Migration strikes at core of EU's existential crisis
When some writers have said that immigration is an existential matter for Europe, they are not exaggerating. The EU has to decide whether it is a loose association of independent states, or an ever closer union of the likeminded. Soon, it must choose
It was hard to guess what Giuseppe Conte, the new Italian Prime Minister, would be like. Would he, coming from the academic world, be a bit of a ditherer? A politicker of the internal and the trivial? Am I unfair in thinking he was just a bit too good looking?
Would he, when all is said and done, having two masters, just be a mouthpiece for Di Maio one week and Salvini the next? Well, so far I have to admit he has done pretty well.
Conte had the usual surreal introduction to Europe. He was getting ready for a summit, but was invited to a mini-summit a bit earlier. When I say mini-summit, I mean that some supposedly equal members of the EU were not invited. Since some also refused to attend, in the end only 17 appeared.
The purpose of the summit was to keep Angela Merkel in power in Germany, despite a democratic manoeuvre there to pitch her out. The declared purpose was of course not that, but to discuss the immigration crisis.
Merkel’s coalition partners, the Bavarian CSU, are so concerned about the porousness of Germany’s borders (well, Bavaria’s borders) that they are threatening to withdraw support from her, which would cause the coalition to collapse.
At Giuseppe Conte’s office, prior to his departure for this spurious rescue mission, there arrived a document which must have made him feel he had woken up with Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It was a summary of the conclusions of the summit which had not yet taken place.
What the summary said was that everyone (!) agreed that the Dublin Agreement should be strengthened to the effect that if Germany found within its borders someone who had applied for asylum first in Italy, they could immediately send him back.
To Conte this meant ‘You agree to abandon everything you have campaigned for and have been elected on’. He politely said that since they had already decided what had been said there seemed no point in him attending the meeting.
‘No, no, you must attend’ squealed Merkel, ‘please attend. We’ll suspend the summary.’
Now, conscious that no statement from Europe about immigration was worth a centesimo without Italy’s imprimatur, Conte attended but with his own plan. Il Piano Italiano (meaning the Italian plan, not .. er.. piano) says that when a migrant arrives, he has arrived in Europe.
They are not used to this. The European Motor is supposed to be France and Germany. Conte seems to have slipped in a Ferrari engine.
Under the Piano Italiano, each country will be given a quota of the percentage of immigrants they must take, and those who refuse (Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, perhaps others) will have their subsidies cut. This is not quite what Merkel meant when she said ‘migrants cannot choose which country they go to.’
What Merkel meant was that there are Italian migrants (quite a lot), German migrants (sometimes we like them, sometimes we don’t) and Hungarian migrants (none at all). What the Piano Italiano means (and says) is that there are European migrants.
In the middle of it all President Macron usefully said there is no Italian migration crisis. No wonder that child treated him like a schoolfriend. Yes there is, Manu, and the Italian people demand something is done. Salvini’s vote is rising, with a strong performance in the recent local elections.
When some writers have said that immigration is an existential matter for Europe, they are not exaggerating. The EU has to decide whether it is a loose association of independent states, or an ever closer union of the likeminded. Soon, it must choose.
There is a flavoursome irony here: in 2011 the EU, led by Merkel, brought down the elected Italian government. It very nearly brought down this one before it even started. Might it be that Italy, by vetoing Merkel’s rescue, could do the same to Germany?
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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