Throwing more money at an operation to intercept migrant boats in European waters isn't the only solution. Italian Secretary of State for European Affairs Sandro Gozi told DW that a common EU policy must be adopted.
DW: Would you have ever imagined in your career as an Italian politician and diplomat that something on this level could be happening in Europe?
Sandro Gozi: At the beginning of my career, no. If I look at what has happened in the last couple of years, unfortunately, yes. This is why we have been consantly calling upon our partners at the EU level to take on our common responsibilities to tackle this problem. It is clear that the scale of this problem has dramatically increased and that it requires common responsibility and action on an EU level.
How do you think this has affected the EU's reputation worldwide?
The EU's reputation has been severely affected by its slow response to assuming its responsibilities. However, I do believe, in recent days, concrete steps forward have been taken and that there is a real awareness amongst all EU governments and institutions that this is a matter for common action. Decisions have been taken on border controls, the fight against smugglers and on cooperation with the transit countries of origin, on which we can build concrete EU action. It is clear that the scale of the problem requires a response which can only be on an EU level. A lot must be done in the coming weeks and months.
Are you able to cope with the amount of people landing on southern Italy's shores?
We certainly need the cooperation of our EU partners. We need to fully implement our common policy and common rules on asylum seeker reception and identification. This requires concrete cooperation and help from other EU governments and institutions. It is clear that some of the common rules are obsolete and inadequate in the face of these new challenges. We have to open a debate not only on the full implementation of the rules we already have, but also on an update of these rules as they need to be revised to tackle the problems of today.
Where do you think the root cause of the migrant boat crisis lies? With the smugglers, or with the governments?
We have to walk along two tracks. On the one side, to take strong and bold actions to stop the trafficking, and if possible, to arrest the smugglers. In Italy, in recent years, we have already arrested more than a thousand smugglers. On the other side, as 91 percent of the flow goes through Libya nowadays, it is clear that a political and diplomatic solution, and the formation of a national unity government in Libya is very important. And I would say that the EU, together with the UN, must also start to take operational initiatives in the transit countries of origin, notably in the sub-Saharan area, because that is also part of the answer. You won't find the solution in only one course of action.
Do you think that this situation could further fuel the xenophobia and far-right movement that is sweeping parts of Europe right now?
I do believe that the xenophobia and racism, which is growing in Europe, is a direct consequence of European non-action, inertia and selfishness. I do believe that if EU governments showed a new determination to tackle the problem together, it would diminish it, and would not be followed by public opinion. So, it is really up to us. It is clear that the inaction that has characterized the positioning of the union, and of the different European governments so far, has been the best fuel in the engine of this populist movement.
Sandro Gozi is the Italian Secretary of State for European Affairs.
Interview conducted by Lucia Walton