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Federica Mogherini: 'Europe is already fighting slavery in Libya'

Euronews recently met up with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at the MED – Mediterranean Dialogues conference – in Rome.

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Federica Mogherini: 'Europe is already fighting slavery in Libya'

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Euronews recently met up with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at the MED – Mediterranean Dialogues conference – in Rome. An initiative promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, the event aims at drafting a positive agenda for the Mediterranean.

Euronews editor in chief Gardenia Trezzini spoke to Mrs Mogherini about the refugee crisis, the EU’s dialogue with Washington and Moscow, and her ambition for “the Balkans to be allowed into the EU family”.

Gardenia Trezzini, Euronews: “Federica Mogherini, we are here at the MED conference in Rome. The headline this year is ‘A Positive Agenda’ for the Mediterranean. The major themes of this edition are immigration and security. Is it possible to remain positive in the face of such a hard, dramatic and profound crisis?”

Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief: “Yes, it is. This major migratory phenomenon has helped the whole of Europe – and the rest of the world – understand that we are witnessing a profound change, and that there is no need to talk about blocking the flow of migrants, which is impossible – be it within Africa, from Africa to Europe, or anywhere else in the world. This is a complex phenomenon, so we have changed the way we’re dealing with it. We no longer focus only on border control, as if it were simply an internal policy or a policing problem, but we are dealing with the problem in all its complexity by developing a partnership between the European Union, the African Union and the migrants’ home countries and countries of transit.

“So what does this mean? Well, first of all, it means saving lives in the Mediterranean, in Libya, in the desert, saving people, women and children, who are acting out of desperation and would rather risk their lives than stay in their own countries. Secondly, it means supporting the Libyan authorities, in very complex political times, to help them deal with the border, close detention centres, help the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees work in Libya to help migrants. Thirdly, successfully controlling southern Libya, because until we stop trafficking in the Sahel, in the desert, in Niger, Mali and Chad, the situation in Libya will remain unbearable. So we have mostly been active in Niger, offering economic alternatives to the young generation, whose only other option would be human trafficking. The number of migrants transiting through Niger has gone down from 70.000 to 4.000. We now have a new tool: at the summit between the European Union and the African Union in Abidjan, we created a taskforce in cooperation with the United Nations in order to coordinate our work. The EU will reinforce its action, the United Nations will organise humanitarian assistance and voluntary repatriation, the AU has committed to identifying the migrants and helping them leave the inhuman detention centres they are in.”

Gardenia Trezzini: “Is it realistic to think you’re going to go into Libya and reach these detention centres, scattered over a territory which is in complete chaos? Is it doable, and in what timeframe?”

Federica Mogherini: “We’re already doing it. The IOM has just announced the departure of two chartered flights from Libya to two of the migrants’ home countries. And that’s in addition to the many flights already organised these past months thanks to the help of the European Union. So far, we have helped 14.000 migrants return home and escape unbearable situations of slavery – which we knew about.”

Gardenia Trezzini: “There’s been a lot of hypocrisy, hasn’t there? Did we have to wait for the world to see the pictures on TV to talk about this slave trade? It’s like the case of Aylan – the little Syrian boy whose dead body was photographed on a beach in Turkey. It was a picture which deeply shocked public opinion and caused a strong reaction but only for a limited time. If everybody knew about this, why did you not act earlier and more firmly?”

On Libya: ‘The EU has saved 14.000 lives’

Federica Mogherini: “The first time I heard about these centres and about the slavery the migrants were subject to on their journey between the desert, Libya and the sea, I was in Lampedusa four or five years ago, and I fear it existed well before that. Sometimes, a TV report helps open people’s eyes. And if it can help force policy-makers to act, people who previously didn’t feel the need to save lives, that’s a good thing. All I can say is that exactly a year ago the European Union signed an accord to support the work of the IOM in Libya. We asked everyone – the UN, the IOM, the UNHCR to return to Libya and search for these camps and we asked the Libyan authorities to give them access. We Europeans alone funded the rescue of these 14.000 people."

Gardenia Trezzini: “In Libya and in the Sahel countries, your partners are not always reliable. Sometimes there’s the feeling that the EU is seen as an ATM, an investor that is not necessarily expecting concrete results.”

Federica Mogherini: “I am satisfied that our African partners have announced their wish to contribute to the enormous endeavour of saving human lives. They are African too. I think there’s been a real change of perspective, both politically and culturally, on both sides, we are now beyond the idea that the issue of migration pits the south against the north and the north against the south. The most important decision that was taken in Abidjan was not only the creation of a taskforce that will enable us to work together rather than against one another, but more importantly a private investment plan, with the financial backing of the EU, worth 44 billion euros, for projects aimed at creating jobs in some of the most fragile parts of Africa. That’s the true answer to security and migration problems in Africa.”

On Iran: ‘You don’t dismantle a deal that works’

Gardenia Trezzini: “The EU and you, personally, are behind one of the biggest recent diplomatic success stories: the Iran nuclear deal. But in recent declarations, it seems Tehran is calling into question the accord. How far are you prepared to go to defend it in dealing with the US administration?”

