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The EU won’t save Giorgia Meloni on immigration

Brussels is the root of the problem, not the balm. Credit: Getty

September 21, 2023 - 4:00pm

Giorgia Meloni is facing her biggest crisis yet. Over the past week, the small Italian island of Lampedusa, located closer to Tunisia than to the Italian mainland (and, indeed, to Sicily), has been overwhelmed by over 10,000 migrants — significantly more than the island’s 7,000 inhabitants. Since January, more than 130,000 people have reached the country’s shores from North Africa, twice the number from the same period last year. 

Meloni — whose electoral success was based, to a large degree, on a promise to get tough on immigration — is under growing pressure to do something about it. She has vowed this week that Europe cannot treat her country like a “refugee camp”, yet, like every Italian PM from the past decade, Meloni has also appealed to the EU for help. 

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen flew to Lampedusa on Sunday and offered a vague plan to assist Italy in addressing the migrant crisis. But Meloni should know as well as anyone that no concrete help is going to come from Brussels. Over the years, every attempt to find an EU-wide solution to Italy’s migrant problem has failed, and there’s no reason to believe this time will be any different.  

Indeed, the day after von der Leyen’s visit to Lampedusa, France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin told his counterpart in Rome that France would not take in any migrants arriving on Lampedusa. “It would be an error of judgement to say migrants should be redistributed around Europe and France,” he said. France has even reportedly tightened security along its border with Italy. 

It should be clear by now, after Europe’s decade of quasi-permanent crisis, that this lack of solidarity between member states is a feature, not a bug, of the EU. Meloni’s insistence on a “European solution” that is impossible by definition thus appears to be yet another testament to her political impotence. This is especially true when considering that much of the responsibility for the recent surge in migrant arrivals rests on the EU itself. 

In the backdrop is a €255 million deal signed between the EU and Tunisia in July to help stem illegal migration, mostly to Italy, from the African nation which has become one of the most popular routes for people smugglers. The initiative was spearheaded by the European Commission and Meloni. However, since it was signed, the number of people crossing from Tunisia to Italy has gone up by almost 70%. Crucially, none of the promised funds have been disbursed to Tunisia. 

It was recently revealed that various member states, led by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, have been working behind the scenes to sabotage the deal. In a letter to the Commission dated 7 September, Borrell wrote that “in July, several member states expressed their incomprehension regarding the Commission’s unilateral action on the conclusion of this [memorandum of understanding] and concerns about some of its contents.”

These concerns officially referred to the poor human rights record of the Tunisian government. However, there is reason to believe that the deal was unacceptable in the eyes of some governments and EU representatives ideologically opposed to Meloni because the Commission negotiated the deal directly with Italy’s “far-Right” government, to the latter’s benefit. Hence the decision to disrupt proceedings. 

In this sense, we might say that there are some actors within the EU which are using the Tunisian route as a “weapon of mass migration” to destabilise Italy and put pressure on the Meloni government. There’s no easy, short-term solution to Italy’s migrant problem, but any solution will necessarily have to be a unilateral one. Meloni likely understands this — the problem is that she also knows she needs to stay in the EU’s good graces to remain in power. Meanwhile, under the weight of such contradictions, Italy continues to fracture.


Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
7 months ago

There’s no easy, short-term solution to Italy’s migrant problem
Really? I can think of several. Italy has a navy, doesn’t it? Wait…let me reconsider that…

Caradog Wiliams
CW
Caradog Wiliams
7 months ago

Italy still has a navy and it is still based in Taranto – ideal for Lampedusa.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago

A chance to redeem themselves from 1940-1943?

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
7 months ago

Their ships only have reverse gears.

James Knight
James Knight
7 months ago

At this point a naval bloackage is the only solution. Italy has appealed to Europe dozens of times and has nothing to show for it.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 months ago

just sink the boats

JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
7 months ago

And stand on the refugees heads to make sure they can’t swim to shore?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
7 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

They’re not refugees. They’re invaders, and very dangerous.

JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
6 months ago

They look very like refugees to me. What weapons on invasion do they carry?

Brian Villanueva
BV
Brian Villanueva
7 months ago

Italy has 2 aircraft carriers and at least a dozen major surface ships. It is more than sufficient to blockade Tunisia.
I would suggest a simple solution: forcibly board and commandeer any boat believed to be carrying migrants. Yes, it’s a violation of the law of the sea, but who cares? If they are, turn the boat around, dump the people on the Tunisian coast, seize the vessel and sell it.
Right now, the smugglers and the NGO facilitators face no real consequences. Make the NGOs lose a few expensive ships and they’ll either change their behavior or run out of ships.

