Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Fate of Europe’s migrants hangs in the balance as Italy’s political crisis continues

A left-of-centre political alliance could block an anti-immigrant, League-led government

Matteo Salvini addresses the media outside the lower house in Rome, Italy, EPA
Matteo Salvini addresses the media outside the lower house in Rome, Italy, EPA

As Italy’s rival political blocs jostle for power amid the uncertainty caused by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s resignation, the fate of the country’s migrants hangs in the balance.

In the wake of Mr Conte’s departure Italy’s politicians are in frantic negotiations to see whether a political alliance between the country’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the Five Star Movement (M5S) could block the path to power of deputy prime minister and far-right leader Matteo Salvini.

Central to both Mr Salvini and the PD’s designs for power are deeply contrasting visions for the future of the country and crucially how to deal with the country’s migrants.

According to the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella has said he will not allow protracted negotiations and will call for elections if a coalition deal is not forthcoming. A return to the ballot box is the goal of Mr Salvini, whose far-right Lega party has gained in strength across Italy advancing a populist, anti-immigrant message.

As, on Monday, Rome’s political landscape was disintegrating around him, the far-right figurehead still found time to attack NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. "Being firm is the only way to stop Italy from becoming Europe's refugee camp again," he tweeted.

Lega’s popularity has grown at the expense of their former coalition partners M5S, a populist, anti-establishment movement.

In Italy’s 2018 general elections, the populist, anti-establishment movement won twice as many votes as Lega. In May’s elections to the European Parliament, by contrast, the League won 35 per cent of the vote, M5S won just 17 per cent.

In the scramble of talks between M5S and PD, which also outperformed Salvini’s Lega in the 2018 elections, PD leader Nicola Zingaretti has demanded a clean break from the dysfunction and far-right policies that characterised the previous coalition government. He has also demanded “a profound turning point in the organisation and management of migration flows based on the principles of solidarity, legality and security.”

As Mr Conte gave a parting rebuke to Mr Salvini in the Italian Senate he said the Lega leader was “obsessed” with migration. While the political drama was playing out in Rome 670 kilometres to the south migrants plucked from the Mediterranean by the Open Arms NGO ship were throwing themselves back into the sea in a bid to reach Europe.

The vessel had been anchored off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa for six days in a continuing stand-off with the Italian government. Under Mr Salvini, who has also been the country’s interior minister for the last 14 months, Italy has introduced punitive measures against NGOs like Open Arms. Earlier this month Italian parliament introduced fines of up to €1 million (Dh4.1m) against search and rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean.

In a dramatic intervention by prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio the ship was allowed to dock in Lampedusa. Mr Salvini showed he was ready for a battle over the vessel. “If anybody thinks they can scare me with the umpteenth complaint and wants a trial, they’re mistaken,” he wrote on Facebook.

Updated: August 21, 2019 07:43 PM

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