New Italian government could mean trouble for immigrants

EU criticism hasn’t previously deterred Salvini or Di Maio but for the first time they will no longer be in the opposition.
Sunday 27/05/2018
Closer to power. Compromise candidate for prime minister Giuseppe Conte.			       (AP)
Closer to power. Compromise candidate for prime minister Giuseppe Conte. (AP)

MILAN - A new Italian government that would bring together the country's two largest populist parties seems imminent, a development that could signal trouble for immigrants in Italy.

The Five Star Movement won the biggest share of votes in March’s election but did not secure the right to form a government. It will join with Matteo Salvini’s the League — a populist, right-wing and nativist party, which recently dropped “Northern” from its name to have wider appeal. The League was the most successful party in the centre-right coalition, winning most of its votes in the north. The Five Star Movement dominated the voting in the rest of the country.

Together they nominated a compromise candidate, Giuseppe Conte, for prime minister. Conte, 53, is controversial considering he has never held office. Questions remain over his qualifications after he claimed to have “perfected and updated” his studies at New York University from 2008-14. The university said it had given Conte “no official status,” though he was granted access to the university library during that period.

Five Star was formed in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo and web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio. Casaleggio died in 2016 and Grillo stepped down from the party this year, handing the leadership to Luigi Di Maio, 31, who was thought to be in line to be prime minister before Conte’s name was placed in nomination.

The Five Star Movement has borrowed policies from across the political spectrum, such as environmental advocacy and a push for direct democracy. The League, which once espoused the secession of the Padania region from Italy, is firmly entrenched on the far right and shares many positions with US President Donald Trump and France’s National Front.

The two parties seem to have reached certain agreements that could bode poorly for minorities and immigrants in Italy.

“The forthcoming Italian government is very likely to be markedly anti-immigrant,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a doctoral candidate in geopolitics at Paris 8 University. “It will be anti-migrant in a way that is more ideological and more aggressive than the [Prime Minister Paolo] Gentiloni government has been over the last 18 months.”

Before the election, Salvini made Trump-like proclamations about 600,000 “illegal immigrants” living in Italy who need to be deported.

“The two parties are discussing — this part is highlighted as provisional in the file — the possibility of opening at least one centre of temporary detention and expulsion in each region,” said Fabio Bordignon, a political science professor at Urbino University.

Bilateral agreements between Rome and Tripoli had meant migrants were sent to Italy but instability in Libya makes that prospect more difficult.

“The government agreement between the League and the Five Star Movement includes a number of highly restrictive proposals concerning migration and integration, with a crackdown on Roma peoples, the fight against illegal settlements and Muslims, further controls at mosques and compulsory preaching in Italian,” said Pietro Castelli Gattinara, a research fellow in political science and sociology at the Centre on Social Movement Studies, Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence.

“These types of proposals have been common among right-wing populists in Italy, including Mr Silvio Berlusconi, but repatriation activities have been generally limited.”

The policies could contradict the Dublin Regulation, which defines protocols European countries should take in accepting and settling migrants and refugees. It would also focus on the weakest and most disenfranchised of the new arrivals.

“It seems they will be intolerant towards refugees without papers, by rejecting asylum requests and making a plan for expulsions,” said Laura Silvia Battaglia, an Italian documentary film-maker. “It should be taken into consideration that 80% of the people who requested asylum in Italy are not inside Italian borders anymore. This plan could be criticised by the European Union and some points are clearly against EU policies on the matter.”

EU criticism hasn’t previously deterred Salvini or Di Maio but for the first time they will no longer be in the opposition. Ruling coalitions must find ways to govern and enact policy but that may be something the two parties struggle to do.

For one, Italy is divided politically and the country is notorious for its slow moving legislature and the potential ruling coalition is yet to outline how it would accomplish its goals related to immigration.

“I would say there is a clear and shared aim to stop uncontrolled migration, while the concrete measures that should be adopted and the feasibility of the stated aims — especially in cases where they need international agreements — are still not clear,” Bordignon said.