Last edited 7 months ago by Brian Villanueva
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
7 months ago

If an EU-wide solution is impossible, then everybody should just be open and honest about that and admit that European solutions to the big questions aren’t going to happen. European unity and solidarity is a sham.
That honesty is never going to happen though, as more people than will question why it is we need the EU if, when push comes to shove, it’s every man for himself.
The EU’s continued existence is based on the faith of Europeans that it can do more than the sum of its parts. If that faith falters…

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
7 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The EU is a trading club. It is not a country. Do you seriously not understand that?
To repel boarders, the EU needs to become something that Brexiters fought hard to prevent. It needs to become a country, a proper USE. With its own military. Strict immigration policies and keep them out.
But the EU can never do that so long as it is prevented from becoming a country.
Drunk on your own spite, you are blind to the sheer illogicality and contradictions of your position. For years, miserable people like you fought tooth and nail to prevent European integration.
 Regularly, the UK’s gutter press warned us about the horrific prospect of a common European army. The thought of a USE appals you.
Yet it is only by becoming a single country that the EU can ever hope to have any influence in matters such as this. 
People like you lambast the EU for not acting like a country, and ignore that it is precisely people like you who spent decades preventing the EU from ever becoming a country.  
Yet on you sail, on seas of high dudgeon, mind untroubled by self-knowledge.
People like you are everywhere:
https://ayenaw.com/2022/04/09/half-a-dumbbell/
Prorsum!

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
6 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

What are you on?
The EU did a deal that some countries won’t back them on.
The article says there are actors within the EU, I am not clear if they’re in the actuial EU bureaucracy or countries within the EU, that want to aggravate the situation, destabilise Italy and so bring down Meloni.
If that’s true they must be mad. Italy is already as stable as blamange in a tumble dryer… it’ll be an African country wanting to leave the EU and enter the AU if they don’t sort this one.
They should give us a call if the EU is ‘can’t help, won’t help’ and we, Italy, The Greeks, possibly Hungary,Poland et al can work out a practical course of action in a loosely affiliated group.
Thus the EU can stick to it’s trade only remit and everybody’s happy, job’s a good ‘un.

Chipoko
C
Chipoko
6 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Stick to your guns, Katherine! I velue your contributions. McCusker is a bile-spewing bigot whose nastiness and ad hominem attacks contribute nothing of value to discussion. Don’t let people like him prevent you from continuing to speak freely.

R Wright
RW
R Wright
7 months ago

What is the point of cultivating a reputation as an authoritarian right winger if you can’t use it to your advantage to undertake authoritarian measures? What a weak woman.

Ian M
Ian M
7 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It doesn’t matter who the Italians elect. Whether it’s a stand up comedian or a supposed “far right” winger. Italy is run from Brussels – most voters know that and the level of cynicism there is pretty mind blowing. I voted remain but having spent time in Italy I realise that Brexit was necessary.

Katharine Eyre
KE
Katharine Eyre
7 months ago
Reply to  Ian M

Quite. Part of me thinks that vdL’s standoffishness here is in part because it is an opportune moment to get rid of Meloni, who is a thorn in Brussels’ side – even if she has behaved herself thus far and not sought conflict.
I believe the majority in Europe is currently firmly on Meloni’s side though.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
7 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It is. Brussels is going to have a very tpugh few years corralling poland, sweden, italy, and probably france and germany. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people.

Ted Ditchburn
TD
Ted Ditchburn
6 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

The problem isn’t the usual sort that the EU think, wait it out, a year, two maybe three…this is only getting worse, simply because of demographics, ease of travel and mobile phones. It just is not going to stop, each arrival encourages others, and then there’s relatives, near and even quite distant families. Fudging this, as I agree Brusell’s will want to do, and is doing, and try and rule by dividing countries just isn’t going to work.

James Knight
JK
James Knight
7 months ago

Deportations need to be fast tracked. If African states refuses to accept their citizens, cut aid.
If we want to protect our culture and heritage the mass migration needs to stop.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
7 months ago

Italy has been a target for immigrants for many years. Recently it is from Africa via Lampedusa; previously it was from the Middle-East via the ports of Bari and Brindisi.
The whole Italian issue is just like the problem in England between Greater London and the rest – maybe it is even worse. The politicians and the laws come from the north of Italy, the immigration comes from the south. Those in the north believe that the southerners are backward and corrupt – they would like to split the country into two parts. Infact, the real corruption is with the politicians in the north and they make their careers by blaming the south. It continues like this for ever.
Similarly in England, the real corruption is in the south where they like to see the northeners as a bunch of yokels. Parliament is where corruption begins.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
7 months ago

But in the UK the south is where most illegal immigrants stay. The number of migrants (legal or not) in the North is tiny when compared with overall population but this is not what people up north feel. Most migrants (internal and external) gravitate towards London.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
7 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Have you been to Savile Town?

