Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has struck back at German Chancellor Angela Merkel after she publicly criticized Italy’s handling of the immigration crisis.
“Italy is doing what it has to do … and even much more by saving thousands of lives and by taking in refugees,” Gentiloni said in an interview published in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera Wednesday. On the international stage, Italy is, in fact, “pointed to as a positive model,” Gentiloni declared.
On Monday, Angela Merkel, in talks with French President Francois Hollande, reprimanded Italy and Greece over their slow progress in opening registration centers for migrants, warning it would be unacceptable if the centers were not operational by the end of the year.
The core of the problem is that EU rules stipulate that asylum-seekers must apply for refugee status in the country where they first arrive.
Northern Europeans have accused the Italians and Greeks of taking shortcuts and allowing the bulk of those arriving by sea to quickly pass through their territory to register their asylum applications elsewhere.
In reply, Gentiloni said that “asking Greece and Italy to do their duty on immigration is like asking a country hit by severe floods to speed up the production of umbrellas.”
“Europe needs to go in exactly the opposite direction from criticizing the countries situated on its external borders,” he said.
The Minister said the crisis can only be resolved by a coordinated European approach. The European Union must create “channels of legal immigration into Europe as a whole: we need legal immigrants, who have talents and abilities.” He added, “We also need a balance of the burden among several countries. If the right of asylum is valid throughout Europe, an equal distribution will keep everyone from heading to the richest and most generous nations.”
“That may seem ambitious but … it is the only way possible,” he said. “Migrants are arriving in Europe, not in Italy, Greece, Germany or Hungary. The way things are going, there is a risk of Schengen being called into question and having to go back to the old borders.”
“Restricting the free movement of persons is to undermine one of the pillars of Europe,” he said.
Gentiloni also turned his attention toward Africa, underscoring the importance of homegrown solutions to their problems. “For us, Libya is the gateway to migration. Talks resume tomorrow in Morocco. It’s up to the Libyans to bring about an accord; we are working at this time talking with all parties,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.