a multidimensional approach, which entails a constant political dialogue, accompanied by concrete support in terms of security and sustainable development. In recent years we have opened new embassies in the area and others will follow; we have also increased the number of on-site visits of our government officials. Furthermore, in terms of security, we have established defence cooperation agreements with the main Sahel countries and we also have the Bilateral Support Mission (MISIN) operating in Niger to provide assistance and support. We shall strengthen our military commitment in coordination with our main international partners. Finally, during this year Italy will consolidate its commitment in terms of development and migration cooperation: in the two-year period 2017-2019, the Italian Cooperation has allocated to the G5 Sahel countries total grants of approximately €120 million, in addition to the projects financed in the Sahel region through the Migration Fund, worth approximately €120 million, intended to strengthen the operational capacities of the G5 countries in managing the migration phenomenon.
The Sahel is key for Italy also with respect to Libya
It’s the southern border of Libya, and for this reason it is crucial for us. I’s a vast desert territory without controls, which has historically contributed to turning the extended south-western Libyan region of Fezzan into the crossroads of a complex system of trafficking in human beings, drugs, weapons, cigarettes, fuel. The porous nature of Libya’s borders with the Sahel region has contributed to the entry of mercenaries from countries of the region, into the dynamics of the military conflict, in support of both sides.
How should we act?
Looking ahead, a further empowerment of the international factor is needed to support the stabilisation of the Sahel region, in the direction of greater coordination. The establishment of an international Sahel Coalition is unfolding in order to encourage dialogue between the different support structures for the Sahel, in the four pillars of intervention: military contrast of terrorism, security capacity building, civil capacity building, cooperation to development. A greater involvement of the Anti-Daesh Coalition and NATO in the Sahel region has also been envisaged. Italy actively contributes to the ongoing international debate on such issues.
So, let’s get to North Africa. Let’s talk about Libya. Given the recent developments in the field, which path does the Italian government intend to take?
I believe that on the Libyan dossier it is necessary to reason from a European and non-national perspective because no country alone can solve the complexity of the Libyan crisis. The escalation of the last few days requires a greater effort by the countries of the European Union in support of the Operation Eunavfor Med Irini, under Italian command, through appropriate structures. An operation that features a number of layouts, which need to be implemented at naval and air level, in order to ensure the intervention’s neutrality. The Libyan crisis and the stabilisation of the area need to be a priority for Europe, and also an area of attention for NATO’s southern flank. Italy’s action is placed in this context. As part of the Berlin Conference on Libya, Italy became an active promoter of the enhancement of the role of Libya’s neighbouring countries, more directly exposed to the consequences of Libyan instability, through their active participation in international processes, starting from the Berlin Process and its implementation mechanisms.
Today, 4 June, GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which sees the United Kingdom among its main contributors, also holds its summit. Italy has recently committed itself with a €120 million pledge for the five-year period from 2021 to 2025. Also considering coronavirus, how can universality and equity in vaccination be united?
The coronavirus crisis is a global crisis of unprecedented proportions and circumstances, which requires a global and coordinated response. Italy has promoted at all levels – in particular within the UN, G20, G7 framework and in the European Union – the construction of a global, concerted, multilateral and multi-dimensional strategy to face this crisis, also in support of countries with particularly fragile health systems. The negative effects of this crisis could be not only on health, but also on food security, on the well-being and prosperity of populations and, ultimately, on the security and stability of these countries. It’s also for this reason that Italy was the first country – with the firm will first and foremost of Minister Luigi Di Maio – to openly promote the establishment of an international alliance for the Covid-19 vaccine, in order to accelerate research, development and the equitable distribution of a vaccine and the health and multi-dimensional response to the pandemic. All with a convinced multilateral approach through the provision of multilateral resources in favour of the CEPI Coalition for the research of a vaccine, of the GAVI Alliance for its equitable distribution and for global immunisation and of the WHO in support of the most fragile countries. Furthermore, Italy is promoting an innovative FAO initiative, the establishment of a Food Coalition, a multilateral and multisectoral mechanism which aims at creating a network of international solidarity to respond to the new critical issues which emerged with the pandemic on the food supply system, by enhancing the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
And in view of the 2021 G20 summit to be hosted by Italy?
