Migration has become the top hot topic for Rome’s new right-wing government, pitting Western European powers France and Germany against Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose hardline stance on ships NGO rescue is supported by other Eastern Mediterranean host countries. Greece, Malta and Cyprus.
“If Italy wants to be influential, it is better that it does not play alone against everyone. It’s never a good thing in Europe, no matter the country,” Renew Europe MEP Sandro Gozi, representing Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva party, now allied with Carlo Calenda’s Azione, told EURACTIV Italy.
“Meloni is waging an ideological battle for internal use, isolating himself in Europe. The sooner Meloni retraces his steps, the better,” he added.
Rome’s new government, led by Meloni, has found itself at an impasse over the arrival of migrants off its coast over the past ten days.
A total of four boats with some 1,000 migrants have arrived along the coast, with Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi saying ‘they must return outside territorial waters and the flag state must take care of them’ .
While women, children and people with medical conditions were allowed to disembark immediately, the presence of other people on board for days caused tension. The ships called for all of them to be landed immediately as some were on hunger strike and others jumped boats in the water in desperation.
Italy’s claim that the flag state of each ship should be responsible for relocating migrants, rather than Italy or their place of arrival, has been fiercely contested by various legal experts, rights activists rights, humanitarian groups and politicians.
Meanwhile, the political crisis between Italy and France caused by the ships shows no sign of easing. The Ocean Viking ship of the NGO SOS Méditerranée docked in Toulon and disembarked the 234 migrants on board “exceptionally”.
However, France says it will not take others, specifying that they should be redistributed between member states, and invites “all other participants” in the European mechanism for the relocation of migrants to do the same, in particular Germany.
“It is clear that there will be extremely serious consequences for our bilateral relations” with Italy, declared French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who gave the order to strengthen border controls with Italy. Italy and has already turned back many migrants.
According to Gozi, Italy has created a crisis against the national interest: “We are in a major crisis, and the responsibility lies with Giorgia Meloni, who has made propaganda about the skin of migrants. Italy must do its part.
Eastern Mediterranean Common Position
However, while Gozi places the political responsibility on Rome, other Mediterranean host countries support Italy in its challenge.
Malta, Cyprus and Greece have joined an initiative led by Piantedosi calling on the EU to intervene in the ongoing migration situation.
In their statement released over the weekend, they reiterated their position that they ‘cannot subscribe to the view that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing places for illegal immigrants’.
They also condemned private charity ships “act in total autonomy vis-à-vis the competent state authorities” to rescue migrants stranded at sea after attempting to cross to the EU.
However, Mediterranean countries have long come under fire for their management of migration.
Malta, for example, has been widely criticized for ignoring distress calls, delaying responses and pushing migrants back to the Libyan Coast Guard and since 2020 has adopted an unofficial policy of not communicating with the media about migrant rescues.
Thousands of migrants try to cross the Libyan coast to Europe to reach Europe on flimsy ships, killing thousands. More than 1,200 people died in 2022 alone, totaling some 25,000 since 2014.
Malta has been widely criticized for ignoring distress calls, delaying responses and pushing migrants back to the Libyan Coast Guard, where they remain at risk of rape, torture, imprisonment, extortion and death.
In 2017, the European agency Frontex wrote that “all parties involved in SAR (Search and Rescue) operations in the central Mediterranean unwittingly help criminals achieve their objectives at lower cost, strengthen their economic model by increasing the chances of success”.
“Italy has always done its part, we have always respected all the agreements, it is the others who have not kept them,” said Foreign Minister and former President of the European Parliament of Forza Italia Antonio Tajani, calling to a European strategy.
On the French issue, the center-right politician from the European People’s Party (EPP) referred to a “statement of good faith” from Rome which was interpreted as a provocation by Paris, which reacted with “exaggerated tones”. on a matter of domestic policy.
In the absence of an EU-level solution, some EU countries agreed in June to the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism, a proposal in which member states voluntarily help other heavily affected EU countries by the migratory influx, either by relocation or by funding, has been implemented .
Additionally, thirteen member states have agreed to provide ‘relocation pledges’ for more than 8,000 people, while the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland have offered to contribute financially.
However, progress in relocations is glacial. According to Tajani, “to date, 117 have been relocated, including 36 in France. Italy has always done its part, we have always respected all the agreements, it is the others who have not kept them,” he concluded.
“If Italy stopped countering all the statements of the French government, the waters could calm down,” Professor Jean Pierre Darnis told EURACTIV Italy, explaining that “the Italian government’s communication has been mishandled”.
By announcing the arrival of the Ocean Viking in France, according to Darnis, the Italian government triggered reactions from French parties that led Macron to change his attitude and raise his voice against Rome to ease internal political tensions.
“I think Meloni sinned by naivety. It would have been better to communicate political success after the fact, not before,” Darnis said.
“The French government, which has a small political majority, found itself stuck between left and right. If the Italian government hadn’t said anything, we wouldn’t be here. The politicization of the issue, on both sides, leads to a cycle of extremely negative tensions,” he stressed.
The G20 summit in Bali will take place from Tuesday to Wednesday, which could be the occasion for a constructive confrontation between Meloni and Macron, but the Elysée specifies that a meeting between the two leaders is not possible. agenda for now.
“In the current context, Italy and France need each other. With Germany very absent in Europe, there is a great need for Franco-Italian dialogue and convergence within the framework of the Union,” said Darnis.