Calls for help from the German refugee ship Geo Barents after Italy refused to take the rescued. The boat people in Sicily were only allowed to disembark after protests.
Atlantic alliance, EU values, sanctions against Moscow. During the election campaign, Giorgia Meloni (45) signaled support and partnership to the western world. Emmanuel Macron (44) in particular hoped for good bilateral relations with Italy’s first head of government. But only three weeks after Melonis took office, the neighbors are already faced with a diplomatic shambles. Reason: the refugee policy of the new right-wing government in Rome.
Both countries want the EU to cap gas prices and provide additional billions in loans against their own energy and economic crisis – a new aid package that some EU countries, including powerful Germany, are rejecting. Macron opted for a strategic alliance with Italy. And so the French President was also the first foreign head of state to visit the newly appointed Prime Minister in Rome.
Refugee ships thwart Macron’s plans
Then four refugee rescue ships appear in Italy. And the world, led by Emmanuel Macron, is reminded of who Giorgia Meloni actually is: the leader of the ultra-right “Brothers of Italy” and head of a right-wing populist coalition.
The new government closes the ports for the rescue ships. Most on board are not persecuted, but immigrants, so the reasoning. After Europe-wide protests, three of the ships are finally allowed to dock “for humanitarian reasons”. However, the Ocean Viking of the organization SOS Méditerranée is sent away. The ship with 234 people rescued from distress then heads for France. It is allowed to dock in Toulon on Friday morning. The boat people are to be distributed to France, Germany and other EU countries.
Thank you letter causes a scandal
In a public letter, the Italian government thanks France for “the decision to share responsibility for the refugee crisis, which Italy and some other Mediterranean countries have had to shoulder alone”.
Paris reacts angrily. The admission of the Ocean Viking was a one-time gesture, emphasizes the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin (40) immediately, Italy acted inhumanely. In June, a solidarity pact was agreed at an EU conference that provided for the voluntary distribution of refugees to EU countries. According to this, France and Germany each wanted to take in 3,500 refugees from Italy this year.
That’s over now, Darmanin explained immediately. Germany and the other EU countries should also put the mechanism on hold, demands the French interior minister. In addition, Gérald Darmanin sent 500 police officers to the ten border crossings with Italy to prevent the entry of refugees from Italy.
The reason for the great excitement: President Emmanuel Macron lost the absolute majority in the parliamentary elections in June 2022 and from now on has to deal with a strong right-wing populist opposition, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (54). Dealing with refugees is therefore also a political tightrope act for Macron.
For Giorgia Meloni, the scandal comes at an unthinkably bad time. Italy is struggling with the aftermath of the corona lockdowns, is heavily in debt and urgently needs further EU financial injections. But when it comes to refugees, the new government remains tough. Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi (54) demands that those countries under whose flags the rescue ships cross should be responsible for the boat people. Seizing NGO ships docking in Italy and indicting their captains are again under consideration.