Giorgia Meloni’s row with France and the European Union shows just how much words matter, especially in so delicate a matter as migration quotas. Or whether there should even be a quota. And whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.
As I previously said, Italy’s first female prime minister has accused France of “incomprehensible and unjustified” aggression as the two countries fight over numbers of migrants and when and where to accept them. (Just to recap: Italy recently refused entry to a charity rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, carrying 234 migrants picked up in the Mediterranean, and it was forced to dock in France. This led to criticism from France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who described Italy’s behaviour as “incomprehensible” and “selfish”. He also warned of “extremely strong consequences” for Italy and said Paris would pull out of a deal to resettle 3,500 migrants who had previously landed in Italy.)
Now, France is calling for an emergency EU meeting on migration and Italy’s new foreign minister Antonio Tajani wants to raise it at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, November 14. Ms Meloni, meanwhile, has widened the bilateral row to the EU as a whole, saying that France’s attempt to get fellow EU members to punish Italy was not “intelligent”.
The European Commission, executive arm of the EU, has already said that the situation is at a “critical level” and the migrants should be allowed to dock at the “nearest place of safety”, which at the time it spoke was Italy.
There seems no simple way to resolve this. And Ms Meloni’s abrasive words and demeanour are not helping. She is playing defence against presumed European offences, saying that “Europe could decide to deal with this issue by isolating Italy. It would be better to isolate the smugglers.”
There is no indication of any serious attempts to isolate Italy. The Spanish, who will take over the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union next July, are trying to be diplomatic and inclusive with Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares suggesting it was a European issue rather than one for frontline countries where migrants first arrive: “Everyone should show solidarity … If the first entrance states need help to manage this phenomenon, they must be helped.”
Politico recently revealed the latest EU proposal for the annual voluntary redistribution of migrants from frontline countries. Set at anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 per year, the frontline states denounce this as grossly insufficient.
The situation is likely to get a lot more heated before cooler heads prevail. On current form, chances are it won’t be Ms Meloni who will be doing the sweet-talking. (Click here, here, here and here for my previous pieces on female leadership.)