Saturday, 30 September 2023 11:46

Interview with Mr. Paolo Gentiloni, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Karima Moual: Minister, never as in recent years the southern shore of the Mediterranean has been as fundamental. Stability - not only in terms of security but also the economic – is deeply tied to ours;That of Italy first, and Europe in general. How to respond to this new challenge?

Paolo Gentiloni: The Mediterranean is moving back to the center of history. This is a sign that the geopolitical balance of the world is changing. After having reflected for decades in terms of transatlantic balances, history returns to the starting point, to the cradle of civilization. And beyond, this space is linking, in a complex aggregate, lands and peoples of Europe, Africa and Asia. Here have been made, and will be fulfilled again, the decisive exchanges. Our biggest challenge is to manage the entire process taking place in this great civilization space. We must coordinate the efforts of all the riparian countries, European and Euro-Mediterranean at the political level, of course, but also at the economic and that of our civil societies.

KM: The ongoing conflict has redesigned new balances and gave birth to new potential partners to respond effectively to cooperation in the Southern Mediterranean, at least for those who imagine and try to anticipate future scenarios. Surely Morocco is the main actor in this new phase, under the reform process started in years, with unprecedented economic growth that has made the country a symbol of stability, while others collapsed with the so-called Arab Spring. What is the vision of Italy in this process? Can it become a partner for a new policy in the Mediterranean, which responds to the theme of immigration, but especially to the political, economic and cultural cooperation?

PG: Italy does not see the Mediterranean as a barrier between the North and the South, but as a common area in which we need to set the conditions for stability and prosperity necessary for our long-term development. Morocco is a key partner for us in this effort, both through its special relations with the European Union and bilaterally, as testifies my visit in late January to Rabat. My meetings on this occasion have strengthened our excellent agreement in terms of political and economic cooperation, management of migration, regional security and the fight against terrorism. With our Moroccan partners, we wish to strengthen collaboration through even closer and structured bonds, which can serve as a model for a qualitative leap in relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

KM: The issue of immigration is at the heart of the debate and the ongoing conflict, which sees Libya as a bridge but also a trap for many desperate people in the emigration process to Europe seeking redemption. Is Triton really the only answer?

PG: The launch of the joint operation Triton, coordinated by the European Agency Frontex is a common first response to the challenge represented by the current migration crisis, bringing together the function of border control and the obligations under the Sea law to intervene to rescue distressed boats. As such, since its launch on November 1, Triton notably intervened directly in the rescue of almost 7,000 migrants from a total of 25,500 migrants rescued mostly by the Italian Navy or commercial vessels.

Triton is not in itself the only answer but is a first step towards a shared responsibility for European level vis-à-vis the fierce battle that must be fought against human beings smugglers.

The excellent collaboration between Morocco and the European Union (with Italy in first line) is framed in the "Mobility Partnership" signed in June 2013. This is an innovative cooperation, which aims to promote circular migration routes thanks to an agreement on visa facilitation, fight against irregular migration through a readmission agreement and invest in mutually beneficial outcomes of migration.

KM: The King of Morocco Mohammed VI differs in its foreign policy for the commendable work vis-à-vis economic cooperation to other African countries. Strengthening Africa is to create stability in the region. Is not it time for European countries to encourage this direction? What role can Italy have in this operation?

PG: In recent years, Sub Saharan Africa has made significant progress in terms of democratic governance in regards to the socio-economic development. However, many challenges in the political and security remain. Italy is committed, through bilateral projects and some European initiatives to strengthen the capacity of African institutions, especially to combat corruption, crime and terrorism. At the same time, Italy is committed to promoting forms of partnership that can enhance the strong economic growth in some African countries. Two years ago, we launched the Italy-Africa initiative, a process to strengthen relations with the African continent and to identify opportunities of mutual concern, such as in the areas of energy, agriculture and culture. Among the many initiatives, we also want to promote the entrepreneurial spirit of the African Diaspora in Italy and the transfer of expertise in the country of origin. Similarly, the tasks for the promotion of Italian investments in many African countries continue. The recent reform of the Italian Development Cooperation will also enable a more effective presence on the African continent by fostering public-private partnerships.

