Interview with Emanuela Del Re, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Italian scholar, sociologist, she is an expert in Conflict Studies, Migrations, Refugee Issues, Minorities, Religious Phenomena.
1. Deputy Minister Del Re, let us draw from your recent statements on the occasion of Africa Day on May 25th, when you defined this continent not only as overwhelmed by problems, but young and ready to face the future. How has Italy been able to seize the opportunities afforded by this availability of human and demographic capital so far?
Italy is strongly focused on Africa, where it enjoys excellent bilateral relations. We are the third most important European investor in the continent, where several of our major companies and SMEs are operating since decades.
Africa is a huge territory that is growing at very accelerated rhythm both economically and demographically, and therefore it represents a unique opportunity given its extreme dynamism and liveliness. Over 29 million African young people will enter the labour market every year until 2030: a formidable human capital that cannot be wasted. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa a middle class has emerged that boasts a spending power quantitatively higher that India’s, with a taste for goods that clearly favours the Italian market. This is demonstrated by the growth of our exports to the region in 2019 (+5.5 percent).
Moreover, nowadays Africa presents very diversified markets, thanks to its 1.3 billion consumers and an economic capacity of 3.4 trillion US dollars. It is also thanks to the agreement for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), in force since May 2019, that will progressively eliminate customs duties and ensure free goods movement and partial free services circulation within the continent.
Italy is well aware of these huge opportunities and for this reason has promoted several trade schemes with African countries at European level. Among the most significant ones, I wish to mention: “Everything but Arms initiative”, with which all imports to the EU from the so-called “Least Developed Countries” are duty-free and quota-free, with the exception of armaments; the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) that removes import duties from products coming into the European market from vulnerable developing countries; the Economic Partnership Agreement, a trade and development agreement negotiated between the EU and African partners engaged in regional economic integration processes.
These legal frames provide a clear and precise trade system scheme for all Italian entrepreneurs who wish to invest in Africa. Till today, the so-called Sistema Italia (or the Italian National Economic System) has contributed tremendously to the growth of Africa thanks to its operational arm – the Development Cooperation – with huge benefits also for our economy and investments.
2. The Italian Cooperation is particularly active in agriculture. Given your knowledge of Africa, what kind of contribution can Italy provide to the development of the African farming?
The Italian Cooperation, in line with its guidelines on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food Security, adopts a strongly integrated approach in these fields of action and promotes synergies with other areas of development such as education, environmental management, governance, infrastructure, health, etc.
Agriculture certainly plays a central role in achieving food security and in providing a source of income for the local populations, and it is also a factor of strong social cohesion and enhancement of the territories. We support the role of small and medium-sized farmers, promoting their sustainable agricultural practices. We pay special attention to applied research and to technical dissemination in agriculture in order to maximize the production guaranteeing higher quality of the products.
The Italian Cooperation has carried out many development programmes of great technical value. Let me mention the following projects that are significant examples of our commitment in Africa: "Agricultural Cabinet of Oromia" carried out in Ethiopia, "Cafe y Caffè" in Guatemala, "Sigor's Agro-Hydraulic Development Programme in the Kerio Valley" in Kenya, and the "Project to support women's education and empowerment for inclusive local development" in Senegal.
The activities of our Cooperation are built on two thematic areas. The first one is devoted to rural development and food security, with agricultural and rural development initiatives, supporting local institutions and rural communities involved in their management, as well as the correct use and exploitation of natural resources such as water, soil, climate, biodiversity.
We support environmental and economic resilience strategies, recognising the key role of the private sector and the civil society, while paying close attention to the economic integration of small producers and to the empowerment of women, youth, and vulnerable groups.
The second area regards nutrition and food safety, with initiatives aimed at improving the quality of food to better address the demands for healthy food, and a focus on new technologies, the evolution of production practices, eating habits and market demands. In East Africa, for example, we finance initiatives to enhance production chains, to create employment and to sustain local agricultural entrepreneurship through the creation of value chains in Ethiopia and food security in Sudan, as well as livestock and environmental projects. Value chains and food security are areas in which we invest a lot, also because we have developed expertise over centuries.
In West Africa, where there are some of the world's poorest countries, the Italian Cooperation mainly intervenes in the areas of food security, education, and health, supporting the most vulnerable groups, combating climate change, and encouraging the local private sector.
