Italy and Libya’s new alliance will alarm the EU

Italy and Libya’s new alliance will alarm the EU

The great love between Libya and Italy is back, and the architect of the rediscovered feeling — thanks to a quick trip to Tripoli, where he met Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj — is, paradoxically, Matteo Salvini. Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister should, according to many European media outlets, have caused a confrontation with Tripoli thanks to his policy of closing his country’s ports to ships carrying rescued migrants. The fight against mass illegal immigration was instead the spark that caused the idyll, because Libya also wants to put a stop to people trafficking.

“Traffickers who bring migrants to Italy are dangerous criminal gangs which destabilize Libya,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq. Even clearer was coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassim, who followed the Italian government in criticizing the non-governmental organizations that carry out rescue missions in the Mediterranean. “Those NGOs are all about glittering and touchy slogans about human rights but they are profiting off the suffering of African migrants. They have secret plans. They want to empty the continent’s fortunes,” he said.

An isolated thought? No, even the Corriere della Sera — Italy’s largest newspaper — published the following on June 11: “In Tripoli, they welcome the new Italian position on migrants. Finally, Minister Salvini ordering the closure of ports begins to take the problem in the right direction. A choice that will undoubtedly curb the arrivals in Libya from sub-Saharan Africa.”

The truth is that Italy is suddenly the de facto leader of a large group of “rebel” countries

Max Ferrari

Corriere also admitted that: “The leaders of the various Libyan militias agree on one point — they would block the arrivals of Africans into their country and accuse NGOs and European governments of acting as involuntary supporters of the criminal gangs of human traffickers, who, thanks to the policy of rescues at sea and open ports, have greatly facilitated their activities.”

These are the precise accusations that the EU, led by France and Germany, pretended not to hear. But, with the arrival of the populists to government in Italy, things have changed. While Paris and Berlin continued to propose the creation of centers for screening migrants in Europe (read Italy), Rome had plans to push for them to be housed in Africa. Salvini called for the centers to be built on the southern external borders of Libya in Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan in order to block migrants at their country of origin. 

The Italian minister also explained that Rome has asked the EU to refinance the EU-Africa Trust Fund and said that it will promote in Europe the Libyan project of a major conference on immigration, which Maiteeq would like to hold in Tripoli in September. “The problems must be addressed and resolved in Libya, not in European capitals,” Salvini said.

Perhaps it was paradoxical to the Libyans that a government that sections of the media describe as xenophobic and racist has been the only one to ask for new funds for Africa and to propose to deal on an equal basis. But certainly Maiteeq has appreciated Italy’s move by recalling the two nations’ historic friendship and the fact that, before the revolution in Libya (which Italy did not want), Rome was its first partner in the economic and energy sector. 

These phrases will surely have sounded some alarms in Paris, but Salvini has made it clear that his visit to Libya was not an impromptu move, rather a return in style to the Mediterranean. In response to the NGOs and governments like the one in Paris who have attacked him, he tweeted: “I thank from the bottom of my heart, as a minister and as a father, the Libyan coast guard for having saved and taken back 820 migrants, rendering in vain the work of traffickers.” 

Many write that, on the issue of immigration, Rome is isolated and that the EU could implode due to Italian obstinacy. The truth is that Italy is suddenly the de facto leader of a large group of “rebel” countries. Salvini, as confirmed by Sunday’s local election results, is a popular and powerful leader, while the EU government most likely to implode as a result of immigration is in Berlin, not Rome. 

Surely the future EU will be different from today, as more populist parties come to power. It must be more attentive to talks regarding the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Balkans, which are all very far from Brussels, Berlin and Paris. It is no coincidence that the long-awaited Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting next month will likely be in Vienna, which forms the famous “populist axis” with Italy and the Visegrad countries — a clear message to Brussels.

  • Max Ferrari is a journalist and politician. He is a former parliamentary journalist, a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and director of a TV channel. Twitter: @MaxFerrari
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