Alessandro Pagano Dritto, Libya expert and author of the blog ‘Between Libya and Italy’, analyzes the political legacy of the Interior Minister Marco Minniti.
The fact that Libya will be a hot file for the upcoming government, as it has been for the current one, comes as no suprise. Indeed, at the very least, migration has undoubtfully been one of the burning issues in the latest electoral campaign.
However, while the composition of the new government is still anything but clear, one may ask whether Libya is about to be a case of continuity or not. So far, none of the post-election leading parties – Luigi Di Maio’s 5 Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S) and Matteo Salvini’s League (Lega) – have openly mentioned Libya in their official programs, despite the latter party is well known for vowing a hard line against illegal migration and the flows of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from the North African countries.
The Minniti compact
The last center-left government, with Paolo Gentiloni as Prime Minister since December 2016, has more widely relied on the Interior Minister Marco Minniti to address the Libyan file, rather than on its Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano, as it might be expected. In at least two articles from September and November 2017, the Libya expert Mattia Toaldo labelled Minniti’s work over Libya and migration as ‘Minniti compact’, describing it as an operation based on four pillars: ‘agreement (whether implicit or explicit, direct on indirect, is still open to question) with the armed groups controlling the major hubs of smugglers on the North-Western coast of Libya’; support to the Coast Guard of Tripoli; control of the Italian NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, which the aformentioned Coast Guard has frequently been at odds with; negotiation with the Southern Libya’s tribes.
One month after Italy had reopened its Embassy in Tripoli in February 2017, Rome and Tripoli – the latter representing just one part of Libya’s political actors and barely controlling only the North-Western area of the country, still affected by the illegal departures of the migrants – stroke a contested deal: an EU-blessed Memorandum of Understanding paving the way for Minniti’s action on the North African country throughout the year.
Already in March 2017, the M5S remarked that the deal was ‘a failure‘, a judgment repeated in November when the movement said that the agreement was ‘inhuman and illegal’ and urged Europe to ‘pressure Italy and set the agreement with Libya to zero’. While, in January 2017, they criticized the alliance with Tripoli’s Prime Minister, Fayez Serraj, deemed as too weak – ‘a ghost’ – to be effectively relied on.
Yet, as of now, there are signs that something could change over Minniti, Libya and the ‘compact’, as some suggestions of continuity have emerged from the Minister’s supposed political enemies, during and after the electoral campaign. Already in January 2018, Silvio Berlusconi, Salvini’s current main ally in the centre-right coalition and former Italy’s PM from 2008 to 2011, tweeted that ‘Minniti has followed what we did with Libya however, it is not enough’, stressing a sort of appearent continuity and legitimation between his and the latest center-left Minister’s policies. Indeed, speaking at a public conference on Italy’s foreign policy in February 2018, the League’s representative Giancarlo Giorgetti endorsed Minniti’s work on Libya, curiously just when the representative of an ally of Minniti’s Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD) – Più Europa‘s Costanza Hermanin – criticized it: ‘it has been a huge step forward, compared to what had been done before’, Giorgetti said.
In the same occasion, M5S‘ Manlio Di Stefano remarked that ‘Minniti has failed’. Nevertheless, according to post-election rumors from the newspaper ‘La Stampa‘, Di Maio would be considering to offer some Ministries to the PD: Minniti would be quite a name, as he ‘got the praise of (M5S‘) Alessandro Di Battista over security and migration, reversing a trend in a way the movement enjoyed’. However, Minniti himself apparently rejected any alliance as these – he stated in an interview – ‘are an issue involving those who win the elections, not those who lose them’.
Other reasons for continuity
Finally, a clear, practical reason of continuity of Minniti’s policy might be the reported confirmation by the current government of the head of the intelligence Alberto Manenti, who is himself born near Tripoli and is believed to be playing a relevant role in the relationship with the North African country.
Speaking to Italics Magazine, ISPI associate research fellow and OSCE special representative Matteo Pugliese recalls that Minniti and Manenti were already close back in 2014: ‘The appointment of Minniti as delegatee in 2013 preceeded and surely helped that of Manenti as head of AISE (Italy’s foreign intelligence) in 2014′.
‘The confirmation of Manenti by PM Gentiloni must be seen in the framework of Minniti’s long-term strategy over Libya’, Pugliese added. ‘Both Minniti and Manenti worked in conjunction to elaborate an overall strategy over Libya, by organizing frequent meetings with (the Country’s Eastern ‘capital’) Tobruk, the Russians and the tribes of Fezzan’, Libya’s Southern region; moreover, Manenti has ‘met (Eastern Libya’s) General Khalifa Hafter several times’.
And, despite Salvini reportedly criticized Gentiloni’s move, ‘criticism made by the rightwing players is not part of a different strategic vision on Libya or on AISE, but it is rather a matter of internal dynamics, dating back to 2016, when several new officials were appointed’, Pugliese explains.