As a nation, Italy is promoting and implementing an innovative initiative in partnership with FAO, that is the creation of a "Food Coalition", a multilateral and multi-sectorial mechanism that aims at creating a network of international solidarity to respond to the challenges that emerged with the pandemic on the food supply system, stepping up the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
3. Our interview takes place in a phase of exceptionality, not only for our country but for the whole world. How will coronavirus influence the Italian Cooperation in terms of geographical priorities, sectors of intervention and economic investments?
We are experiencing an exceptional moment, the most serious health emergency since the post-war period. But despite the pandemic, the Italian Cooperation system has shown great efficiency and professionalism. Both the headquarter of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) in Rome and its offices abroad, for example, have continued their activities on the ground in compliance with all precautionary measures, ensuring the achievement of the objectives and, at the same time, safeguarding the health of all the actors involved in our projects and programmes.
We have ensured maximum collaboration and flexibility to deal with the emergency. Even before the lockdown measures taken by the Italian Cabinet at the beginning of March, both AICS and the General Directorate of the Development Cooperation at the Foreign Affairs Ministry had immediately set up a working group with all the actors involved in the Italian cooperation system, to define a strategy to cope with the pandemic. The need to re-orient some of our projects has emerged since the situation has required the simplification of some administrative procedures and the allocation of additional funds to allow on-going projects to be completed.
Moreover, we are defining and finalising targeted programmes in the sectors of health and prevention, as well as awareness initiatives on the pandemic’s effects on vulnerable groups, and greater support to local communities to deal with the health emergency.
Regarding geographical priorities, we are not changing our twenty-two priority countries. Eleven of them are in Africa, a key continent for the future of Italy and Europe. I often use the metaphor of a long corridor that begins in Europe, runs through the Mediterranean, then across the Maghreb to the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, until it reaches the Cape of Good Hope.
For my part I have launched an initiative that has been inaugurated at the end of June: the Inter-institutional table on the Italian contribution to the prevention and global response to Covid-19. I strongly promoted this initiative at national, European and international level, since I’m convinced that only with a coordinate approach we can build a sustainable future. The social, economic, and political effects of the pandemic on fragile countries will be the real challenge in the medium and long term.
Our first meeting was attended by all actors involved in the fight against Covid and the initiative can truly represent a coherent and unified response of the Italian Development System to the global fight against the epidemic. We work in close contact with the EU and we also received the backing of International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. I must confess that never before I had seen fellow member countries so united in the fight against Covid.
Harmony also characterizes the approach to fragile countries, even from partners traditionally less “extrovert” than others. I myself always insist on the fact that it is in our own interest to invest and support countries in difficulty. In this regard, Italy was the first to openly promote the establishment of an international alliance for the Covid-19 vaccine, since a global threat requires a global response.
4. The story of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is paradigmatic of the interconnection between climate, demography, and food security in Africa. A majestic work that affects two demographic giants such as Egypt and Ethiopia: the former fears of being deprived of the Nile waters for its inhabitants and cultivated fields, while the latter sees the barrier as the sublimation of its economic power in the making. What is Italy’s view on this dossier in terms of challenges, opportunities, and future developments? Do you see on the horizon a prototype of struggle for water resources that could become more and more frequent in the years to come?
Italy takes an active stand within the international debate on the right to water as enshrined in UN resolutions: we promote a sustainable access to water and its preservation as a "common good" for future generations and for peaceful coexistence among peoples.
Our country has a long tradition and experience in the conservation and management of water resources. This has always gone together with a sympathetic approach and a wide technical and scientific expertise from all the Italian cooperation actors. Italy has fostered the use of water for drinking purposes and has encouraged a common ownership of water in rural areas for agricultural purposes.
Based on a modern sustainability perspective, we will continue to support an inclusive governance of water resources by local communities for human and productive use, thus considering its social, economic, and environmental implications. Our goal consists in strengthening local institutions by combining multi-goal, multi-level, and multistakeholder rural water management processes for human purposes, health services and agricultural use.
As regards the GERD, on the one hand, in the short term we have the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, and in this regard, while we have done our best to facilitate talks between Cairo and Addis Ababa, we must keep a cautious and balanced position on the issue and avoid the proliferation of mediators.
