Salvini Takes On France, Germany as Coalition Hangs in Balance
(Bloomberg) -- Matteo Salvini accused France and Germany of snubbing the European nation most exposed to migration, highlighting divisions within the EU and returning to an issue popular with his supporters as he weighs whether to seek a snap election in Italy.
Governments in Paris and Berlin “cannot decide migration policies and ignore the demands of the most-exposed countries like us and Malta,” Salvini said in his capacity as Italian interior minister in a statement released by his office on Sunday.
“Italy is no longer willing to welcome all immigrants arriving in Europe,” his rightist League added, criticizing a draft paper drawn up for a meeting of European interior ministers in Paris on Monday on how to handle the flood of migrants from Africa that primarily arrive by boat to Italy and Malta.
Salvini will skip the meeting at a time when tensions with his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, are coming to a head. He’s been weighing pulling out of the government in a bid to prompt a new election to capitalize on a surge in popularity partly driven by his hard-line stance on immigration. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have flooded Italy in recent years and the government estimates it spent 4.3 billion euros ($5 billion) aiding migrants in 2017, while receiving only 77 million euros in EU aid.
Interior ministers gathering in Paris will offer to set up a voluntary mechanism to swiftly relocate asylum seekers that are disembarked in Italian and Maltese ports, according to a draft of their communique obtained by Bloomberg. They will also pledge financial and technical assistance to facilitate the swift return of migrants not entitled to asylum protection, according to the statement.
On the sidelines of that meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron will hold talks Monday with the heads of the United Nations agencies dealing with migration and with refugees.
The pledges failed to satisfy Salvini, who is demanding a more equitable distribution of incoming migrants. Italy and Malta argue that international law, which dictates that those saved at sea should be taken to the nearest safe port, was intended to deal with shipwrecks and other emergencies, and not mass migration, according to a policy paper distributed last week to other EU members and obtained by Bloomberg. Most arriving migrants do not qualify for asylum protection, so won’t be eligible for relocation under the plan proposed by some EU countries.
The League leader has long denounced EU partners for abandoning Italy to bear the brunt of migrant arrivals from across the Mediterranean, and Salvini’s decision to close Italian ports to migrant ships has fueled tensions with his coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star led by fellow deputy premier Luigi Di Maio.
Salvini and Di Maio may meet on Tuesday in an attempt to avoid the collapse of the government, following clashes over immigration and other issues, including Five Star’s backing of Ursula von der Leyen as the new European Commission president, Corriere della Sera reported.
The possible meeting increasingly looks like an opportunity to pacify rather than dissolve the ruling coalition, though Salvini insists he will only keep the coalition going if he obtains Five Star’s backing for the League’s flagship reforms, including tax cuts and stronger powers for regions in his northern stronghold.
The two leaders will probably hold talks a day before Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addresses parliament over reports that a close associate of Salvini’s allegedly sought illegal party funding in Moscow. Voting-intention polls show that the League is still the most powerful party in Italy, with little effect so far from the the so-called Russiagate scandal.
The League’s support was at 35.9% in an Ipsos poll conducted July 16-18, more than twice what the party won in the March 2018 general elections and up from 33.3% in a survey by the same pollster last month. Support for Five Star was little changed from the previous poll at 17.4% and down from 32.7% in last year’s elections.
(Adds Macron meeting UN agency heads in sixth paragrpah.)
--With assistance from Gregory Viscusi and Lars Paulsson.
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