Turkey was recently defined as the most refugee-welcoming country by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, while, simultaneously, Italy faces droves of immigrants from crisis-ridden regions of North Africa and Middle East. Unfortunately, many journeys by immigrants end in the sinking of makeshift or over-populated boats, adding to the human tragedy. Meanwhile Italy's recently introduced new election system, which was designed to end decades of coalition chaos and deliver stable majorities, sparked controversy across the Europe. Daily Sabah spoke with Nathalie Tocci, deputy director of the Rome-based Istituto Affari Internazionali, about the recent anti-coalition law, the future of the European Union, and the immigration and crisis policies of the EU.
How do you evaluate the law passed in Italy, which aims to prevent coalition governments?
This law was passed as a consequence of the previous electoral law. It had two main problems: Firstly, it was dubiously democratic because it essentially provided the winning party with an extraordinary majority in parliament. The paradox here is that although it made the lower house very obviously enjoying a very solid majority, the same wasn't applied for the upper house. Because essentially what happened was that in the other chamber, the same supermajority rule used to apply but within different regions. To cut a very long story short, the results tended to look like you had a very clear majority in the House of Representatives, whereas in the senate you have no majority. So, you don't have a democratic law, you don't have one which would lead to an effective government.I would say this is certainly a better law than the previous one. It doesn't exclude explicitly the coalition governments. It is simply less likely that there will be a coalition government because it's more likely that there would be a clear majority in the house. And also this comes together with the second constitutional reform that abolishes the senate. There is no need to have the majorities in both houses. As a political result, it is less likely that coalition governments are going to be necessary.
Is there any concern about whether this electoral law may tend to allow more authoritarian governments in Italy?
No, I wouldn't say authoritarian, I think that would be a too strong term. There is certainly a situation in which you have at the moment; you had Silvio Berlusconi in the past, now you have Matteo Renzi with the Democrat Party, one very strong party. It was the same for Berlusconi, now it's beginning for Renzi, which is things being very much centered on a strong leader like in Turkey.
If there isn't a real party, it becomes so centralized; it takes a long time for a decent opposition to recreate itself. Now you have Renzi being very strong and he has a very strong party but he is centralizing the party more and more. He is becoming stronger because there is no real opposition on the other side due to fragmentation in itself, following the centralization of the party on Berlusconi. There is the risk of, not authoritarianism, but ineffective opposition.Do you think that this may have an influence on other countries in Europe?
It could have an influence but it is a question of the style of government. I think Renzi played an important role in rejuvenating the center-left in Europe, not just in Italy. He especially became very influential to Spanish socialists and to a certain extent, on French socialists. You can see that he is trying to play a young, modest, center-left leader, which slightly tilts towards the right. Renzi catches that. He also does it in a way that speaks to the underbelly of the country. So he tries to take out some of the steam of the populist parties. You see that in Spain as well. You see that the way in that Spanish socialists are beginning to play this game because they are worried about PODEMOS. It's the same in Italy. You have the Democrat Party being a bit more populist in order to take the steam out of the Five-Star Movement. Obviously, European political movements look at one another and they're a part of the same family. Therefore, there is an influence, definitely.
We are observing an EU in which the U.K. is talking about a referendum to leave the EU and Greece is considering abandoning the euro. Under these circumstances, how do you perceive the EU's future?
At the moment, I don't think that the U.K. will leave the EU because it is very much against British interests, especially its financial and economic ones. At some point, the city is going to wake up and it is going to put pressure on David Cameron and the Conservative government that is very sensitive about the music coming out of the city. I think he will have to heed that. The question is how he is going to play this game? He will have to say to the public "I have achieved enough from the EU for me to be able to campaign in a referendum in favor of remaining in the EU." The truth of the matter is that he is not going to get very much from the EU because it is not the kind of club in which you bargain things, you can tweet things at the margin but you can't opt out of everything. Otherwise, opt out of the club together. That's the instinct that you would get from the rest of the EU. So, he is not going to get very much except a few things. Is he going to be able to politically sell that as something more than what it is? That is going to be the trick. A good politician can do this. A good politician can sell something that in practice is not very substantial. At the moment, my hunch is that he is going to manage to do it because it is going to be in his interests.
