ISIS threat to attack Rome real, we’re never fully prepared for that – Italian Deputy FM Mario Giro
The more that problems pile up for the European Union, the more visible are the rifts in the soon to be 27 nation-block, as member countries fail to reach agreements on key issues or follow policies that had been agreed upon. Calls for cooperation in dealing with terrorism, integration, Brexit, sanctions, Trump and, most importantly, the migrant crisis – all of which threaten the European continent – are left unheard. So should the EU enforce common solutions or should countries have the right to ‘move at different speeds’? And where does Italy stand on these issues? We ask Italy’s deputy foreign minister – Mario Giro.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Italy's deputy Foreign Minister, Mario Giro, it's really great to have you on our show today.
Mario Giro: It's a pleasure for me.
SS: So, you've called today’s world the “Jurassic Park”, where everyone just fends for themselves. Does this also apply to the EU member and what's going on inside the Union?
MG: "Jurassic Park" is not my own expression, it's an expression of a former Foreign Minister of France, Vedrine, that describes more or less the situation we are living in today. Inside the EU, it's not Jurassic Park, but it's a little bit confusing and troubling sometimes.
SS: Do you have your own expression that would describe what's going on inside the EU today?
MG: It's a clash of selfish countries for the moment.
SS: So let's deconstruct the conflict and the confusion. Do you think Italy, like the UK, come to a decision to leave the EU today?
MG: I don't think so and I don't want for it to get to this point, of course.
SS:You know, all those movements that you have in our country right now, like the 5-star movement, they call for the vote to leave the EU or to actually revisit the Schengen visa strategy. You also have the Northern League that wants a referendum. Do you take them seriously, or these calls, they don't mean anything?
MG: Nor the 5-star movement nor the Northern League wants to leave the EU. They want to leave Euro.
MG: Euro is different from the EU, it's only one thing. They want referendum on that topic, and also, internally, they are not so convinced that it is the good solution to leave the Euro. I think, the Italians, if they are compelled to leave Euro, I don't think that that will happen, but if they would face that situation they would continue to use it.
SS: How Is that possible?
MG: The Lira is not a very strong currency, and it was not so strong. You can use it for daily life, but when you put your money in...
MG: In banks, in savings, you need the strong currency, and now they're used to that. Remember, ECU was only a financial money, a lot of Italians had already their accounts in ECU.
SS: So for you, Italy shouldn't leave nor the Eurozone nor the EU, that's your position?
MG: That's my position.
SS: Nevertheless, like you've said, there are a lot of problems inside the EU, because everyone's being so selfish. Now you have Germany and France that are proposing a “multi speed” approach to European integration. It's sort of like a Europe a la carte - they are actually saying that those who want tighter integration should keep at it, and those who are happy with the way things are right now - well, then stay behind. Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think it could actually help the EU or on the contrary, divide it?
MG: I think it's also an Italian position. I think that the countries that want to go ahead, should have the possibility to do that.
SS:Go ahead, further into integration?
SS:Where does Italy stand with that? Would you go with the French and German proposed integration or you would just stay behind?
MG: That's the opinion of the Italian government at this moment. This is also what we will propose in 25th of March for the sixtieth anniversary.
SS: If that happens, if the French and German-proposed new plan for integration happens - wouldn't that further give power to rich states like Germany who can actually run the show even more than today? Because, isn't that the problem of today - that one or two countries decide what everyone else is doing in the EU?
MG: No. If it would be like, we would be faster in doing things. The problem is that there's nobody who decides, really. It's important to have country leaders - also, Germany, why not? And to continue to strengthen the Union.
SS: So, it's better to have a hierarchy in the European Union?
MG: It's not better, it's a de-facto situation. There are countries that are strongest and the countries that have to follow. Of course, there's the space for the discussion among everybody, everybody has to protect his own identity, but, in some way we have to go ahead.
