What migration policy for Giorgia Meloni's Italy?

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Giorgia Meloni, 45, leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy, prepare to preside the 68th Italian government since the Second World War, which will be the government further right from Benito Mussolini.

The coalition in which his party plays the leading role won nearly 44% of the vote (more than 26% for Brothers of Italy, 9% for Alloy by Matteo Salvini and 8% for Forza Italy of Silvio Berlusconi) in the legislative elections held on 25 September.

Giorgia Meloni, who will be the first female prime minister in the history of Italy, is known for her virulent remarks against “LGBT+ lobbies”, left-wing elites and, of course, migrants.

At first glance, the success of Brothers of Italy seems to be just a continuation of Italy's drift to the right, initiated by the success of the Alloy in the previous legislative elections in 2018 (17%), and at the Europeans in 2019 (33%).

The elections of this September 25, which see the party of Meloni clearly supplanting that of Salvini, do they constitute a simple passing of the baton in the leadership of the Italian right, or do the two partners represent two distinct paths?

In what Brothers of Italy does it differ from Alloy ?

To answer this question, it is useful to examine the two parties through the prism of their relationship to the question of migration, which is central to the programs of all far-right formations, in Italy as elsewhere. In keeping with this well-established tradition, Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini have both placed migration policies at the heart of their campaign and political platform.

Overall, the Brothers and Alloy address these issues in the same way, that is to say above all in terms of public security, and therefore in terms of protection - of citizens, of borders, of the labor market - and not of rights or integration of new arrivals.

Both parties propose strict control of legal immigration, but the Alloy emphasizes a selection policy that aims to grant access only to a workforce of quality and specialized, or seasonal and therefore limited in time. In this, Salvini's party shows itself to be faithful to its origins and to the interests of its historical electorate, namely the class of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in northern Italy.

With regard to the question of refugees, the Alloy focuses on the internal management of reception and aims to reactivate its “security” decrees enacted in 2018, then subsequently deactivated by the Conte/Draghi government. The cornerstones of these decrees are the increase in detention times in first arrival centres, the reduction of reception infrastructures by favoring facilities which concentrate a high number of asylum seekers, the increase in funds for forced repatriations and the reduction of the possibilities of obtaining international protection.

Brothers of Italy, for its part, is part of a long political tradition that has remained a minority on the Italian right in recent years, dominated by the feat achieved by Salvini in 2018-2019. The roots of Giorgia Meloni's training lie in the post-fascist far right. If lately, the party has strategically ruled out any direct reference to fascism, it is turning in particular to a sovereignist and ultra-conservative electorate.

Fratelli d'Italia candidate suspended for praising Hitler.

The key measure currently proposed by the party in terms of migration policy, the naval blockade against migrants crossing the Mediterranean, reflects this identity.

However, it must first be emphasized that this measure conflicts with international law, because it can only be implemented unilaterally in the event of war, by the country attacked. Even assuming, as Meloni asserts in response to criticism, that a naval blockade can be arranged bilaterally with the authorities of Libya (the main country from which migrants attempting to cross the sea to Italy), it goes without saying that such military action on the Mediterranean routes would be irresponsible to say the least.

A tragic precedent exists in history. On March 28, 1997, 81 refugees lost their lives in the sinking of the Katër i Radës, rammed by a corvette of the Italian navy following the application of the concerted naval blockade between the Prodi government and Albania. Note that it was a 35 ton ship, not a makeshift drifting craft.

The wreck of the Katër i Radës exposed in the port of Otranto, memorial of the sinking of March 28, 1997.
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What will happen if the Libyan authorities do not cooperate in the implementation of the naval blockade, and the smugglers' boats continue to transport migrants to the Italian coasts? We would face two possible scenarios, depending on the Programs party.

First option: Libya controls its own borders and therefore deliberately lets hundreds of thousands of migrants leave. In this case, the naval blockade would be the hostile response to an equally hostile act by the North African country. Second option: Libya does not control its borders, in which case the interference of another country cannot be considered as a hostile act, since these territories – the portions of the sea – are de facto free.

The Lega was skeptical of the naval blockade project

In the middle of the electoral campaign, Salvini did not appreciate such a strong stance on an issue considered his hobbyhorse in recent years, capable of shifting the consensus like few other issues in Italy.

On the other hand, the question of refugees is dealt with by Brothers of Italy with a mentality that could be described as imperialist – a way of thinking about the role of one's own nation in the world scenario typical of the fascist imagination, steeped in authoritarianism and ethnocentrism.

Italy at odds with the EU?

Some observers have already predicted a pragmatic softening of the anti-European approach usually adopted by Giorgia Meloni and her party. To implement his naval blockade, Brothers of Italy should indeed work in close cooperation with the EU to operate on the Libyan coast.

In this regard, Meloni has polemically repeated on several occasions that Europe cannot shirk its responsibility to support the project, since it has spared no effort to stem the Balkan route to the Germany by Angela Merkel. Obviously, it is not with Germany (or France, with the exception of Marine Le Pen) that Meloni seems to have the most chemistry at the EU level, but rather with the Visegrad Group.

This attitude is aggravated by remarks which are often explicitly contrary to the positions of the European Parliament, such as its recently reiterated support for Viktor Orban, whom it presented as a democratically elected gentleman, in stark contrast to a recent resolution of the European Parliament which qualifies Hungary as an "electoral autocracy". Relations between Meloni and the Hungarian leader have always been close, especially on the issue of border closures to migrants.

In view of these positions, although Meloni speaks of a measure that “fits perfectly into the EU's approach”, it is far from certain that the naval blockade project will receive support from Brussels. The decision to implement such a measure on its own would be even more critical, as well as practically and economically difficult.

What could happen if the EU does not support Meloni's migration policy?

Are we really facing the risk that Italy will follow the example of countries like Hungary and Poland and also become a member of the Union which uses the threat to obstruct EU projects to win his own cases?

Everything obviously depends on the tightness of this new coalition. What is certain is that the anti-immigration forces of the radical right are already celebrating the result of the Italian elections, convinced that they have a new ally within the Union. We are on the cusp of a new challenge for the EU, and it will potentially be one of the toughest in its recent history.

Alexander Mazzola, Cultural and Political Sociologist, university of Liege

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock / MikeDotta

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