On the other hand, the competition for water resources will most likely continue to be a relevant issue to tackle, given that eventually every riparian State may want to build its own infrastructure. Therefore, our medium-term efforts should be aimed at preventing further rises of tensions over water resources in the future.
5. As our website has repeatedly analysed, hunger and malnutrition are among the main drivers that push people to migrate. As an outstretched arm in the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is naturally one of the main destinations for migratory flows from Africa. What can our country do to help break the vicious circle between food insecurity and migration?
To tackle the root causes of migration is a top priority for the Italian Development Cooperation.
I personally think that migration is a natural aspiration of human beings and therefore it will continue as a phenomenon as long as humanity exists. However, we cannot accept illicit trafficking of human beings, the loss of lives in the Mediterranean or in the deserts, the fact that illegal migration creates security issues, confirms inequalities, exposes people to exploitation, feeds criminal networks and does not tackle the social-economic root causes of social malaise.
Migration policies must be consistent and coordinated with development policies in addressing the structural causes of migration flows in the countries of origin and generate shared benefits for both the countries of origin and destination. This commitment is reflected in a number of interventions, ranging from creating opportunities for economic growth, supporting the most at-risk social groups through traditional welfare measures and more innovative vocational training, and strengthening the institutions of African countries, as well as raising awareness on the risks of irregular migration. For example, our development cooperation programs in agri-business, the fight against hunger, and our initiatives to support sustainable agriculture aim to create the ideal conditions to accompany development processes by breaking the vicious circle between poverty, poor socio-economic opportunities, food insecurity and migration.
I am particularly proud to say that we have developed unique best practices such as the involvement of Diasporas in Development Cooperation at institutional level, with a concrete role. Their presence in our system is crucial and qualifying, acting as a true bridge between country of residence and country of origin: they have a strong impact at economic, social, cultural and political level in their countries of origin, not only because of the remittances they send home, but also because of the investments they make in production sectors, their contribution to vocational training of young people, or the enhancement of human and financial capital that they facilitate.
This is why we have expanded the number of projects that enhance the contribution of expatriate communities. We have funded, for example, the PLASEPRI II program in Senegal, which is an Irregular Migration Program through the development of the private sector. It aims at creating jobs in regions with a high emigration rate through the strengthening of local Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MPMI) also in the agri-industry sector and the promotion of investments in Senegal by the Senegalese diaspora living in Italy, which also includes co-financing by the Senegalese government and a co-financing of the European Union. The Italian Cooperation is also active in initiatives specifically aimed at promoting better job opportunities in areas affected by emigration, to create a technically skilled workforce and to steer young people towards skills that are valuable on the labour market.
Let me say that these are examples of best practices based on a multi-stakeholder approach, but they are part of an holistic strategy that includes also the Italian project of the Humanitarian Corridors, that allows people from the most vulnerable groups to travel safely to our country and, most importantly, start their own “life project” here. I am so convinced of this approach that I am cooperating with all the actors involved, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interiors together with the implementing agencies – S. Egidio, the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and Caritas – to transform this Italian project into a European one. We have presented it at the European Parliament recently.
6. Moving to our ‘near abroad’, Libya is the scene of an escalation of a multi-year conflict that has led hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes. What developments do you see from a migration point of view in a country that has long attracted Sub-Saharan workers and has now become a cage from which to escape?
The instability of Libya is having a strong impact not only within the country itself but also beyond. It has considerable effects on European security in terms of geopolitical upheaval, the maintenance of energy and trade routes, it has an impact in the fight against the terrorist threat, on the control of illegal flows of migrants to Europe and - last but not least - in terms of an increasingly acute humanitarian crisis.
The Italian Cooperation in Libya has always been very active and follows two main guidelines: 1) development programs designed to facilitate the country's stabilization process; 2) humanitarian emergency initiatives to address the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable groups, including migrants, the health sector, food security, humanitarian demining, maternal and child health.
In this regard, we support the activities of civil society organizations, international humanitarian and development organizations, the transport of goods, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Humanitarian Action Depot (UNHRD) in Brindisi, Italy. Consider that we have been the only country until now to implement evacuations from the detention camps (the official ones) in Libya. We work also to help local population, considering that there are some four-hundred-thousand Libyan IDPs in the country at the moment. The situation is incredibly worrisome.