SS: Where would that leave Europe with? A divided Europe with less strong states...
MG: No, different circles in Europe.
SS: Explain to me how that will work?
MG: There is a nucleus, a strongest Europe at the center. Where shall we put UK when the Brexit will happen?
SS: We'll get to UK later.
MG: Outside of Europe? No, I don't think "outside" is the right words to use. But there are different speeds.
SS: So correct me if I'm wrong, but you said the upcoming UK Brexit may cause an “economic cold war” between the EU and the UK. Is that right?
MG: I don't like the idea of "hard" Brexit. I use this expression - "cold war" - in order to explain to the public that we don't need now a battle inside the Europe for the proposal of Brexit and we don't need the competition on what the city of London or its financial markets are doing. Are markets are a lot faster than we are, and we need to decide quickly and to decide with a good discussion. I am partisan to the "soft" Brexit and I would not like a war...
SS: Sorry, what's "soft" Brexit for you, in our opinion?
MG: To decide together how the UK will continue to have relationship with Europe, to save what we can of the common market and unique market and also to give reassurance to the financial markets - incertitude is the worst thing for the financial markets. Also, to save the interests of the middle class and the lower middle class in Europe and in UK, and also the fact that we have on the continent of Europe around 1 mn British citizens and there are 3 mn EU citizens in UK.
SS: So you believe that with "hard" Brexit, the parties won't be able to find a compromise?
MG: For the moment, we are only delivering speeches. When we are preparing, like, for boxing, men that are standing against at each other.. I don't want a hard match. But of course, notice that in the Prime Minister's speeches, sometimes, there are, probably for the purpose of reassurance of public opinion, the "hard" Brexit sentences. I don't think that this is a good way to go ahead.
SS: One way or another, I'm assuming the UK will leave the EU....
MG: Also, this is not very sure.
SS: If they leave, can Italy take on the role of a sort of a negotiator between the U.S. and the EU? Because UK was the closest ally to the United States.
MG: Italy, traditionally, had always a position of mediation inside the EU. Since the beginning. Then, we will continue to play that role, and Italy is also not so militarily strong as the UK, but is a faithful ally of the U.S. - and on that, we will use our mediation capacities.
SS: So, as far as Italy-Russia relations are concerned. Right now, Italy is sending its troops to NATO garrisons on Russia’s borders - but on on the other hand, Italy is saying: "We shouldn't continue anti-Russian sanctions, we should ease them" and it is calling for dialogue between the EU and Russia. Do you see a double game here? Double standards?
MG: No, traditionally, we have... in that context, there are also historical reasoning. But we have good relations with Moscow, and we want to discuss with Russia the Libyan question, for example.
SS: We're going to get to the Libyan question.
MG: Also, for what is about the Ukrainian clash, I think that we have to discuss and we have to find a solution, because we don't want a new war in Europe.
SS: That's for sure, but you know that sending NATO troops to Russian borders inevitably aggravates Russia's reactions? I mean, Russia has been saying for 20 years: "We don't want NATO on our borders, we don't NATO on our borders" and it's only getting closer, troops are building up.
MG: I don't think that Russia is afraid of a hundred soldiers.
SS: It's not afraid but it has made clear that it's a threat to its national security.
MG: We have an obligation of solidarity with our alliance in Europe.
SS: So basically, it's like, you have no other choice than to send troops?
MG: We are a community.
SS: Your boss and PM Paolo Gentiloni said that the thaw of Russian-American relations with the come of Trump to the White House is a good thing for Italy. Is it a good thing for Italy?
MG: Yes, of course.
SS:Can Italy, actually, influence this process even more, push it even further?
MG: Yes, but for example, in the Syrian situation, Italy and Russia’s concern about the destiny of Christians there is at the same stage. This is historical and this is important.
SS: You know, the Italy's FM also said that anti-Russian sanctions is like Europeans paying the bill for electricity that Americans are using.