When it comes to the future of the EU, I think it is promising. Neither of those two things is going to happen. I think we have seen the darkest days are over. We are slowly climbing out of the crisis that ultimately was the reason why all of this happened. You have a much stronger system of European economic governance at the day he did a few years ago and that is in place now. That means next time there is an economic crisis, because economic crisis happen, we're better equipped. In those darkest days of crisis, ultimately what was prevailed was a sense that we have to keep this together. Now, with this new commission I sense a different state of change. You see that now with the migration story there is a beginning of a wake-up, you see it with a debate on economic development, employment. They are beginning to realize the wake up because they are losing citizens. It is not a revolutionary change but it is slowly climbing up from the dark moment.
Italy is seeing an increased migration to its territory. As a European Union member, does Italy find EU policy adequate in this matter?
For Italy, it is clear that there has to be major change. Essentially, at the moment within the EU, the system with the Dublin Convention is basically that refugees that come to the EU, an asylum seeker that comes to the EU, has to stay in the country of first arrival. What does that mean? The country of first arrival is a problem, given that not that many refugees go from Beirut to Stockholm. In fact, what happens is that they either arrive in Greece, because the situation with Turkey on the border is not that easy, or the main route becomes the Central Mediterranean, through Italy. Obviously, the Dublin Arrangements are not adequate. They reflect a context that does not exist anymore. Basically the Italians say that we need more solidarity. We used to say this last year when they had the Mare Nostrum Operation, which they tried to Europeanize. They were trying to get Europeans to participate in this program and no one did, it was just Italians. Then there is this austerity, and this cost about 10 million euros a month and we couldn't afford it and the operation ended. It ended and here are the results, the common tragedies we have seen at sea over the last few months. Now, we are basically beginning to see a change in Europe. So it is slow but the EU is waking to this. As a major change, the proposal that was released a couple of days ago by the EU Commission on the agenda of migration. It proposes a resettlement scheme according to your population and how many refugees and asylum seekers you already have, you accept a particular quota of people that may have arrived to Italy; they don't necessarily stay. Let's say that this agenda passed through the council. If it does, it would really be the beginning of a change in the mode of operation within the EU.
Similarly, Turkey has become a country hosting millions of immigrants. In your opinion, does Turkey receive sufficient support from the international community?
I think Turkey is a very strong case to make. It should be taking much more credit in this case. Initially you would get some Europeans that would reply and say "Turks just want to have financial support but they don't want to have any meddling in the way in which they refugee situation is handled and we would only do that." This is an excuse, of course. I think if Turkey insists on making the arguments, saying "this is not just about accepting finance it is also about thinking about the governance of this problem, which is going to be a long-term governance problem, not just a Turkish problem," it is a very strong case to make. There are receptive ears in Brussels and other European capitals to this argument. To be honest, personally I find it almost pathetic the way in which the EU kicks and screams over a few thousand migrants and refugees while Turkey is hosting 2 million people. Think about Lebanon. It's a country with 5 million people and over 1 million are refugees. In the economic and political situation they're in. Europeans' disrespect has to be shamed much more than they it is.
Do you think that EU policies are satisfactory in resolving the ongoing crisis in Syria? What is Italy's approach concerning this issue?
It's a million dollar question. I would break it down into a two-step question. Take countries of origin and take countries of transit. For the first problem, we know the solution. It just takes a very long time to achieve it. When we talk about those countries, they are mainly from the Horn of Africa and we know what the answer is: Better governance in socio-economic development. These are not political refugees. Eritrea is a slightly different question but we know the rest. These are the economic refugees. They always existed. What didn't exist in the past? You had North Africa - I will blatantly put it here - with authoritarian regimes that acted as the cork. You had all this push coming from North Africa that was blocked. This was the name of the game. It was the arrangement of Ben Ali, Gadhafi and Mubarak, now it's el-Sissi. This is how things worked. You have some who managed to filter through to Europe but only in small numbers. That cork has come off. What is the solution? Whereas in the case of origin countries I can say that good EU foreign policy is a strong development policy. It takes a long time but we know what we have to do. What is the good solution for the transit countries? Here, basically you have three scenarios: One, you have no states at all. The cork comes off and basically this is not a solution. Two, you have accountable governments. Strong, accountable and democratic governments are not going to do your dirty work for you. They are not going to be Gadhafi's and el-Sissi's that keep them there, put them into detention centers and violate their human rights. If they are accountable and democratic governments, that is, in principle, what we should want. But then it still means that migrants come over to Europe. Or as a third option, through dictatorial states you keep them in, violate their rights which is convenient, so to speak, for a migration control perspective. But is that what we really want? The tragedy is that there is no obvious solution. The only one is through development but that takes decades.