KM: We have learned to our cost that the vacuum of the Sahel, and the spaces left to anarchy, because of an international policy that does not give rapid and effective responses, promote violent and fundamentalist entities, such as The IS in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria and other groups that are not al-Qaeda minors, who terrorize the populations of Africa. On the Moroccan border with the Sahara lies the same threat. The Moroccan recipe to this historical question is regionalization which allows a peaceful independence and governance in a fragile area. What is the position of Italy in this respect, and how can it help solve this conflict?

 PG: Italy is at the forefront in the fight against Daech and against all forms of extremism. We firmly believe that a multidimensional approach is needed if facing a serious and complex threat and so we have articulated our commitment, for example through our support for the military efforts of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, our expertise to counter financial flows to terrorist organizations, our new laws against the phenomenon of foreign fighters, our constant dialogue with Muslim communities in Italy, which represent real wealth for society. In this context, the participation in the coalition of a major Arab country such as Morocco is extremely important and appreciated, as it demonstrates that Daech is primarily a mortal enemy to the stability and growth of the Arab and Islamic world itself.

KM: The Moroccan community in Italy is the first non-EU Muslim community, and the first for foreign entrepreneurship. A key resource for Italy to forge relations with Morocco. How can we make the best out of this?

PG: Moroccans resident in Italy are more than half a million and present the largest proportion of immigrants which has increased significantly over the past fifteen years (in 2001 there were 167,000). The Moroccan community is characterized by strong roots in north-eastern Italy and the Moroccan workforce is primarily active in services, industry and agriculture.

A connotation of Moroccan migration is shown for the high number of family gatherings. These families, based on a unique and insufficient family income, are often disadvantaged and should therefore think of projects that promote women's participation in the labor market. The new generations of Moroccans pose a long-term challenge in terms of integration but they are also potential "cultural mediators" in social, religious and even commercial and industrial levels. Migration can probably facilitate the exchange between Morocco and Italy and immigrants can become a link between the two sides of the Mediterranean

KM: Islamic fundamentalism is not only a problem of Muslim countries but in Europe as well, as evidenced by the conversions to IS of second generation youth, born and raised in Europe. In Italy, the largest Muslim community is Moroccan. But if the country of origin promotes moderate Islam, the risk is that in the political void on the issue of Islam in Italy could nurture radicalism. Is it not useful to try to discuss this with Morocco to seek a collaboration on this topic, precisely in the fight not only against terrorism but beforehand against radicalism? Belgium, for example, has already expressed interest in the training of imams in Morocco.

PG: We are aware that fundamentalism and radicalism have gradually become transnational and cross-cutting phenomena, we must work together to implement a comprehensive approach to counter them. We commend Morocco for having in fact set as a pillar of moderation in a region threatened by extremism, through initiatives such as training, according to criteria of both orthodoxy and moderation, hundreds of imams, first in line to preach against radicalism.

KM: IS has hit Tunisia too. Do not you fear the same attack in Rome or in Italy?

PG: The terrorists have struck France, Denmark, Australia, to name only the most recent events, and they periodically hit the countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Terrorism behind the initials of Daesh can theoretically strike at any place and at any time. In Italy, the alert level has been raised to maximum for the risk of jihadist attacks, but we have no information of specific threats. So one should not draw alarmist conclusions and above all we must not give up our freedoms.

KM: Did you have warnings about the attack in Tunis?

PG: The alarm of terrorism at this time is high in the world. Tunisia is a target of the criminal fringes just as all countries that aspire to democracy, liberty, the pursuit of development and growth.

KM: Is it possible to have an Italian Intervention in Libya, military style?

PG: We remain convinced that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis. A political compromise is essential if we want an urgent and effective solution. On several occasions Italy has declared its readiness to consider its participation in a leading role, in the context of international mechanisms for monitoring the cease-fire at Libya's request and following a United Nations mandate.

KM: How does Italy consider Egyptian activism?

PG: Egypt is a key player in the Mediterranean and the Near East. It plays a positive and balanced role in the Arab world to stabilize the regional framework. According to their tradition our Egyptian friends are to provide a contribution of growing importance to international efforts aimed at containment of major crises in our common surroundings. Our cooperation on all these issues, especially in Libya is close and constant at bilateral and multilateral levels.

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