View from Rome: No longer just an Italian problem

Work remains on Europeanising the solutions to the refugee crisis

The general mood in Italian politics after the Extraordinary European Council meeting on refugees is one of cautious optimism: a solution has been proposed, but there remains a lot of work ahead. 

Following the meeting, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi praised the fact that, after a long wait, the Italian line has prevailed. Only a short time ago the refugee issue was considered an “Italian problem” on which Italy itself felt deserted by the rest of the EU. This is no longer the case. Responding to the refugee crisis has become a definitively European concern needing joint work. Renzi has also stressed that Italy has never looked at the refugee crisis as a matter of mere numbers but as a matter of principle. With the 22 September council meeting on refugee quotas “reality has prevailed on bureaucracy”. 

Since the European Council meeting there are a number of pillars of thought that define the Italian position. 

First, Italy stresses the need to reform the Dublin Regulation and move towards a European Asylum Right. It seems likely that Italy will advocate this position at both a diplomatic and Justice and Home Affairs level.

Second, Italy wants to pursue a long term and collective solution to the refugee crisis based on solidarity, responsibility and humanity. Renzi feels that this solution should arrive from Europe, and not leave Italy and Greece alone in dealing with migration flows. Working in cooperation with countries of origin and transit to tackle the root causes of the crisis and the humanitarian dimension in the Mediterranean is key for Italy. The new Italian international cooperation law is an important step forward on this matter.  The new law, signed after almost 30 years, reforms the current legislation on international aid and cooperation by creating an Italian Agency for Cooperation (2016); including aid and cooperation among the main objectives of Italian Foreign Policy; and giving a greater role to private sector actors. Italy’s relationship with refugee source countries, especially those facing political instability and domestic crisis, the final goal would be to link financial aid to the signing of return agreements. Theoretically, if a third country won’t be able to, or won’t show the willingness to accept its own citizens back, this would have consequences on the amount of financial aid provided by Italy. On this issue, both Renzi and Italian Internal Affairs Minister Alfano, have stressed the importance of having these agreements signed as part of a collective European framework.

Finally, Italy advocates intervening in the various crises across the Middle East and North Africa in order to help prevent escalation as well as helping to find a political solution to the war in Syria. Calling for a political solution to these crises has always been an important aspect of the Italian position, as seen in the Ukraine case, where Italy strongly pushed for a dialogue with Russia with the aim of reaching a political agreement. A similar approach has also been exhibited on Europe’s southern borders. For Italy, a solution to the Libyan and Syrian crises is a necessary step towards a long term solutuion for the refugee issue. On fighting these crises the Prime Minister reiterated that Russia is a fundamental actor, and he added that the problem for Europe is not Russia but rather Hungary, an EU nation that is building walls inside the continent.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Head, ECFR Rome Office

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