Draghi takes the field between Libya and vaccines

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Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi flew to Tripoli together with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio for the first official visit in the North African country by an Italian premier since 2012, when Mario Monti went to the capital of Libya. The head of the Italian government met his interim Libyan counterpart Abdelhamid Dubayba.

Draghi’s Tripoli mission is important above all from a symbolic point of view, as it signals Rome’s intention to return to dealing with the colossal geopolitical void that has opened up at its southern maritime border over the last decade. This result is by no means a foregone conclusion after ten years of substantial Italian apathy and several worthless initiatives.

The absence of a national strategy, the reluctance to take on the responsibility of stabilizing our former colony and the blind faith in the virtues of diplomatic forums have ended up pulverizing Italian influence in Libya. So much so that today it is divided between Russians and Turks and has become the clearinghouse for regional disputes, even before being a battleground for local militias hungry for power and resources.

For all these reasons, Draghi’s initiative in Tripoli, alone, certainly cannot be considered decisive. Nonetheless, it makes manifest the desire to return to deal directly with a decisive dossier for the security of our ‘near abroad’, which has been neglected for too long.

The premier aims to structure the return of the Italian presence in the “great Libyan game” by fielding the perspective of health, energy and above all infrastructural cooperation with Tripoli, levers with which our country can reasonably hope to carve out a profitable margin for action in North Africa to the detriment of Turkish and Russian competitors. The goal is to support the newborn Libyan government of national unity at a sensitive time of transition, to bring Italy back to count along the southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Provided we do not lose sight, in the meantime, of the management of the decisive vaccination campaign – a sine qua non condition to really secure the restart of the country and lay the foundations for any long-term initiative in our geographical area of reference.

In this phase, Italy is struggling terribly to impose itself in the battle against Covid-19 amidst delays in the supply of vaccines, illicit and favouritism in its administration and the spread of collective psychosis on AstraZeneca. After the political clash of recent weeks over the export of the Anglo-Swedish jab that placed post-Brexit London against the EU capitals led by Berlin, the reckless attitude of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also contributed to spread fears at a time when the public wanted to hear only certainties.

During the week, the EMA essentially dumped the responsibility of deciding how and to whom to administer the Anglo-Swedish vaccine, with the effect of fuelling fear and with it also a wave of renunciations that risks complicating the plans of the Italian government. After missing the targets of 210,000 injections per day in mid-March and 300,000 by 23 March, the goal of half a million vaccinations by the end of April looks more and more like a mirage.

The problems mainly concern the timing of supplies, as the authorities fear that the next 52 million doses expected for this quarter will be delivered only at the end and not in a homogeneous way. With all due respect to the government’s ambition to give a decisive acceleration to the vaccination campaign by the summer. Of course, nothing is closed to us yet, but time is running out.

The uncertainty also explains Draghi’s decision to enter into confidential negotiations with the Moderna pharmaceutical company to purchase a few million extra supplies of the sophisticated American vaccine. The premier knows how to move between the folds of the European rules on procurement (which prohibit individual countries from individually stipulating preventive contracts with producers), perhaps bringing to the table the renewed Italian loyalty to the Atlantic axis sealed by the arrest of the Navy commander Biot caught delivering military secrets to the Russians.

Pending news of some depth, the impression is that our country is in dire need of a roadmap that can prescind from the numerical calculation of infection rates and vaccine administrations. Some kind of political indication that traces in a concrete, operational and courageous way times and ways of Italy’s restart. A plan that teaches Italians how to live with the virus, after having defeated it and emptied it of lethality, since it would be simply crazy to imagine being able to “reopen” the country only when the epidemic is completely eradicated.