The Meloni government and the migration issue

La primera ministra italiana, Giorgia Meloni, gesticula mientras habla durante una reunión con el primer ministro británico, Rishi Sunak, en el segundo día de la Cumbre de Seguridad sobre Inteligencia Artificial (IA) del Reino Unido en Bletchley Park, en el centro de Inglaterra, el 2 de noviembre de 2023 - PHOTO/POOL/AFP/JOE GIDDENS
La primera ministra italiana, Giorgia Meloni, gesticula mientras habla durante una reunión con el primer ministro británico, Rishi Sunak, en el segundo día de la Cumbre de Seguridad sobre Inteligencia Artificial (IA) del Reino Unido en Bletchley Park, en el centro de Inglaterra, el 2 de noviembre de 2023 - PHOTO/POOL/AFP/JOE GIDDENS

As spring is about to begin, the government headed by Romana Meloni is facing the most difficult of challenges: the continuous flow of irregular immigrants, mainly from the Libyan coast. Looking back at the past, the outlook is not at all rosy: in 2023 as many as 159,000 irregular immigrants arrived on the shores of Italy, surpassing the 'record' figure of 153,000 immigrants in a single year during the Renzi government (February 2014-December 2016).  

At the time Meloni was in the opposition, and had no qualms about describing what was happening to the Renzi government as a full-blown "invasion". 

Now it is up to her to deal with it, and she is going to do so in a very difficult situation. The current European Commission is almost in office, pending European elections in the second half of June. As a result, the Italian Prime Minister can receive little help from EU authorities who will not have a new government fully functioning until July-August of this year. 

It should be remembered that the Interior Ministry is headed by Matteo Piantedosi, a Campania native who has been working in this ministry since the late 1980s, and who was expressly put there by President Mattarella to prevent the conflictive Salvini from creating problems with the EU authorities once again. Piantedosi will, in turn, be assisted by the head of Defence, Guido Crosetto, who has just recovered from pericarditis, which almost took his life. Crosetto, who for years has presided over the National Defence Association, is very knowledgeable about all matters related to defence equipment and is the most capable person to stockpile military means on the basis of a still very limited budget. 

The problem for Meloni is that, beyond having two competent people to control the migration issue, the reality has remained the same for years. On the one hand, Libya, thirteen years after the fall of the dictator Gaddafi, remains a "failed" state where mafias are rampant. On top of this, there are also more and more regions that are sending out irregular migrants. In the tragedy that took place this time last year off the coast of Cutro (Calabria), in which almost seventy people lost their lives, it was not Africans but Afghans fleeing the Taliban regime, for example. 

Moreover, more and more countries are having problems with irregular immigration. In Poland, for example, there are many Ukrainians who fled their country when Russia invaded in February 2022. In Germany, meanwhile, a large number of people of Turkish origin are roaming the streets: some still remember numerous rapes that took place on New Year's Eve more than five years ago. The French, for their part, have a constant coming and going of Algerians on the Mediterranean coast (remember that for decades Algeria was a department of the French state), not to mention those from other colonies: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, etc. 

In reality, of the so-called "big four" of the European Union (Germany, France, Italy and Spain), the only country that has hardly any problems with migration is Spain, due to its location in the extreme southwest of the European continent and the fact that our country's chronic unemployment (always at the top of the list of unemployed among the main European countries) makes it rather unattractive to immigrants, whether irregular or not. Moreover, the various Spanish governments transfer huge sums of money to the "Alaouite" kingdom of Morocco to act as a "buffer state" for immigration. 

In this regard, the transalpine executive has three fundamental problems when it comes to dealing with this issue. The first is that, although it is not a particularly large country (some 302,000 square kilometres compared to France's 574,000 or Spain's 504,000), it has many kilometres of coastline: its "boot" shape (some call the Calabria region "the tip of the boot" while considering Puglia "the heel" of the same "boot") means it has too many points to watch out for. 

Equally important is the fact that the regions closest to Libya, such as Calabria, Puglia and Sicily, are largely unpopulated, so that any boat can reach the mainland without the sparse and ageing local population noticing. All this without forgetting that the first sight of the European continent from the coast of Africa is the island of Lampedusa, administratively dependent on Agrigento (Sicily). And we know the principle that applies in the European Union: the first country in which an irregular immigrant sets foot, the country that has the obligation to take him in. 

Finally, now Meloni, like Renzi, Gentiloni and Draghi before him, is faced with the same harsh reality: for the EU authorities, the eurozone's third largest economy is not the southern border of the current European Union, but a country that has to defend with its own means, and almost alone, what is constantly arriving on its shores. 

All this is the perfect breeding ground for demagogues, populists and ultra-nationalists like Matteo Salvini to try to make electoral capital out of this humanitarian tragedy. He already did so in 2018-19, and this earned him 34% of the vote in the 2019 European elections, a figure considerably higher than the poor 8% he is currently polling at in all the polls. But Salvini knows that Meloni's popularity may plummet, and that this may be his last chance to become prime minister after more than three decades in politics. 

Will there be any new developments in migration policy from the Meloni government? We already know that his government has claimed a partnership agreement with the Egyptian government, but the reality is that Egypt is not the real problem. It is located too far east in the Maghreb, and people coming from the so-called "Horn of Africa" know that the Libyan route is the safest. Moreover, with climate change and the rise in global temperatures, it is taking longer and longer to reach European shores, making the problem worse. 

Until the European Union tackles the issue as it should (investing huge amounts of money in the countries that send irregular immigrants and which were formerly its colonies), we will continue with a migration conflict that seems to have no end in sight. With the drawback that the far right (French National Front, Danish People's Party, Sweden Democrats, Alternative for Germany or the League, the latter with its own nuances) will see this issue as a single issue to wear down a European construction that is very close to its first 75 years of life. Will Meloni be able to reverse this situation? Time will tell. 

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is a professor at the Camilo José Cela University (UCJC) and author of the book "Italia, 2018-2023. De la esperanza a la desafección" (Madrid, Líber Factory, 2023).