Milton Gibbon
MG
Milton Gibbon
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

No, never heard of it, but facts don’t lie. Exceptions don’t prove the rule.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
7 months ago

Italy has been a target for immigrants for many years.
The problem is the way Italy so provocatively thrusts itself out into the Mediterranean, the tramp. If they really want to solve the problem, the Italians ought to saw off everything south of Umbria and push it out to sea.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
7 months ago

The enemy within seems to have the upper hand!

Mark Goodhand
MG
Mark Goodhand
7 months ago

Lampedusa is an island, closer to Tunisia than Italy.
For the migrants to get to mainland Europe, they need to get on a ship.
What happens if that ship just goes back to Tunisia?
If the Tunisians won’t allow the ship to dock, anchor offshore and keep the conditions prison-like.
Migrants will soon learn not to come to Italy.
What stops the Italians from pursuing this policy?

Kat L
KL
Kat L
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

They, like most in the west, don’t want to be ‘meanies’. They are no longer willing to do what is necessary.

James Knight
James Knight
7 months ago
Reply to  Kat L

Exactly! Its pathetic how weak the West has become. Could you image China, India or Japan taking in hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa.

Ted Ditchburn
TD
Ted Ditchburn
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

The usual suspects..lawfaring charities, who lean on govts, EHCR, EU, TV news that still frames everything as ordinary people simply escaping harm…they only just started to even recognise ‘economic’ (i.e. ordinary) migration exists. The activist NGOs have already started to pivot to saying :” OK, so what? They want a better life, what’s it to you, Facist Bigot.” BUT the way that attempt to shame people from their bully pulpit just doesn’t work any more shows the old Religion of wokery, is finally running out of steam.

Hugh Bryant
HB
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago

Italy should simply cede Lampedusa to Tunisia. It’s closer than Sicily.

Kat L
KL
Kat L
7 months ago

This would be a perfect time for Italy to leave the EU. She’s been a huge disappointment.

Peter Allen
PA
Peter Allen
7 months ago

The author is correct that there will be no “EU solution” to this crisis. What Von Der Leyen is proposing is merely a plan (dead in the water anyway) to re-distribute the migrants to all EU states on some yet to be agreed, never to be agreed, pro-rata basis. But what is obviously needed is a plan to stop the accelerating flow entirely or at least reduce it to a manageable trickle. It seems most unlikely that this will be achieved by bribing corrupt states like Tunisia or failed states like Lybia.
So the Italians will have to defend their territory themselves. Lampedusa is a small island which could easily be blockaded by Italian navy vessels supported by air reconnaisance using a combination of planes and drones. The migrant boats can be physically intercepted miles offshore and prevented from landing on the island and forced to return to wherever they set off from. If this policy is tried and succeeds it will be a template for other states, including the UK. A few months of success will be enough to “break the business model” of the people smugglers.
Given the tens of millions of potential migrants in Africa wanting to live in Europe, physical prevention will be the only viable solution. It just hasn’t been tried yet. Europe is not defenceless against this unwanted human tide, but it needs to re-learn how to defend itself.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
7 months ago

“It should be clear by now, after Europe’s decade of quasi-permanent crisis, that this lack of solidarity between member states is a feature, not a bug, of the EU.”
Surprised there have been no comments on this sentence, which strikes me as the key to this situation. Conflict between member states is what enables the apparatchiks in Brussels to run the show. A destabilized and unsure political direction for the EU as a whole amplifies the power of those who lurk in the corridors of power and know just the right bureaucratic signals and hints to whisper around corners.
Public choice theory at its finest… civil servants are rarely civil and never servants.

Last edited 7 months ago by Kirk Susong
j watson
j watson
7 months ago

Of course EU unity on the Tunisian deal will have to be resolved because Meloni could just allow all these migrants to pass through Italy and head North. And many will head straight to the Channel. Thus the UK should also be party to this deal and be partaking/driving a multi-lateral response.
It appears some brinkmanship is taking place, which is clearly dangerous and frustrating, but not exactly unique in negotiations.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
6 months ago

Evacuate all the residents. Leave the migrants to their own devices. When people elsewhere start to whine about migrants dying of thirst, reply ‘If you want to do something to help, go for it. Ta.’