22 June 2018

Italy-Austria Alliance Against Illegal Migrants in Europe

Italy-Austria Alliance
A meeting of Italy's anti-migrant interior minister with like-minded Austrian populist leaders last 20 June in Rome heralded a new hard-line alliance forming in Europe on migration issues with pledges to more firmly protect Europe's southern border.

Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, leveraged on his recent refusal to allow landfall in Sicily to a ship carrying some 630 migrants rescued at sea off the Libyan coast. The new Socialist government in Spain agreed to take them in, acknowledging Europe had abandoned Italy, after the tiny island nation of Malta also balked.

"It is a historic moment because Europe has never had the possibility to change like in these days. We think it can change for the better on the topics of immigration, security and the fight against terrorism. Finally there is a decision to protect the exterior border," Salvini said.

Salvini and his Austrian counterparts — vice chancellor Heinz Christian Strache and interior minister Herbert Kickl — signaled their common approach to reinforcing the exterior border while deferring specifics to Austria's EU presidency, and other forums, including an upcoming EU summit. Salvini said he was briefing Premier Conte and vice premier Luigi Di Maio on his proposals later in the day.

But Salvini made clear that he would continue to press neighbors to do more. While welcoming Spain's acceptance of the migrants, he noted that Spain has only taken 235 of an agreed-upon EU quota of 3,265. "They can take the next four boats that arrive," he said. He also slammed France, which has only taken 640 of the 9,800 migrants it has pledged to receive.

Salvini said he had trust in the Austrian EU presidency to make a difference in discussions about changing the Dublin accords, noting "the mood has changed," but also hinting that Italy would be willing to play hardball, and hold back payments to the EU, if significant changes were not made.