New Mediterranean, old Europe?
ROME -- The world was not prepared for the turmoil that followed when citizens in Arab countries launched an unprecedented uprising for freedom and democracy. At the beginning, many countries acted in an improvised and uncoordinated way. Later on, a coalition led the reaction against Ghaddafi’s excesses in Libya with the UN. The United States, interested in regional stability, decided to act as well, later leaving the lead to NATO, showing consideration for the role of neighboring countries with special reference to the EU. Unfortunately, like during the 2003 Iraq crisis, the European partners showed no cohesion. This time, however, it’s surprising that EU countries are still struggling to find a common position, not only in defense and security but also on immigration policy, without understanding that the EU’s role in the Mediterranean is at stake. In 2001, after the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the following wave of displaced persons, the EU Council approved the Directive 55/01, aimed at providing them with a temporary protection in Europe, in accordance to the solidarity principle. Any immigration expert would have expected the flow of migrants who are leaving Tunisia for Lampedusa, Italy, since, even in normal times, the unemployed take advantage of any favorable condition to seek a better life or to work temporarily in Europe. The civil war in Libya is very likely to produce another flow of Africans, heading also to Egypt or Tunisia.
Who are these immigrants? Are they refugees? Are they economic migrants? As always in immigration matters, it is hard to classify people and thus determine their individual destiny. Any case must be addressed through the lens of the law in order to protect national and regional security as well as fundamental rights. However, the EU tools and procedures might not be a perfect fit to face such a complex and extraordinary situation that, as such, should be afforded under the principle of solidarity as stated in the Lisbon Treaty. In this view, Italy asked the application of the Directive 55/01, but EU countries found themselves divided again on this point, with some arguing that we are not yet at the point of massive flows. Once again, EU members—focused on internal politics or on different foreign policy priorities—adopted a reactive stance. Maybe Italy was perceived as concerned only about fighting illegal immigration for internal political reasons as well. But maybe the partners underestimated that Italy, during its long-lasting relations with North African countries, developed a deep and pragmatic knowledge about them. As a Mediterranean country, and therefore in a difficult position for its geographical proximity, Italy can have a wider understanding of the new social terrain in North Africa. With an eye on the likely future, Italy accordingly launched the warning on immigration flows and acted cautiously in the Libyan theater at the same time. Then, it insisted on passing the coordination of military operations to NATO and promoted the intervention of FRONTEX and the EUFOR Libya mission while assisting the humanitarian effort and the displaced persons in Tunisia and Egypt.
Italy started new bilateral relationships with Tunisia and the provisional authorities in Libya in order to try to rebuild the cooperation framework of assistance and security that it had in the past. This could be a strategy to be discussed or even replaced at the EU level. Anyway, It could be important to understand that developing a common strategy and planning a comprehensive EU action is a priority, adopting for once a shared and proactive approach instead of carefully reacting to emergencies in order to protect only national interests.
Giuseppe Battaglia is an Italian Carabinieri officer, who has been collaborating with the Faculty of Economics of LUISS “Guido Carli” University since 2004. He was a European Marshall Memorial Fellow in 2008 and is a member of the Transatlantic Forum on Migration and Integration.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.