Italy and EU Migration Policy

By Blog Writer George Royce

On March 4, 2018, Italy officially joined the ranks of elected eurosceptic governments in the EU. The election, which resulted in a hung parliament but ultimately led to a coalition between the anti-establishment Lega Nord and Five Star Movement, has changed the face of EU politics. The leaders of their respective parties, Matteo Salvini and Luigi Maio, have both expressed their dislike of the Euro and most of all the mishandling of the migrant crisis. After a brief political fracas that saw the EU reject their pick of an anti-Euro Prime Minister- Giuseppe Conte, a somewhat lesser sceptic of the Eurozone, was accepted, and Maio became Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Salvini the Interior Minister.

Greece was the first port of entry for the majority of migrants coming by boat from North Africa, parts of East Asia and the Middle East. However, Greece became overwhelmed and thus could no longer cope with the influx of migrants. Spain became the next landing destination, but soon it too followed the way of Greece. And so, it was Italy that had now become the target NGOs set their sights on and after a few years of uncontrolled mass migration, Italy too has become rife with disharmony among the populace. Furthermore, disdain for the political class has grown immensely. 

Lega and Five Star sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both offered to resolve the migrant crisis by implementing tougher border and immigration controls, which would be contrary to the EU’s position. Heading the government position, Salvini has vowed to deport 500,000 illegal migrants and has closed several ports to any new arrival ships. Jean-Claude Juncker retaliated to this by saying he believed that “common sense” was needed in Italy. French President Macron furiously said Italy was betraying European Union values by such actions. 

Salvini has threatened to scupper Italy’s commitment to the European Union budget by reviewing it's contributions; presumably with the aim of cutting them. Adding more coals to the fire, he also suggested he would in fact veto the CETA deal which the EU is currently finalising with Canada. The Lega leader has expressed his desire to form some kind of coalition in 2019; this would be a eurosceptic movement linking all similar movements across the mainland together. This could be a formidable force in Brussels: in contrast to figures such as Farage, Le Pen or Wilders- Salvini would not be a popular, albeit fringe leader. He has been elected and holds the levers of power, and despite a little friction between himself and Maio, recent polls indicate he has the support of the majority of his nation. 

As some in political circles have suggested, the migrant ships need to be stopped at the departure ports in Libya. Salvini has called for the boats to be turned around and taken back to where they came in this regard. 

With Italy now proving to be more than just a thorn in the EU’s side, the European Commission has drafted two ‘concept papers’ in the hope of dampening the fury felt not just in Italy, but in Spain, Austria, Eastern Europe and even in Germany. The first scheme is to pilot the opening of ‘controlled centres’. These centres would be opened across the continent, and may serve to spread out the number of migrants- as one of the issues for many Mediterranean nations is the unfair share of the arrivals. However, so far, this is not mandatory and would likely be implemented on a voluntary basis. To encourage member states to erect these centres, the EU would fund their logistics and even provide teams to process the migrants. On top of this, the plans propose to pay €6,000 per migrant taken in off the boats to the respective member state. Salvini resolutely rejected this part of the proposal, on the grounds that Italy did not need charity

The second concept plan is to build disembarking platforms in the countries where the migrants are departing from i.e. North Africa. The logic behind this proposal is that it creates an area whereby officials can quickly differentiate between refugees, in need of protection, and economic migrants, who would possibly face return to their country of origin, and thus reduce the incentive to make the perilous journey. Tunisia has already turned down this offer. Amazingly, the country where the overwhelming majority are leaving from, Libya, has been excluded from the program. Such proposals are perhaps the strongest in the EU’s recent efforts to stem the flow of migrants.  

As of July 24, these drafts have formed the basis of the EU’s answer to Italy’s Salvini. In the grand scheme of things, it's not much at all. However, their significance should not be dismissed. Italy has, at least, provoked some kind of response from the European Commission, which could well encourage other member states like Austria to put forth their case regarding the migrant crisis. 

Sources and further reading

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