Our country will ensure maximum commitment in responding to the pandemic’s long-term effects. As Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote in a recent joint open letter with four other heads of state and government: “The stakes are high for everyone: nobody is immune, nobody can defeat the virus alone and nobody will be truly safe until we are all safe, in every neighbourhood, in every city, in every region, in every country of the world. In this interconnected world, the strength of the global health system is equal to that of its weakest link. To protect each and every one of us, we must protect each other.”
Are there any risks for the African continent related to the Covid-19 pandemic? What countermeasures is the Foreign Ministry working on.
Despite the risks and concerns raised by the impact of Covid-19 in Africa, it must be stated that some countries are responding effectively. I am thinking of Senegal, which is now developing a test kit for Covid-19 that could cost $1 per patient. Or of Ghana, which has developed an innovative tracking system, now under scrutiny by the World Health Organization.
Is it correct to state that the major issue for Africa seems to be represented by side effects?
Yes, such as the side effects related to the interruption of food chains, that according to various studies could lead to a great famine in the near future. Furthermore, the health systems of many African countries are fragile and overloaded by this pandemic: the risk deriving from this is that they cannot adequately follow other pathologies that are constantly claiming victims in Africa. Covid-19, oil market shock, very serious environmental issues: it’s clear that we are facing a profound systemic instability which requires extremely serious structural responses, with a short, medium and long-term perspective.
In your opinion, is it a duty of the Western world to intervene?
There is no doubt that action must be taken in Africa, because it is the main frontier of the global fight against coronavirus. It’s in our interest. Fortunately, attention to the continent has increased, with articulated intervention programmes also by the EU, for instance, where Italy, which is always at the forefront of these challenges, has an active participation. Our diplomatic action in global fora in favour of a global response to Covid-19 continues on all fronts, also through a national operational table that will be convened shortly.
Following the Silvia Aisha Romano case, do you believe that a reform of the cooperation system is necessary to guarantee new security standards?
The story of Silvia Romano has once again brought the issue of the safety of our foreign workers to the attention of the public. The topic has always been addressed with the utmost commitment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has often been the subject of dialogue between the Civil Society Organisations and the Ministry’s Crisis Unit, which has developed particularly in recent years. The current context, characterised by great complexity, certainly requires a more generalised risk awareness. The issue of security must be tackled by adopting precise rules, also through training of operators, and must be experienced and interpreted in relation to the diversity of the realities in which we find ourselves. Compliance with rules and greater attention cannot ensure safety, but are valid tools for risk minimisation.
However, there are CSOs that are not registered in the list of qualified Civil Society Organisations which nonetheless operate on the ground having no relations with Italian cooperation. What should be done in these cases?
A more informed contact with such organisations should be established, if possible, through the initiation preventive risk awareness and training courses.
You have repeatedly referred to the multilateral perspective. An issue that has become even more urgent, if possible, at this stage is that of human rights. How is Italy engaged in their defence?
Italian action in the safeguard of human rights in the world has focused for years on a number of symbolic battles ranging from the universal moratorium on the death penalty to the promotion of the rights of women and the girl-child (including campaigns against female genital mutilation, and early and forced child-marriages). These are the key themes of our mandate in the 2019-2021 UN Human Rights Council: from the protection of religious and belief freedoms, and of the rights of members of religious minorities, to the fight against trafficking in human beings; from the protection of cultural heritage against all obscurantism, to the fight against racism, xenophobia and all forms of intolerance, anti-Semitism; discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Battles that our country has been waging for some time, which have persisted despite changes in government. As such, they are part of our national identity, strengthened by the awareness that the promotion of our constitutional and civil values in the world constitutes a specific national interest as well as an ethical imperative.
Promoting them is the goal and the imperative, but in what way?
Through the full and convinced anchoring of Italy to effective multilateralism. The more Italy participates in multilateral fora, the greater our chance to influence global dynamics. There is no contradiction, however, between the pursuit of national interest and multilateralism. The most difficult crises in the world are solved only if there is coordination and cooperation between states within multilateral organisations. The Covid-19 pandemic is dramatically confirming this. If there are any deficiencies or delays in the response of international organisations, these should be mostly charged to the member states that participate in them, and not to the multilateral institutions themselves.