Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid on Monday met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella who hosted a lunch in honor of the Estonian head of state in Rome, during which the presidents discussed the migration crisis, opportunities of the digital society and the future of the European Union.
“The fact that hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa arrive in Italy every year — and for many years in a row — is not Italy’s problem. It is a problem of the whole of Europe and so all of us hold the key to solving the problem. As Italian fighters will protect our airspace in Amari next year, we must also understand joint concerns that are to the south of us. An not only understand them, but also contribute to solving them,” the president said after the meeting.
The heads of state at the meeting focused on discussing the opportunities of the digital society and questions concerning cyber security. Kaljulaid said that many modern dangers do not depend on geography.
“Those risks are similar in Rome and Tallinn and this is why cooperation between countries is important, a good example of which is the participation of Italy in the work of our NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn since its launch,” the president said.
Speaking about the future of the European Union, Kaljulaid first and foremost considered it important that the member states remain united in important questions. “This is our — Estonia’s, and in reality the whole of EU’s — strategic interest. Europe is faced with a number of challenges, but no member state can solve a big problem alone better than together,” Kaljulaid said.
The president on Monday evening will open an exhibition at the Italian National Gallery of Modern Art that will feature the works of Estonian painter Konrad Magi. Kaljulaid on Tuesday will visit three schools in Rome and gift them with reproductions of Magi’s painting “Landscape of Italy. Rome.”
The NATO member may not spend much on defense, but it’s nonetheless pulling a lot of the EU’s weight. It’s time we gave the Italian’s some respect.
On the face of it, Italy is a woeful member of NATO, spending just 1.11 percent of GDP on defense — far below the alliance’s 2 percent benchmark. Only seven NATO countries spend less. But take a close look at the country’s contribution to European security and a rather different picture emerges.
Between January and June of this year, Italy’s coast guard rescued 21,540 migrants from 188 vessels, while the Italian navy brought 3,344 migrants to safety and its financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, saved nearly 400.
Add to that Italian troops serving on NATO and U.N. missions in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as the country’s participation in Operation Sophia, an EU naval mission that has rescued 5,676 migrants since the beginning of the year, and it becomes clear that Italy has become Europe’s policeman.
“Yes, you can measure defense spending, but it can’t be the only metric,” said Stefano Stefanini, an Italian former ambassador to NATO. “In providing security, deployability and operations matter more than budgets.”
Italy’s coast guard conducts migrant rescue missions that often take its vessels far beyond waters normally considered coast guard territory. So does the Italian navy, even though search and rescue are not part of a navy’s normal tasks. The Guardia di Finanza’s mission is to intercept smugglers of drugs and money, not save asylum seekers.
But with people-smugglers callously overfilling their leaky vessels with people desperate to reach Italy, and with the Libyan government only now starting to assist, it would be unethical to do nothing. So the Italian armed forces rescue the migrants.
In the waters of the Mediterranean, human decency gives the Italians little choice. But their troops participate in many other missions from which Italy could reasonably ask to be excused. According to figures assembled by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), a Rome-based think tank, last year a total of 6,092 Italian troops served on international missions in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. Some 600 Italians serve in Kosovo; another 1,100 in Lebanon. Italian troops are stationed in Libya and Somalia, too.
Counting Italian officers embedded with other countries’ armed forces, the figure exceeds 7,000. This year, another 140 Italians deployed to Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence initiative. With deployment rotations — each foreign deployment position is typically filled by four service members in rotation — that means more than 28,000 Italian troops are involved in international operations.
“Today’s situation is more complicated than war or peace,” said a high-ranking official in the Italian Ministry of Defense. “We’re stabilizing an entire region.”
Last year, the international missions cost the Italian government more than €1 billion, according to IAI. And that doesn’t count the cost of the navy, coast guard and Guardia di Finanza search and rescue missions.
But here’s the paradox: all of these efforts don’t show up in NATO statistics. As a result, a country such as Greece looks like a star member of the alliance thanks to its annual defense expenditure of 2.4 percent of GDP. Though Greece rescues migrants off its coasts, it is not participating in any current EU or NATO military missions.
NATO’s statistics measure how much a member spends on defense, how much is spent in personnel and how much on equipment. But they don’t show how much a country spends on NATO-related activities.
“In addition, some countries put everything they can into the defense budget in order to approach the 2 percent target,” said Stefanini. “But Italy doesn’t; in fact, it plays down what it does in defense for domestic policy reasons.” A large part of the Italian electorate supports the political left and would be unhappy with increased defense spending.
It’s high time Italy’s allies — particularly in the EU — recognize the country’s contributions to regional security.
Many countries are, in fact, getting away with doing close to nothing to shore up Europe’s south in the knowledge that the Italians will take care of it
To be sure, it is in Italy’s interest to stabilize not only the waters surrounding it but the countries too: another exodus of Kosovars would be difficult to handle, not to mention an even larger influx of asylum seekers travelling via Libya. Lebanon faces a potentially explosive situation involving, among other things, spillover from Syria.
