Interview of Franco Frattini for www.neueurope.eu
Following the European People‘s Party Assembly in December with the ambiguous shifts between Italian Prime Minister, at the time Mario Monti, being present as well as the Italian Member Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi we spent some time interviewing Former Minister Franco Frattini on the upcoming Foreign Affairs agenda and the elections in Italy.
Franco Frattini, the chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP) ad hoc group on foreign policy, has said that the urgent situation in Mali will be the main focus of their meeting in Brussels on 28-29 January.
Developments in Mali continue to escalate after Islamist rebels advanced from the northern part of the former French colony, from positions that it took control of last year in a rebellion.
Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of the Al- Qaeda, are alongside three other rebel groups, the Ansar Dine, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa , and the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, who are attempting to take over the country to impose Islamic Law.
This provoked a military intervention from France on the 11 January to protect Mali from the threat of being turned into a terrorist led state.
Frattini said: “There are urgent resolutions about Mali that are to be adopted by the group, these will be submitted for the approval of the EPP president. The militant forces represent danger to their neighbouring countries and European states if the become dominant in Mali, as they will be nearer to Europe than even Afghanistan.”
As for then reaction to the French deploying forces in North Africa, the former Italian foreign minister believes its time to show solidarity with them.
“This is why I proposed to the Italian government to send a logistic mission of support, and this succeeded as the council of ministers decided to allow logistic support through Italian training with air operations.”
“There has been a limited number of member states offering support for France in the EU, although it was decided by the European Council of Foreign Ministers to support a training mission in Mali, and the decision was taken in a unified spirit offering support for France.”
“The idea from us is we would like to establish a collective European defence capacity and the Mali situation is an example why, this would allow Europe to intervene quickly in situations in countries who need it. We would also like to see more integration and cooperation with Nato.”
Following the hostage situation at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria where 37 foreigners were killed in a siege instigated by a new Islamist splinter group, is North Africa now a new breeding ground for terrorist groups?
“Its is very concerning.” Frattini reflected. “And I believe that there should be support from the Italian government and to contribute in the whole of the Sahara where there are terrorist threats.”
“If you look at some countries such as Niger there are uranium mines there, imagine what would happen if terrorists took over that area. Algeria and Libya are both energy producers and we have a strong national interest there, as Italy has nationals living in both these countries and we have investments there as well.”
“The way to approach the area is to have a quick intervention from the UN Security Council, and to decide what the principle of ownership in Africa is.
However European intervention should only be about support, and it is for Arica in terms of military intervention and education to step up and take control of threatening circumstance, that would be the best option for the African region.”
Rising levels of EU scepticism will be intensely discussed, a topic that will be fuelled by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on the 23 January that pledged a referendum by on Britain’s EU membership by the end of 2017, that is if he wins a second term in power in two years time, something that is seen as a clear shift in the UK over their future political direction.
Italy is also about to go to the polls on 24 February where euroscepticism has been a major part of the election debate, this will be followed by the German national elections in the Autumn where the European question will rear its head, as many German citizens are angry over the bailouts to problem countries such as Greece.
“Unfortunately in Italy there are many who see Europe as a problem rather than an opportunity, the Eurozone crises means that people have questioned the participation of Italy, coupled with the bureaucracy of the EU they are issues in the election campaign, but not the main issue. Although some would want to see a referendum submitted over the participation of the EuroZone, and that of course is a sign of euroscepticism.” Frattini added.
“As for Cameron’s speech it still lacks detail to make a full comment on, but to pull out of the EU would leave questions on borders, customs, on how this would effect commerce and trade. If the package that he brings forward, if he is re- elected in 2015, strengthens the EU democratic institutions then there will be a positive reaction to that.”
European enlargement will also be on the agenda as Frattini believes that progress has to accession stalled especially in the Western Balkans.
“Due to the difficult situations that governments in Europe are going through in the economic crises, we need to revitalise the enthusiasm of being a full member of the European Union. There are member state countries that are trying to slow down the process to accession.”
“I would like also revitalise the EU perspective in the populations of the Western Balkan countries, also to find solutions to some of the problems such as the name of Macedonia and to continue the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, its time to re-launch the European perspective in this region.”
The final word was left for the biggest foreign policy event in recent months, the re-election of Barack Obama for a second term in power in the White House.
“ Our reaction is a positive one to his re-election and we wish to continue cooperation between the EPP and the Obama administration. We hope there is progress with negotiations that are on the table over Iran and their use of nuclear power, and also to find an equilibrium between the US, the EU and Nato, to find a balanced position that involves Russia being around the table where decisions are taken in the defence strategy of Nato.”