SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

‘Stability and peace’: Italian PM Draghi’s farewell warning to EU leaders

Italy's outgoing PM Mario Draghi used his last day on the European stage Friday to warn fellow leaders and his far-right successor that a united Europe should remain their "guiding star".

'Stability and peace': Italian PM Draghi's farewell warning to EU leaders
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron at an EU leaders Summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 21, 2022. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

European leaders gave Draghi, a hero in Brussels during his former decade-long leadership of the European Central Bank (ECB), a warm round of applause on the last day of his final EU summit.

The 75-year-old economist was due to be replaced later on Friday as Italian prime minister by far-right eurosceptic Giorgia Meloni, leader of the post-fascist party Brothers of Italy.

As leader of the ECB in 2012, Draghi was hailed as the saviour of the euro when he faced down markets during the sovereign debt crisis, famously declaring he would do “whatever it takes” to stabilise the currency.

In Brussels, EU chief Charles Michel led tributes to Draghi at the summit table, thanking him for his work and “artful phrases, and a concise, brief and powerful style”.

The leaders were played a brief tribute video and, according to a European official in the room, Draghi received a long and warm round of applause before delivering his remarks.

READ ALSO: Far-right leader Meloni set to be named Italy’s first woman PM

“Part of the video statement says that the European Union is the guiding concept for all our countries,” he said.

“They all look at the EU as a source of security, stability and peace. We have to keep this in mind as a guiding star for the future, especially in troubled times like these.”

Mario Draghi (L) speaks with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz (2nd L), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (2nd R) and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (R) on October 21, 2022. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The message could have been directed to his Italian nationalist successor in Rome, but also to some of Draghi’s fellow European leaders at the meeting in Brussels.

Draghi came to the summit angry over resistance to a European price cap on gas imports, accusing richer countries like Germany of out-spending smaller partners to shield their own citizens from the energy shock.

A spokesman said Draghi warned of the negative impact on European unity if countries with more fiscal firepower go it alone, and urged the creation of a “common spending capacity” to cushion consumers across Europe.

This was fiercely opposed by the EU’s so-called frugal countries – led by the Netherlands and Germany – which insist that the bloc already has enough money on hand to help governments face the crisis.

After hours of discussion, the carefully-worded summit statement reflected a difficult compromise, stressing “the importance of close coordination and of common European level solutions, where appropriate”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

MIGRANT CRISIS

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”

SHOW COMMENTS