MG: Yes, of course, I know. Of course, sanctions are always painful for everybody, and also for our economy, and we hope that we will go to an end of this story, but there are Minsk agreements and we have to respond to the delivery of Minsk agreements.
SS: Right now, Italy has the rotating presidency of the G7. And, once again, the foreign minister, and former PM Romano Prodi have called for Russia's reintegration, so it becomes G8 again. Do you think Italy can be heard on that?
MG: Yes. Also, our minister of foreign affairs declared something about it - it would be a good thing to have this reintegration, but, again, the question is the compliance to the Minsk Agreements.
SS: Do you think that now, that Italy holds the presidency it somehow push the reintegration of Russia? Or you have no choice here?
MG: No, of course, the discussion about that and also in response to your question, is of course a need for unanimity of the G7 for it to come back to G8, and at the moment there's no unanimity and we hope it will come faster. I don't think it's possible for this G7.
SS: I want to talk a little bit about Italy's situation and the refugee situation, terrorist threats. Your PM is saying that active terrorist threat is only a few hours away from Italy, in Libya - by boat. We're talking about Al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists. So, right now we see that the terrorists are being defeated in the Middle East, but do you think that meanwhile, Italy can become their chosen route of retreat into Europe?
MG: Terrorists don't arrive in Europe by boat, risking their lives. But there's a problem of foreign fighters coming back again home, and there are 80-90 foreign fighters of Italian descent or that acquired the Italian citizenship. This question we always discuss at the security level. It's something that we have to work with our partners. We need, and we stress that, from our partners to put in common intelligence and all what we can in order to counter this situation. Of course, I've written about how and why young people from Europe, also if they are of Arab descent, decide to go to fight in Syria or whatever else, for the jihad. Now, we have to start the process of de-radicalisation. It's very long, it's very complicated, and we have to counter all the threats. I think that for the moment Italian intelligence and Italian security forces are dealing well with that problem.
SS: I always wanted to ask someone Italian - is a homegrown terrorism a threat for Italy as well?
MG: We had internal terrorism in the 80s and we are used to the terrorism problem...
SS: But terrorism in terms of extremism, like we've seen in France, Belgium, Germany...
MG: We don't have the same level of... because we have less important Muslim community and we have also the chance to have a Muslim community that divided in different nationalities. The second generation in Italy are 14-15 years old. We have to solve this problem before they arrive to the major age, for example, with the new citizenship law. This is what we need.
SS: You've said that Italian secret services are actually moderating the situation well, but according to their report, ISIS is planning on conquering Rome and executing the Pope. How seriously are you taking this?
MG: Everything is taken very seriously at that stage.
SS: Because, thank God, Rome and Italy is still one of the countries that hasn't been attacked by ISIS. Is your country ready for something like that?
MG: We are never completely ready for those issues. Of course, we are assuming that the risk is very present. We need the solidarity of the Muslim community, and they have to expel from themselves all the radical members of the community. And we are doing good job, I think, on that.
SS: You've said earlier that Italy wants to call in Russia to take part in the Libyan peace process. In 2011, after the NATO intervention the country was divided into two. Do you think Europe needs Russia right now for the Libyan question?
MG: We need all the possible help to have one Libya and not a partition, and in peace. Libyans are very divided, and we there are also some countries that are pushing for de-facto partition, or they are pushing for one side against the other. What Russia can do in this respect is to help a common, unique solution, help to convince all the sides, and particularly, the sides on which Russia has more leverage, to decide to stop the war. Even if, I have to say, the Italian politics towards Libya has prevented heavy weapons entering Libya and then we don't have the situation that is in Syria, people are still living in Libya, it's possible to live in Libya - it's not possible to live in Syrian cities, you know. There are immigration coming from Libya, but there are Libyans fleeing Libya, and we want to continue to build on the UN solution that has been provided with the skhirat agreement.
