For Italy, migration and the refugee crisis can no longer be considered something temporary but a structural factor affecting Europe’s global role and identity and it is no coincidence that Filippo Grandi, a 58 year old Italian, has been appointed by Ban Ki Moon as new UN High Commissioner for refugees. With experience working in Syria, Sudan, Turkey and Iraq, this appointment has been interpreted as a nod to Italy.
The Valletta Summit has been for Renzi an opportunity to bring Italian concerns to the fore, especially after the missed opportunity of the “lost” invitation never sent to Renzi to attend the Western Balkan summit. This apparent snub led to widespread domestic criticism of the Italian PM, accused by his political opponents and the critical press of not being relevant at the eyes of his European counterparts.
Ahead of the Valletta Summit, this sense of urgency on the matter was spread not only among the Italian political establishment but also by Italian civil society and NGOs – including Oxfam Italy – which, ahead of the Summit, sent an open letter to PM Renzi to express their concerns about the current European approach, aimed just at securing European border, limiting migrants’ mobility.
Before flying to Valletta, therefore, Renzi stressed the importance of putting Africa at the centre of the European initiative and looked at the summit as an opportunity for Europe to overcome its bureaucratic malaise. Throughout the summit he claimed that “Europe needs a new outlook towards Africa and must invest more on strategy than on tactics. This is our challenge”. In attempting to flesh out this new strategy, he said that the best way for Europe to cope with the migration crisis is increasing financial resources for cooperation, because “helping them in their homes would be impossible without investing more in Africa and without stronger institutional and diplomatic relations”.
The Italian attitude towards Africa is also reflected in its participation into the EU Africa Emergency Trust Fund with a share of over 13 percent (€200 million) and a decision to allocate an additional contribution of €10 million. The decision of the Italian government to establish an agency for development cooperation, as well as the inclusion of a 40 percent increase in funding for international cooperation in next year’s Financial Stability Bill signal the Italian focus on these matters. According to the forthcoming Financial Stability Law, Italy plans to increase international cooperation funds to €120 million in 2016, €240 million in 2017 and €360 million in 2018. The Italian attitude to international cooperation is, in addition, more of a “whole country approach”, including both aid and public-private partnership: ENI, for example, one of the largest Italian energy companies, is investing heavily in Africa.
The deplorable Paris attacks over the weekend should not ruin the work done so far. In Italy, the post-Paris debate has not yet, outside of populist and nationalist parties, formalised the link between terrorism and migration as we have seen elsewhere in Europe. Unfortunately, the terrorism threat is now eclipsing the debate on migration, a mistake that must be avoided. Unity remains, from Italy’s perspective, the best response to terrorism. It will need strategy, time and a long-term approach but the direction will be set now.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.