ROME «The issue of immigration threatens to bring out the worst in Europe, amid member state egoisms, disparate decision-making and polemics. I’m worried. It is going to be on this question that Europe either rediscovers its soul or else truly loses it».
According to Minister for Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni there has to be agreement, and that calls for review of the Treaty of Dublin, which imposes on refugees that their final destination be their country of arrival. “Search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean have been europeanised and this has reduced the risk of tragedies at sea, but how long can we accept the idea that the ships of various European countries save migrants just to deliver them to Italian ports»?
What are the critical points?
«Lack of agreement is the millstone that drag Europe down. It seems almost as if there were no awareness of the outstanding features of this new immigration: the sheer numbers; the difficulty in distinguishing between conflict-driven, political and economic motivations; the growing strength of trafficking organisations. The Commission tried to launch a common agenda after the extraordinary summit spearheaded by Italy, but now that agenda needs to be reinforced”.
What are the risks?
«One of the fundamental pillars of the European Union is at risk: the free circulation of persons. From the Sicilian coasts to Kos, and from Macedonia to Hungary and Calais, we are seeing a rise in tensions that in the end could put Schengen in jeopardy. Can we imagine a Europe without Schengen, with the old borders once again enforced? The migrants are not entering Greece, Italy or Hungary, but Europe. The rules on reception also need to be European».
Do you agree with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Italian bishops, who criticised the insufficiency and ineffectiveness of the UN’s response to the migration phenomenon?
«The United Nations has done substantial work in some areas. Is it sufficient? The UN’s weakness is implicit in the way in which it is organised in the world today».
We are in agreement with Germany on immigration. What about the other countries? Are there some that could do more?
«Italy is not keeping score. Certainly, Germany is among the most active in policies of asylum and in support of a common European approach. In many others, the idea prevails that the countries exposed to the Union’s external borders should deal with it on their own. The Union has been reduced to an embarrassing hour-by-hour debate on the relocation of a few hundred migrants by individual countries».
The Northern League does seem to be aware of the problem, however, or no?
«The League is making propaganda. Anyone offering magic solutions just to garner consensus and spread fear and, at times, ridiculous misconceptions, is not helping Italy but damaging it. And neither am I sure – the next elections will tell – if they are even helping themselves».
The murder and decapitation of the archaeologist Asaad, and the destruction of the Mar Elian monastery in Syria, bring ISIS’s war against art and culture back to the fore. Is it likely that the Blue Helmets will be sent in to defend sites such as Palmyra?
«Aggression against cultural heritage is closely linked with the persecution of Christians in this escalation of horror. It is necessary to defend the Christian presence, without which the face of the Middle East would change; and it is necessary to defend cultural heritage. It is obvious that it is not possible to go into Palmyra today, but the international community can attempt forms of protection in areas not at war but at risk, and promote the salvaging of areas that are gradually being liberated».
Is ISIS truly a threat of historic proportions? There are some who still doubt that.
«The extent of the Daesh threat is enormous and derives from two facts. First, its firm hold over an area of up to 300 square kilometres – more or less the size of Italy – inhabited by several million people, and financial resources that the anti-Daesh coalition estimates at slightly less than a billion dollars a year. Secondly, as a result of this control and an alarming ability to simulate a state-like entity, its capacity for communication and recruitment of foreign fighters is without precedent. Daesh today is naturally based in Syria and Iraq, but traces of it have been found in over 20 countries».
You prefer to refer to ISIS as Daesh, the Arabic acronym used in France.
«It may seem a small detail, but any reference to expressions of statehood or caliphate must be stripped away when defining this phenomenon. For that reason it is useful to call it Daesh».
Will Daesh be defeated only by putting boots on the ground? Is the United States’ apparent detachment a problem for us?
«We cannot oscillate between condemning the disastrous effects of military interventions and appealing for them. The American leadership has not disappeared, it expresses itself differently. But I urge prudence to those who, after describing the catastrophic effects in Iraq and Libya, once again call for military intervention in that region».
And yet you yourself have suggested the military instrument for Libya.
«Once there is agreement among the Libyan forces, it will need the guidance, monitoring and protection of a coalition in which Italy can have a fundamental role».
Would Italy lead the coalition ?
«Italy is the European country most interested in Libyan stability, for economic reasons – i.e. oil – as well as regarding migration and security. It could be the point of reference among Western nations in a coalition that also includes Arab and African countries aimed at strengthening an inter-Libyan accord. But the timeframe for negotiations is not infinite; the phase that begins this week must be the conclusive one».
And if there is no agreement?
«In the absence of a peace accord, we will work on the possibility of extending the sort of actions being conducted in other theatres of the anti-Daesh coalition to Libya. We are striving for accord amongst Libyans. Simple anti-Daesh containment would be a response to failure of the negotiations. In any case, we categorically reject the idea of new ventures: peace and stability cannot be imposed on Libya with the weapons of a foreign occupying army. That scenario does not exist. A new intervention similar to that of four years ago would create even more damage than has already been produced».