SS: Italy has promised financial aid to Libya, to Tripoli - under a migrant act that the two countries have signed. What sum are you we talking about, approximately?
MG: It's not the question of money, at this point, it's the question of capacity. We are helping the transitional unity government to have the capacity to control his own coast, for example, helping the coast guard to have new means and forming and training the people who have to do that job.
SS: So there's no particular sum, like, for instance, EU paid Turkey a certain amount of money, there's no set number?
MG: We have put 200 mn euros in a particular fund that will be devoted for that, but also for Libya, for sure, but there's also the question of Tunisia - we have to help also Tunisia, Niger.
SS: So, Italy is also hoping the deal with Libya to stop the flow of migrants into Europe, but the UN-backed Libyan government doesn’t really control the whole country, so how do you know that the pact that you've signed with them is going to come into action if they can't control...?
MG:Yes, you're exactly right. It's a bet. It's a bet in order to reinforce, on one side, in order to reinforce, on one side, Sarraj, talking to him as a unique interaction, this is political, and, also to help him to reach out to the different militias that are living with this smuggling.
SS: Right now, there's an EU operation underway in the Mediterranean - under the command of the Italian navy once again, aimed to curb the flow of migrants into Europe. But there's the British house of Lords says that it’s only made things even easier for people smugglers - for example, they just call on EU vessels for help, and they transfer the migrants into safety, that is Europe.
MG: I don't believe in pull-factors, because the push-factors are so heavy, so important, that's it's very useless to speak about the pull-factors, if you are 15, 14, 12 miles from the coast and you receive a distress call and what do you have to do with the distress call and etc... Discussing on the pull-factors is really something that is not very useful. We have a situation in which millions of people are moving in Africa. Only a little part of them head to Europe. More or less, it's less than 1 million, compared to 13 million - imagine the situation. I think that, also, this is an output of the globalisation, because with globalisation, not only poverty, people move and there are no... If you see who are the people who are moving now - they are not the poorest. You need more or less 5-7 thousands euros to arrive to Lampedusa, because you have to pay, etc. Then, to discuss about the pull factors, also what the head of Frontex has declared in the past week - I don't agree, absolutely.
SS: So, let me rephrase this question one more time: do you think this particular operation is a successful one?
MG: I think that we're saving a lot of lives.
SS: Also, tens of thousands of refugees remain in Italy - despite Italy saying that it needs help from the other countries to resettle the refugees. No one really wants to do that.
MG: That's why I was speaking about selfish countries.
SS: So does it feel like the burden of the refugee crisis is on Italy's shoulders right now?
MG: At the moment it's like this. At the moment we have to be prepared to that. Relocation is not functioning. We have opened humanitarian corridors, also, in order that all people that arrive here will have all the benefits of civil society and are immediately integrated with no expense for the state. But what we need, really, is an external investment plan that is now in discussion in the European Parliament. It is a tool that can produce 40 billion euros and with that money we can go to our partners in Africa and to have real investment partnership in order to stop the big influx of migration. Otherwise, there's no solution.
SS:EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, she actually believes that migration is a good thing for European economy and demography. Do you think Italy needs migrants?
MG: This is what our private sector is saying - they need skills... of course, it's a question of the level of skills, but we need people for a lot of jobs and we are in demographic crisis, like Russia, for example, like Germany, for example - then, if you want to maintain this level of development, we need people.
SS: So, with this logic, the crisis is a good thing, a refugee crisis is a good thing for Italy?
MG: No, because it happens in a disorderly way. It would be better to have a legal way to enter with a partnership among countries in Africa - preparation, skills, training, etc. Now it is occurring in a very disordered way, with these anonymous people arriving like this, and you don't know... And people are afraid in italy, because you feel it like an invasion, but it is not a real invasion, we have to manage it and what we are trying to do is that.
SS: Italy's deputy Foreign Minister, Mario Giro, thank you very much for this interview. Good luck with everything.