Italy has been on the front pages of most newspapers over the past few weeks as the first European country to make a major commitment to the new UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. EuroNews caught up with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi while he was holiday and spoke to him, not only about the Middle East but about other pressing European issues.
EuroNews: President Prodi, how do explain Italy’s immediate offer to lead the international force in Lebanon, when other European countries, such as France, acted with extreme prudence until the last minute?
Prodi: I can assure you it is not a sign we’re not taking it seriously rather a sign of a sense of responsibility. If we’re not able to bring peace to the Mediterranean region, progress will not be possible and the future will remain bleak.
I think that only an active participation in peace can help us fight against terrorism, against internal tensions, against the hostilities which exist in the region.
So, I wouldn’t say that I want to direct the force, rather that we are ready to cooperate fully with the other countries. Italy knows that it is an important political responsibility. As I’ve said several times, we’re not taking part in a beauty contest but we must make our contribution to peace. Whether or not we take command, we stand ready to participate.
EuroNews: Do you see a possible solution for Lebanon without a precise mandate for disarming Hizbollah?
Prodi: The disarmament could take place, perhaps even easily, but within a political framework. I think that to force it, in a tense situation would be very difficult. It’s for that reason that without doubt we need a force on the ground, because hostilities must be avoided. However it is all the political work which is necessary – to begin negotiations on peace, not just on Lebanon, but also on Palestine and the whole region. It’s all connected.
EuroNews: Are you in favour of a permanent dialogue with Syria? Do you see any obstacles with that?
Prodi: The problem is clear; dialogue is an indispensable tool for politics. To speak is not a sign of weakness – sometimes dialogue means to lay down tough conditions. But I believe a dialogue with Syria is an important part of building peace.
EuroNews: Moving to another European problem; illegal immigration. More than 10,000 people have arrived in Italy in the last eight months; more than 15,000 have arrived in Spain. Madrid envisages doubling the aid it gives to the countries of origin. Italy has taken legal and policing measures which some people don’t believe have been particularly effective. How do you explain these different approaches to immigration?
Prodi: It can be explained simply; there is not a collective policy. I think, after Schengen, it is not possible to consider immigration as a national problem and the means should be the same throughout Europe. Dialogue must be bilateral with some countries but at times we should discuss our African policy with all the countries affected by this wave of immigration from the south. With Eastern countries, it’s different.
It’s an indispensable objective. But you see, and we return to a problem close to my heart when I was president of the European Commission – that’s the Mediterranean policy. It is impossible; it’s unthinkable, that Europe, today, doesn’t make the Mediterranean one of its priorities. And as you can see, it’s all linked. We can’t fight the war, the Palestinian situation, immigration, terrorism without a joined-up policy. For example, the bank project for the Mediterranean. I am thinking of universities where students and teachers from Europe and Africa have the same number of participants and the same clout. Really, a new policy must be put forward.
EuroNews: Returning to immigration. What do you think about selected immigration, of picking candidates according to the needs of the countries they want to come to? I’m talking about professional skills.
Prodi: That has always been a criterion of immigration but this is possible if there is a dialogue. We must move to a global agreement, where certainly help will be expected. Southern countries are going to lay down some conditions which, ultimately, will make life slightly harder for us but there will come a time when everyone will get something out of it. And then we can help them with training and it becomes more an issue of technical schools, of professional training. If not we will remain absolutely passive in the face of immigration.
EuroNews: Talking about immigration, even if it’s not strictly linked, you have also had problems at Padua and at Brescia, which could be seen as connected. Could Italy end up with the sort of “ghetto-type” situation we see in France?
Prodi: I have always been afraid of that and that is one of the reasons that I want a proactive approach, such as, for example, on citizenship. It’s for that reason that in the new law we’re drafting there’ll be provisions for learning Italian and gaining knowledge of the country’s institutions. The French situation worries me greatly but we haven’t yet attained that sort of concentration, that critical mass. We have many isolated incidents but we mustn’t make the mistake of underestimating them because they could blow up.