Libya faces a crossroads: on one hand we have the prospect of an intensification of the conflict characterized by the increasing interference by regional and international actors pursuing specific objectives, and on the other the hope of resuming an inclusive dialogue aimed at getting the country out of the current crisis. It is our common responsibility to ensure that Libyan actors agree to start the dialogue process, which is the only true chance of achieving a lasting stabilization of the country.
Italy welcomed the announcement by the United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) about the parties in conflict availability to engage in intra-Libyan negotiations, including the Joint Military Commission 5-5, in good faith and constructively. We must continue on this path. It is essential to intensify our diplomatic efforts to ensure that the parties end hostilities and conclude a genuine ceasefire agreement.
Operation EU NAVFOR MED IRINI is a fundamental tool to achieve the Berlin objectives because we share with other European countries the preoccupation for the arrival in Libya of foreign armaments. This would only fuel the ongoing conflict. In addition, a possible consolidation of external interference in Libya risks to impede the political dialogue and to produce a de facto division of the country into zones of influence.
Italy is determined to guarantee that Operation IRINI will be geographically balanced and impartial vis-à-vis the parties to the conflict, pursuing a finalized mandate to counter any form of violation of the embargo - including illegal exports of oil. It is essential that the Operation will deploy all the devices (naval, air, satellite) it has been equipped with as soon as possible.
The European role in the Libyan crisis can only be strengthened by an increased cooperation between Italy, France, Germany and through constant coordination with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and security policy. This is what I consider the minimum objective of the Franco-Italian cooperation in the Libyan case.
Our two countries can do better. I remain convinced that they will bring their respective positions closer to each other on the Libyan issue and develop a common strategic vision to help stabilize crises throughout the Maghreb-Sahelian strip, of which Libya is the northern epicentre and of which the crossing of the three borders between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger is the southern epicentre.
From a geopolitical point of view, the Sahel will also be of great strategic importance for Italy as it is located at the gates of Mediterranean Africa and at the heart of the migratory routes to Europe. Since the collapse of the Libyan state and the outbreak of the Malian crisis in 2012, we see this region as the true southern border of Europe. Within the EU, Italy has always been in favor of strengthening European support for the G5s. We share with France the conviction that stabilizing the Sahel is a priority for our common security.
I am strongly advocating for a renewed centrality of Sahel in our policy, and our decision to open a new Embassy in Bamako is the demonstration of this approach: it aims at enhancing the Italian presence in the region in order to actively contribute to the ongoing peace process in Mali.
In Libya as in the Sahel our strategy focuses on promoting an inclusive and sustainable political and social-economic development at central and local level, on the promotion of transparent and responsible administrations and justice, on the respect of human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable, including the migrants in transit.
7. To close our interview, one last question about the link between agriculture and migration in Italy. As emerged even more urgently during the pandemic, the contribution of foreign workers is essential for the survival of Italian agriculture. What initiatives are planned by your ministry to recognize this fact and cooperate with migrants’ countries of origin in a win-win perspective?
The diasporas are key: we need to strengthen their role. The Med-African Diasporas in Italy is essential to facilitate the inclusion of new arrivals, to combat possible jihadist or terrorist drifts, and to promote co-development projects in the countries of origin.
Italy is well aware of the contribution of migrants to its development. There are some four-hundred-fifty-thousand foreign enterprises in Italy, and they have increased by 31,7 per cent between 2010 and 2018 (Censis, 2019). According to some studies, during the pandemic they have demonstrated a high level of resilience (Univ. Roma Tre & Inail, 2020).
Moreover, there is a high percentage of women entrepreneurs (1 out of 4) and of young people. This shows a great dynamism of the immigrants on one hand, but also the great capacity of Italy to absorb and optimize these entrepreneurial initiatives. The critical issue is the fact that this is rarely reflected in the narrative regarding Italy and migration, which is detrimental for the diasporas and for Italy.
We need to promote a clearer picture of the current Italian society. In terms of policies, there is an irreversible international trend that must be considered: the community one belongs to is not necessarily that of residence. The bridge that diasporas create between the world of origin and the world of residence allows for a fluid transition at a political, economic, and social level. Policies must be designed starting from the awareness of the resource represented by the double sense of belonging of the diasporic communities, which helps us to better realize how big the world is.
“Diaspora is home” wherever one is: I have said this many times, and I repeat it loudly. I hope that Italy will always be a home for and within the world.