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In Lampedusa, Ursula von der Leyen and Giorgia Meloni on the immigration front

In Rome.

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In Lampedusa, Ursula von der Leyen and Giorgia Meloni on the immigration front

In Rome

The presence of Ursula von der Leyen, yesterday in Lampedusa, at the express invitation of Giorgia Meloni to "come and realize in person the critical situation", Emmanuel Macron's calls to the President of the Italian Council and "to "do not leave Italy alone", finally those of the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin to his Italian counterpart... So many gestures which were perceived in Rome as the first signs that Italy was waiting for.

“These are not so much signs of solidarity,” Giorgia Meloni clarified yesterday, at a press conference with Ursula von der Leyen, “as of Europe’s responsibility towards itself. Because the Italian borders are also its borders. These arrivals are everyone’s problem, and the future of Europe depends on its ability to face these historic challenges for itself.” Which require “serious, complex and lasting solutions, as long as we all work in the same direction”. A preamble to specific, but still imprecise, requests, the common point of which is the organization at European level of the control of departures and the management of returns.

Ursula von der Leyen replied affirming “to support the coordinated response requested by Italy” before listing a ten-point action plan, which essentially takes up the axes already formulated at the start of the year. But also with new avenues aimed at accentuating the coordination that Italy requires. It plans, among other things, to expand the maritime missions of Frontex, to provide assistance with the registration of migrants, their transfer to other centers in Italy and their repatriations. It also plans to put the European Asylum Agency at the service of processing asylum applications in Italy. Or to extend the role of Operation Sophia to combat smuggler trafficking, more focused on rescue but which had been muted, towards a sea surveillance activity. Finally, she appointed a European commissioner to dialogue with the countries of departure, to both succeed in blocking departures and encouraging returns.

Also read: Europeans unable to unite on a new asylum and migration pact

If these lines of work require clarification, the symbol of the arrival of Ursula von der Leyen alongside Giorgia Meloni remains no less strong. For the President of the Italian Council, much attacked over the failure of her migration policy, a field where competition from the right is playing out in Europe, it is a half-success. “This migration crisis against the backdrop of European elections in 2024 has triggered fierce internal competition in the government between the two forces most hostile to immigration, which has become the terrain of head-on competition,” explains Lorenzo Castellani, political scientist at Luiss in Rome.

Difficulties which pushed the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, the man of “closing the ports” in 2018-2019, to position himself on the theme: “If I had been in charge of immigration, we would not 'wouldn't be there.' However, at the very moment when Matteo Salvini launched his campaign for the Europeans at the annual League party in Pontida, with Marine Le Pen as a guest star, to “defend the identity of peoples against Europe”, Giorgia Meloni demonstrated by actions that she moved Europe forward, or at least that Europe gave her credit for her action. She is also campaigning for the European elections…

Just when she was in trouble, she counterattacked hard. On the eve of the weekend, in a video lasting more than 6 minutes, she addressed the Italians to explain in a serious and determined tone why Italy is struggling so much to manage this illegal immigration. This is due, she says, to “unbearable pressure”, the result of “an extremely difficult international situation”. She also half-heartedly accuses the socialists in Europe of having undermined the agreement with Tunisia, for which she worked so hard. Suggesting that this could have pushed Tunisian President, Kaïs Saïed, to relax control of the coasts and let migrant boats leave en masse.

In this video, she announces a set of “extraordinary measures” which will be adopted this Monday in the Council of Ministers, in addition to the strengthening of age control of unaccompanied minors planned for several weeks: she decides to entrust the army, the only Italian institution capable of quickly and effectively executing an ambitious plan in the event of a crisis, the task of building new reception structures, essentially tent camps, to shelter illegal migrants. And this, “where the population density is very low and where the environment facilitates surveillance”, in short in isolated places so as not to frighten the inhabitants. She also announced that she wanted to extend the legal period of detention of illegal migrants by bringing it to 18 months, the maximum period authorized in Europe. So many “right-wing” measures aimed at silencing criticism on the right… but with the blessing of Europe.

This counter-offensive, de facto dubbed by the presence of Ursula von der Leyen at his side, prompted Matteo Salvini to change his tone. At the opening of his party in Pontida, he affirmed that there was “total harmony within the government”. And just yesterday he reiterated: “Me here today and Giorgia in Lampedusa, it is the synthesis of the same objective and a common destiny, even if we have different cultures and a different sense of activism. They will not succeed in dividing us.”

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