A sense of urgency. “We can’t wait. We need an emergency intervention, an immediate response. Otherwise, it’ll end up that Italy is no longer able to identify the migrants”. This was Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s comment in a break during the meeting of EU heads of diplomacy in Luxembourg. The Minister continued: “The people smugglers are financing Islamic terrorism, and they need to be hit”. Italy demands support from its European partners “as part of an international political support effort for targeted actions against these 21st-century slave traders operating, in particular, in north-west Libya. To achieve that, we’re working both in Europe and in New York”.
What does that mean, in concrete terms?
“More resources from the Union, because 90% of the rescue operations are at present falling to Italy. It’s incredible that an economic super-power like the EU is spending just 3 million per month on Triton. The patrols and maritime border controls envisage a search and rescue obligation: that’s the law of the sea. More EU directives are not necessary”.
Have you noticed a new sensitivity to the issue in Luxembourg?
“The shock over this latest tragedy made it very clear to the EU that we can no longer simply refer to what has already been decided, said and regulated. That would be tantamount to saying that the Union is totally inadequate. We are facing an emergency that is not Italian but European. We need, at long last, adequate resources and commitments. Turning to the reception system, over 70% of the immigrants who arrived illegally in the European Union in 2014 did so by first reaching Italy. A percentage that is not set to diminish, if things don’t change”.
But are we managing to convince Europe?
“We’ve embarked on a pathway. We’re starting from a very negative, even embarrassing, situation: a European emergency that until now has been considered a purely Italian problem. I hope that the meetings taking place now, and those coming up, will mark a new sense of awareness in Europe. I said this to the other foreign ministers when I introduced the discussion: Europe’s very reputation is at stake.
We’re working on three points. The first is the need to take decisive action against those organising people trafficking. The second concerns Triton. And the third concerns Dublin, and how to manage the reception system. If it’s to stand up to the strain, our system needs a significant European commitment. Otherwise, we’ll no longer be able to apply the rules of the Dublin Convention, on the identification of migrants. This isn’t a threat to our partners, but a risk that we’re running, and I hope that everyone understands that to avert it we need a substantial economic contribution from the EU”.
What are the conditions for intervention in Libya?
“It would be imprudent to speak at this time of military intervention or other scenarios of that type. Italy is working at various levels to encourage support for targeted actions to combat people trafficking. We appreciate the statement made by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon (ed.’s note: on a shared response to the crisis). I spoke about this with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, the current President of the Security Council. We expect further expressions of a clear position from the Council. In Europe, we’ve found a very clear determination from major countries like France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, to fight the slave traders.”
Is an oil embargo likely, until the flow of boat people is stopped?
“Every so often, the UN dynamics seem to follow a pattern: let’s try mediation, and it that fails we’ll move on to sanctions. But in this case the legal revenues from oil extraction that are funding the National Oil Corporation (NOC), and through the NOC the Libyan central bank, are the only trickle of legal funding among a river of illegal funds that are flowing into Libya from various directions. It wouldn’t be wise to close the one small legal tap that we should, on the contrary, be preserving. And Italy is working with the USA and other countries to prevent the central bank from being destroyed and divided up among the factions”.
Renzi seems inclined to sink the empty boats…
“I’m not concerned with the backstage issues. On the stage, the political-diplomatic stage, we have Italy’s commitment to build consensus on targeted actions against the people traffickers. We do need to strengthen Europe’s commitment on monitoring and rescue, but the latest tragedy happened not because of a lack of emergency assistance, but because of the obscene way the traffickers had packed a boat that wasn’t seaworthy in such overcrowded conditions. The new slave traders are also financing terrorism. And their criminal business now amounts to 10% of Libyan GDP”.
Berlusconi is ready to cooperate, Salvini is seeking a naval blockade and is attacking the government…
“In the face of a tragedy of this nature, the appropriate conduct is cooperation and a sense of national responsibility. Being part of the government or of the opposition shouldn’t count for too much, compared with being first Italians, and second, having a government culture”.
Do you mean that Salvini lacks both characteristics?
“Salvini has once again confirmed a series of slogans that are far removed from managing crises and emergencies. Naval blockade? I don’t understand if the people speaking of this aim to use it for forced repatriation, which with Libya is impossible, or for humanitarian rescue. It’s a expression used for effect, and certainly not a solution”.
Berlusconi has proposed a meeting with former premiers…
“The government will weigh that up. But these proposals are a step in the right direction, in the right spirit”.