Rome view: Italy’s role in Libya


Yesterday the Italian foreign affairs minister, Franco Frattini, said that the EU should not intervene in the crisis in Libya. This would allow Libya to decide upon its own future – something that appeals to ideals of national ownership, where we are all architects of our own future and development.

Ownership as a principle runs contrary to the habit many donor countries have of teaching the poor how to develop, and contrary to the idea of actively imposing democracy from outside. But it would surely be very wrong to characterise any intervention from Italy and the EU to protect human rights in Libya as paternalistic.

The youths that are demonstrating, the very same youths that in these very hours are dying for dignity and liberty, are making history and they are doing it without us – in fact they are doing it despite us. We are left with only one obligation: do all we can to stop them being massacred.

For Europe this is an imperative. It’s about credibility – or even European survival. If the EU limits itself to calling for a “peaceful dialogue”, and if it is not ready to try to put a stop to the carnage being caused by the Libyan airforce, it will lose any hope of calling itself an international champion of human rights.

Italy has had a huge opportunity to make the difference, and return to being a player on the European and world stage. Instead, not only has it remained shamefully silent, as in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, but incredibly, thanks to Franco Frattini, it asked the EU not to intervene. Only later that evening did Silvio Berlusconi state that “the violence against civilians is unacceptable”.

Copyright Roberto Gimmi

Photo: Roberto Gimmi

Italy is important on Libya because it has cultivated a solid relationship across the Mediterranean to Tripoli. This culminated in the bilateral friendship treaty of 2008, thanks to which Italy has allocated €5 billion to Libya (a stratospheric figure when you consider the current level of Italian cooperation). The Italian government should be in a position to assume European leadership in forcing the cessation of violence against civilians in a vital geopolitical area so close to our borders.

Putting an end to the violence can only bring long term benefits, including the immediate (and legitimate) concerns of the Italian government: immigration, economic and financial interests and energy supply. But it will be necessary to look beyond one’s own finger, and instead have the courage to look as far as the moon.

Courage which at this moment in  time it seems Italy is missing.

This blog post is also available in Italian by clicking here.

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