Federica Mogherini: “The deal we have made with Tehran works. It is a document that is more than 100 pages long, in which Iran has made very specific commitments and which is under constant scrutiny by the IAEA. Up until now, the Agency has conducted nine positive checks. You do not dismantle a nuclear deal that works. It’s a question of priority for the security of Europe and the whole region. President Trump has announced a US strategy on Iran which casts doubt on the deal, and we have reminded our American friends that the deal does not belong to one state or another, but that it is a UN Security Council resolution, and that we expect all parties to fully respect it.”

‘Give us Washington’s number’

Gardenia Trezzini: “How do you keep up dialogue with the current US administration which relies on Twitter diplomacy, appears unstable and is full of surprises from one day to another?”

Federica Mogherini: “We often talk with our American friends, on all levels and with one voice. Sometimes I think of Henry Kissinger’s joke: ‘‘Who do I call if I want to call Europe?’. Now the US have Europe’s number but it’s our turn to ask ‘Who do we call if we want to call Washington?’! But we often talk and we’re still working well together on a number of issues.”

On North Korea: ‘We were the first to apply sanctions’

Gardenia Trezzini: “Do you discuss North Korea? What’s your position? Up until now, the EU has been rather quiet on this issue.”

Federica Mogherini: “On the contrary. We were the first to apply the UN sanctions. We were also the first to exert additional economic pressure on Pyongyang. Every time we take action, we coordinate with Washington, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow. Only a united international community and UN Security Council will succeed in opening up dialogue with North Korea, and this joined effort must include efforts to open up a diplomatic channel that is inexistent today, and this responsibility lies essentially with China. By putting economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea Europe’s objective is to reach a peaceful solution.”

Gardenia Trezzini: “We’ve talked about the dialogue with Washington, but what seems really difficult at the moment is the dialogue with Moscow.”

Federica Mogherini: It is indeed very complicated and that will continue to be the case as long as there is no solution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. We will not recognise the annexation of Crimea. The wound inflicted by the conflict in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea is still open and our priority is to keep applying the decisions taken in Minsk to solve this crisis. This being said, we have many constructive talks with Moscow on our shared priorities. For example, the Syrian crisis. Moscow has a different position to the European Union on the Syrian crisis, but I think our goal is the same: to put an end to the conflict after so many years, and we can find common ways of getting there. With Moscow, we talk about North Korea, about the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, and on this issue, we’ve always worked constructively together. We also work together as part of the Quartet on issues like the two-state solution in the Middle East, on terrorism, on immigration…”

On Russia: ‘We expect everyone to respect the democratic process’

Gardenia Trezzini: “As the EU foreign policy chief, have you any proof of Russia’s interference in the domestic affairs of certain EU members like France or Spain?"

Federica Mogherini: “The EU has put in place a system to control but also to react to and actively promote ‘real news’. There’s a lot of talk about fake news and communication campaigns which draw public attention to untrue facts. We don’t want to respond with old-fashioned propaganda. We respond by putting forward correct information and we thereby promote real news about what the European Union is and what it is not. The EU is not and will never be a project against someone, and I think Moscow received this message loud and clear.”

Gardenia Trezzini: “So you have no proof?…”

Federica Mogherini: “And we expect every country around the world – be they friends or not, close or far from us – to respect the democratic process of European member states, especially the electoral process.”

On the Balkans: ‘Let them into the EU’

Gardenia Trezzini: Last but not least, I would like to talk about the Balkans. It’s a strategic region for many reasons which we have talked about, whether it’s immigration – the region is a door to Europe -, security – we know, for example, that a lot of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State come from Bosnia -. The Balkans are on Europe’s Eastern border. You said recently that your goal was to see rapid results before the end of your mandate – which results are these?”

Federica Mogherini: We often talk about the Balkans from a European perspective, but we forget that the Balkans are at the heart of Europe. Be it security and the flow of migrants, economic development or infrastructure, it is in the interest of the European Union to let the Balkans into its family and keep them there. I said something some member states didn’t appreciate: I don’t think the European Union will be made up of 27 members in the future, I think there will be more.”

Gardenia Trezzini:: “Despite public opinion in Europe? There is a lot scepticism over further enlargement in the future.”

Federica Mogherini: “But we need the Western Balkans to be a part of our European family, especially for security and economic reasons, we also need the enthusiasm of the Balkans’ youth. Of course, that’s on the condition they carry out a number of reforms, there needs to be profound change within society and the institutions. The leaders and the citizens of this region are ready to do it. When you see this energy, this willingness to be a part of the European political project which is still a massive draw, you cannot close the door. When I say that before the end of our mandate, in two years’ time, we will see irreversible progress with each of our six partners in the Western Balkans, I am serious and I really believe it.”

Gardenia Trezzini: “Thank you for answering our questions.”

Euronews’ Valerie Gauriat was in Libya in one year ago to report on the migrant detention centres. Watch her report here

Watch filmmaker Annalisa Piras’ documentary ‘Europe at Sea’ in which she follows Federica Mogherini and her efforts to shape the EU’s foreign policy and devise a response to the migrant crisis: