Democracy vs populism
The Dublin Regulation reform is frozen by European elections where a ﬁerce clash is foreseen between pro-EU Macron and Salvini’s nationalists.
- Saturday, 01 September 2018
What will be left, after this long, exhausting electoral campaign that has transformed the migrant "non-emergency" (landings cut by 80% in the last year) into the main issue faced by the Government of "Change" which now smoothly transitioning towards the upcoming campaign for the European elections in May 2019? Which forces can be expected to exploit the fears of European citizens in order to take hold of the new European parliament until 2024? Right now we seem to be witnessing the most sinister bout of revisionism, "strategic repositioning" akin to that expressed by historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia in his Corrieredelle Sera editorial in which he scathingly attacks "acritical European infatuations" and blames pro-European ideology for undermining the core concept of nation to such an extent that it has transformed Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian Lega, into a protector of the national interest.
However, the "table thumping" Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte swears he engaged in between 28 and 29 June in Brussels, when he "bullied" the French President Emmanuel Macron, don't seem to have convinced the European Council, at its latest meeting, to introduce much radical change to the reform of Dublin 3 regulations, the harmonisation of asylum rights or secondary movements. If something has been obtained it involvesa bolstering of external border controls with greater means and men placed at the disposal of Frontex, but this is in line with the normal evolution of EU policy as carried forward by Immigration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. As for the identification of the hotspots where asylum seekers and economic migrants are to be corralled, everything has been entrusted to the discretion of the individual states, which means nothing will happen, as has already been the case for the relocation of a few categories of migrants fleeing from countries such as Syria and Eritrea after the almost complete blockade announced by the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland). Countries which together with Austria led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (who from first of July is the rotating president of the EU) or Merkel's Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer are viewed by Salvini as possible allies seeing as they are among the strongest opponents of all forms of solidarity.
All this has not prevented Conte from returning home waving the flag of successful Brussels negotiations, where for the first time the other EU countries have apparently accepted the principle of "shared solidarity" as a working method in the migrant dossier. In the meantime Matteo Salvini, the "mastermind" behind the operation, was flying to Tripoli to learn that president Fayez al Serraj ruled out any chance of creating the hotspots along the Libyan coast where one might amass migrants headed for Italy. A few weeks later, Salvini'ssetEunavfor-Med Sophia in his cross-hairs. This mission's mandate, drafted by the UE's external action Service headed by Federica Mogherini, does not contain any specific indication regarding salvage, although it has already saved close to 40,000 migrants in distress over the course of the last three years. In actual fact its purpose is to fight trafficking of humans (with hundreds of smugglers already taken into custody), weapons and oil. This is the most extensive maritime security operation ever deployed in the Mediterranean and involves 26 EU countries out of 28 led by Italian admiral Enrico Credendino. The mission is up for renewal in December, but the Italian request to update the plan of operations (which at present calls for all saved migrants to becast ashore in Italian ports as was the case during the Triton mission) has caused very strong negative reactions by the other countries which have threatened to withdraw their ships and planes, which would effectively close down the operation. It is only thanks to the skill of Italy's Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero and Italy's PSC Ambassador, Luca Franchetti Pardo that the situation has been smoothed over and European institutions are now preparing to introduce changes to Sophia's plan of operations that will take into account the conclusions of the European Council and identify ports in countries other than Italy where the migrants saved by the Sophia's ships can be disembarked.
One thing the Eunavfor ships will not be allowed to do is return the saved migrants to Libya. They are military vessels that cannot enter Libyan territorial waters and Libya never signed the Geneva Convention in 1951 on refugees and is not considered a 'safe haven' where one may cast ashore people saved on the high seas.
Yet, if besides listing the national and European administrative dispositions for the control of southern borders found in the Schengen agreement and to fight human trafficking we start looking at the harsh reality that takes place every day and every night in the southern Mediterranean off the coast of Libya it's easy to understand how Salvini's "proclamations" have radically changed the operating methods adopted by NGO ships since the Aquarius and Lifeline cases, with the most disconcerting case being that of the Italian ship Asso 28, which services the ENI oil platforms and which took salvaged migrants back to Libya, defying the very clear international regulations which refer to 'the nearest safe port'.
One question that does need answering is why all this is happening and why now. As things stand Salvini, without much internal opposition, can claim that the Government's goal is to "reach the lowest ever migrant intake, at the end of this year, in order to process the backlog of hundreds of thousands of migrants that we have inherited from the left wing politicians who were either incapable or complicit in a programmed and funded invasion". No mention is made of how this "backlog" should be "processed" even though the Labour and Foreign Ministries are working on a decree to transform the 35,000 extra-EU workers hired as a seasonal workforce in 2018 into permanent residents by processing the position of asylum seekers already present in Italy. A form of 'minor amnesty' like the one introduced by formerLega minister, Roberto Maroni.
The question at this point is whether all this adds up to a European value and identity crisis joined at the hip with Donald Trump's new policies which aim to reduce the political and economic clout of the German leadership over the First World. "Giuseppe, you're doing an excellent job on the migrants, that's the way forward", are Trump's own words to Conte. However, breaking the bond of solidarity between Europeans has never boded well for Italy. When Italy, led by Berlusconi, joined Bush's neocon coalition to export democracy to Iraq in 2003, it cut itself off for too long from France and Germany which remain, for better or for worse, the engine room of European integration. Just as Conte's final request made to Trump during his American visit that American oil companies should not abandon Eastern Libya could further alienate the French who want Total to move in and compete with Italy's ENI in the region.
According to the French political commentator Marc Lazar, who has written a book with IlvoDiamanti entitled Popolocrazia, in the 2019 European elections 'the main clash will be between Macron, who wants to revive the European unification process, and Salvini, who will claim he stands for the populists and will try to dismantle it with the aim of nationalising its policies once more". We shall see.