‘Accepting migrants makes Europe stronger’ - former Italian FM

Migrants walk towards the Austrian border from Hegyeshalom, Hungary September 23, 2015. © Leonhard Foeger
Germany and Italy make Europe stronger by accepting asylum seekers, while EU states which are closing their borders will pay the price sooner or later, says Franco Frattini, former Italian foreign minister.

RT: It has been agreed that 120,000 refugees will be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary. Will it have any effect?

Franco Frattini: Well, this will help. But it is a very modest step, because if you imagine that in Lebanon or in Jordan there are about 1.5 million refugees ready to move through the territory of Turkey reaching Greece and then the rest of Europe. We are talking about 120,000 refugees - this is nothing. So, there was the multiplication of national egoisms: the Eastern member states of Europe voted against. As a former European Commissioner, I don’t remember cases where there was a qualified majority vote. Always we have been voting at unanimity. The simple fact that there was a negative vote from four quite important member-states is a really negative gesture.

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RT: So, we are seeing a clear division here across the EU, as you say, people are more against the immigrants in Eastern Europe as opposed to Western Europe. In Europe as a whole, is it fair to say these migrants are welcomed?

FF: In some member-states we need, I would say, more workers in industry and low-level jobs…Many of the Syrians are highly-qualified workers, so, they can be quite easily reintegrated into European societies. But, unfortunately, domestic political problems tend to prevail and prevailing the sense of exclusion, racism or xenophobia. And this is a very negative message since in Europe we consider ourselves as ‘the land of rights’. And we tend also to teach the others. In this case, it’s an extremely negative element, the fact that a country such as Hungary, Slovakia or the Czech Republic voted ‘no’.

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RT: There are various reports out there that say: one in five of the migrants are only refugees from Syria. What does that mean?

FF: Well, this is another problem. When I was commissioner of home affairs [with powers on immigration], nine years ago, I tried to launch a European common list of safe countries because in Italy some of the countries of origin are considered to be ‘countries at risk’: Eritrea, Somalia, Syria. In other member states, for example, even Serbia was considered to be a country from which you could apply for refugee status. This is ridiculous because Serbia is a candidate state, or Albania. We need to have a common shared list of safe countries. Once we have decided - only those coming from Eritrea, Somalia, Congo, Syria and others - we won’t then have a long procedure for the application…

RT: What would you say to the countries that are currently closing their borders?

FF: All those that are showing egoism will pay the price sooner or later because the price of egoism will come back soon on the shoulders of these countries. They are wrong. And countries like Germany or Italy that are welcoming and accepting thousands and thousands of refugees make Europe stronger not weaker. This is the point.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.