As most of the world slowly navigates its way through the COVID pandemic, a new set of dynamics has emerged in Europe since Angela Merkel retired from politics in September. With the UK no longer a member of the EU and France led by the increasingly ineffective government of Emmanuel Macron, Italy under Prime Minister Mario Draghi has emerged as a major political player within the EU.
New Europe spoke with Benedetto Della Vedova, Undersecretary of State at the Italian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, about the human rights situation in Afghanistan and bilateral relations with France and Germany.
New Europe (NE): How do you evaluate the human rights situation in Afghanistan?
Benedetto Della Vedova (BDV): It’s dramatic. We are talking about a country of 38 million people that has fallen again under the thumb of a violent, oppressive and misogynistic regime. It’s a true nightmare, especially for women and girls. The whole situation is a sort of “Back to the Future” that nobody would have imagined could reoccur. I am reassured by the fact that at the recent extraordinary meeting of G20 leaders’ on
Afghanistan, which came under the Italian Presidency, the concern for human rights remained front and centre the whole time. A clear message was sent to the Taliban’s interim government that human rights and fundamental freedoms – especially the rights of women, children, minorities and vulnerable people, including members of the LGBT community – must be respected according to the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and other relevant international instruments. Obviously different countries have different views on the magnitude and gravity of human rights violations and the correlation between these crucial benchmarks and the relationship with the de facto Afghan authorities, but the bottom line is that the international community recognizes the principle that the respect of human rights and dignity is a top priority.
NE: Why was it important to appoint a human rights special rapporteur for Afghanistan?
BDV: To keep Afghanistan in the spotlight. The appointment of a Special Rapporteur, which
will only be formalized next March, avoids the risk of a “monitoring gap” following the written report from High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet requested by the
Human Rights Council. It is vital that a Special Rapporteur, adequately supported by dedicated and specific expertise to be provided by OHCHR, is fully able to carry out their mandate with the benefit of unconditional access when it comes to fact-finding, legal analysis, the rights of women and girls, and forensics. Otherwise, the risk is for Afghanistan to end up in a situation where abuse, violence and discrimination will continue unpunished.
NE: After several high-level meetings in both capitals. How can a bilateral cooperation
between France and Italy be a new engine for Europe?
BDV: The bilateral relation between France and Italy is going through a very positive phase. We have both an interest in keeping a common appreciation of the main European issues at stake. The will to consolidate the bilateral cooperation is demonstrated by the very advanced state of negotiations on the so-called Trattato del Quirinale. France and Italy are very keen on reinforcing their cooperation from a European perspective using our converging interests as leverage. There are many areas where these converging interests can be applied, including migration, where we have recently made a joint proposal on Central Mediterranean routes called “The Team Europe Initiative”, which would make health a common policy following the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re also going forward with the digitalization process of our societies, which won’t leave anyone behind and we’re cooperating in the fight against climate change and decarbonization. Our countries are working together on geopolitical matters like Libya, Afghanistan and the Indo Pacific by having a common foreign and defense policy, which is the ultimate aim. In regards to post-Covid economic recovery and making NextGeneration EU roll out a sustainable success and not just a one-off experience, and so on. As we know, French presidential elections
are looming, but this path has been set out and should not suffer setbacks. I believe that Europe can only but benefit from enhanced italo-french cooperation and, even more so, by an enhanced cooperation of the three most important founding members of the EU – Italy, France and Germany.
NE: How do you see the future of relations between Italy and Germany post-Merkel and with the potential new SPD, Liberals, Greens Government?
BDV: We are facing an extremely important transition for Germany; for Europe as a whole.
After 16 years of Angela Merkel at the helm, the CDU’s defeat in the elections in
September sent a strong signal of change. However, independently from what the final tripartite coalition will look like, the outcome also confirmed that Germany is democratic and remains pro-Europe. Many observers underlined the fact that European issues were absent from the electoral debate, something that needs to be better analyzed without making a fuss. The basic fact remains that Germany will maintain its status as the central core of the European landscape. It will retain its essential role in moving the integration process forward, including helping to develop a common foreign and defense policy together with its partners. Among them is, of course, Italy. Germany is a
fundamental interlocutor for Italy and a first trading partner, with €116 billion trade exchange in 2020 and €69 billion in the first six months of 2021. Our mutual interests go well beyond our interdependent economy, as they are founded on common values, on long-lasting cultural exchanges, on strong contacts between our local administrations as well as in the private sector, and a shared vision of the European project. This close relationship was seen during Chancellor Merkel’s recent farewell visit to Rome and, likewise, President (Sergio) Mattarella’s visit to Berlin. Our ties will continue, whatever the final new government format will be.
NE: Which other EU countries are you going to visit and with what agenda?
BDV: Since I took office, and with pandemic restrictions permitting, I had bilateral visits to Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid and Brussels. During these bilateral visits, I usually met with my counterparts who are in charge of human rights, UN and other multilateral bodies, European affairs and culture. The agendas usually range from the ongoing exercise known as the Conference on the Future of Europe to what the program of our next Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will be. This includes everything from cultural exchanges to human rights issues, both within the EU and worldwide, while also bearing in mind the attention we’ve received by chairing the G20 and co-chairing the
COP26. The fact that we are going through a period of shifting alliances means that we
Europeans must constantly consult, cooperate and coordinate in order to develop and promote our own vision for Europe’s way forward in the short, mid and long terms in a world where the level of competition is extreme.