But the issues to which Italy devotes manpower and resources — stability in the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa — have implications that spread far beyond the country’s borders. And migration in particular has EU-wide consequences as few of those crossing the Mediterranean do so intending to stay in Italy.
“We’re trying to make allies aware of the threats coming from the southern flank,” said the Ministry of Defense official. “These threats are moving towards all of Europe.”
“No country can guarantee European security alone,” the official added.
Frontex, the EU’s external border agency, does conduct migrant response operations in the Mediterranean, and NATO’s Sea Guardian mission polices the sea. But so far most of Italy’s allies have been content to leave the country to bear the bulk of the southern flank responsibilities — and the costs of doing so.
Many countries are, in fact, getting away with doing close to nothing to shore up Europe’s south in the knowledge that the Italians will take care of it.
By Elisabeth Braw, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Europe is “underestimating” the scale and severity of the migration crisis and “millions of Africans” will flood the continent in the next five years unless urgent action is taken, a senior European official has warned.
The dire prediction from Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, came as Paris evacuated almost 3,000 migrants sleeping rough from a makeshift camp near the city centre – the 34th such evacuation in two years.
In an interview with Il Messagero newspaper, Mr Tajani said there would be an exodus “of biblical proportions that would be impossible to stop if we don’t confront the problem now”.
“Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave.
“When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years.
“Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”
The only solution is massive investment in Africa to dissuade people from leaving in the first place, he said.
Mr Tajani’s sombre forecast came a day after EU interior ministers pledged to back an urgent European Commission plan to help Italy, which has accepted around 85,000 of the 100,000 migrants who have arrived by sea from North Africa this year.
Last month it threatened to close its ports to NGO boats carrying rescued migrants and called on some of the vessels to be sent to ports in France and Spain – a proposal these countries dismissed.
The effects of the migrant influx have been felt in Paris, where a makeshift camp of almost 3,000 people was dismantled yesterday morning, with migrants bussed to temporary accommodation in and around the French capital.
The migrants, whose numbers have swollen since the notorious Calais “jungle” was shut last October, had been living around an aid centre in the Porte de la Chapelle area. Set up last November to accommodate 400 people, it soon became swamped by the 200-odd weekly newcomers forced to sleep rough.
Their ballooning numbers raised security and hygiene concerns and caused tensions with locals.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government is expected to announce new measures to cope with the migrant crisis next week.
Jumping the gun, Anne Hidalgo, Paris’ Socialist mayor, issued her own proposals yesterday. These included an “organised spread” of migrants around the country to avoid bottlenecks, increasing the capacity of welcome centres from 50,000 to 75,000 by 2022, and pumping more funds into language and “civic” lessons.
Most migrants landing in Italy are sub-Saharan Africans who have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya, a journey that has so far claimed more than 2,200 lives this year, according to UN figures.
EU ministers agreed to an “action plan” to provide up €35 million in aid for Rome and beef up the Libyan coastguard, which NGOs accuse of serious rights abuses and even collusion with people traffickers.
Amnesty said it was “deeply problematic” to unconditionally fund and train Libya, which has been teetering on lawlessness since former dictator Mummer Gaddafi was ousted and killed after a Nato-led operation in 2011.
At a separate conference in Rome on Thursday, Italy’s foreign minister Angelino Alfano stressed with a string of African and EU ministers the importance of bolstering Libya’s southern borders to end what he called “the biggest criminal travel agency in history”.
July 4 (UPI) — Austria’ plans to use 750 soldiers and four armored vehicles in an effort to block migrants crossing its border from Italy, the government said Tuesday.
Austria is increasing its military presence at Brenner Pass, a key trade and transport route through the Alps, officials said.
Asylum seekers are crossing the Mediterranean from the coast of Libya into Italy — a distance of 290 miles. So far this year, 101,000 migrants have entered Europe from the Mediterranean, and 2,247 people have died or are missing at sea, according to data from the Missing Migrants Project
Italy also has summoned Austria’s ambassador Rene Pollitzer.
The troops are on standby and will be sent to the border if there is an urgent need, officials said.
“I expect border controls will be introduced very soon,” Peter Doskozil, the defence minister, told the newspaper Kronen Zeitung. “But we see how the situation in Italy is becoming more acute and we have to be prepared to avoid a situation comparable to summer 2015.”
Several hundred thousands refugees and migrants streamed into Western Europe along the so-called Balkan Route after crossing the Aegean to Greece from Turkey two years ago.
Austria has border checks with Hungary and Slovenia, but in other areas it adheres to the European Unon open borders system.
France and Switzerland closed their borders to migrants last year.
Italy has said it cannot handle the level of migrant arrivals, and could close its ports and impound aid agencies’ rescue ships.