Antonio Tajani says countries share many of the same regional concerns
The UAE is a crucial partner in ensuring stability in the Mediterranean Sea, says Italian Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani.
Speaking to The National in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Mr Tajani said co-operation between the two countries was “very positive”. The UAE and Italy share many concerns on “regional instabilities”, he said.
Mr Tajani, also the country’s Foreign Minister, said Italy and the UAE were “firmly committed” to promoting a “global approach to migration, fighting against irregular flows and human trafficking”.
“We share the same concerns on main regional instabilities, including Libya and Tunisia, and we want to co-operate to identify sustainable and lasting solutions,” he said.
Mr Tajani’s comments come days after a migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean in which hundreds are feared to have died. The minister said it was a terrible tragedy and that “we need to protect human life”.
UAE can play crucial role
“Italy wants to work hard in this direction because for us illegal immigration is a big problem. For this we need a big strategy with many countries,” he said.
“The UAE is one of most important investors in [Africa] – and the position of the UAE is crucial for stability and growth. Stability and growth are important to stop illegal immigration. It is important to study the solution … long term.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Tajani also reflected on Ukraine, Tunisia and Libya, and Italy’s support for the UAE’s hosting of Cop28.
Migration is a key issue for the coalition government Mr Tajani serves in.
Italy has sought to accelerate efforts to prevent people arriving by small boats from North Africa seeking refuge.
First turning to Tunisia, Mr Tajani said his country’s priority was to “stabilise flows and stop irregular arrivals” of migrants.
He said Italy had strongly engaged with Tunisia, which is going through “a very critical phase”, and has been working with the US, the EU and Gulf partners.
UN figures show 12,000 migrants who landed in Italy this year left from Tunisia – up from 1,300 in the same time period last year. Tunisia’s economy is in crisis as talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
“An economic collapse would have serious social, humanitarian and migration consequences,” Mr Tajani said.
“I believe there is no alternative to the $1.9 billion bailout that Tunis has been discussing with the IMF and the support of the UAE to finalise the deal is crucial.
“[Prime Minister Giorgia] Meloni’s joint visit with Dutch Prime Minister [Mark] Rutte and European Commission President [Ursula] Von der Leyen last Sunday showed a stronger commitment by the EU as a whole to Tunisia’s financial and social stability.”
Turning to Libya, which has been plagued by conflict and political instability, he said the country was a national security priority and it shared with the UAE “a common interest in its unity, stability and prosperity”.
“We are counting on the UAE to continue supporting the mediation role of UN Special Representative [Abdoulaye] Bathily towards free and credible elections in Libya,” he said.
Call for ‘peace with justice’
The Ukraine war is also high among Mr Tajani’s priorities. He will be in London this week where a major recovery conference is taking place.
He said Italy was following the situation on the ground very closely with Ukraine probing the front lines.
The support provided to Ukraine over the past 15 months both at EU and Nato level was “extraordinary and unprecedented”, he said.
“We are supporting the Kyiv push with a seventh military aid package that is being formally finalised, hoping Ukraine can achieve the conditions it considers necessary to engage in negotiations with Moscow,” he said. “We want peace, but peace with justice.”
Mr Tajani on Sunday met Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss bolstering ties. Mr Tajani said his visit aimed to build on one made three months ago by Ms Meloni to the UAE, with both countries now engaged in a strategic partnership.
Bilateral trade in 2022 was about Dh32.1 billion ($8.74 billion) with roughly 600 Italian companies working in the UAE in different sectors, including energy, infrastructure and transport. At least 17,000 Italians call the UAE home.
“My visit to Abu Dhabi and the meeting with Sheikh Abdullah testifies to our interest in deepening our political dialogue and co-operation in all sectors, starting with the economic partnership, which is already successful,” Mr Tajani said.
Turning to climate change and Cop28, Mr Tajani said climate change was still a priority despite geopolitical challenges from energy to food insecurity, pointing to the devastating floods in Italy.
Italy “stood by” the UAE and supported the work of Cop28 President-designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber, he said.
Mr Tajani, a member of the Forza Italia party, also paid tribute to his colleague and Italy’s former leader Silvio Berlusconi, who died on June 12, calling him the most important prime minister since the Second World War. Forza Italia was founded by Mr Berlusconi and is a junior member of Italy’s coalition headed by Ms Meloni.
“Silvio Berlusconi’s passing has profoundly affected me personally but also millions of Italians,” he said. “He was a friend, a very strong spiritual and political guide, who inspired my professional and human path.”