The Italian Minister of Interior and leader of the far-right Lega, Matteo Salvini, announced a common political initiative with the German government to safeguard the EU’s external border.
Salvini told the Italian public News Agency (ANSA) that he had a cordial conversation with the German Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, in which there was complete consensus on immigration policy. The two ministers agreed not to “waste further time” in dealing with the issue, while Seehofer invited Salvini for consultations in Berlin.
Seehofer’s phone call comes after Salvini blocked the migrant rescue boat Aquarius from docking in Italy. A total of 629 migrants were rescued and taken aboard the Aquarius, chartered by NGOs ‘SOS Mediterraneee’ and ‘Doctors without borders’. After the boat was refused docking by Malta, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez authorized the landing of the ship at Valencia’s port to avoid a humanitarian disaster.
Italy’s decision to deny docking to 629 migrants, including children and pregnant women, was criticised by President Macron as irresponsible and cynical.
It is unclear whether Interior Minister Seehofer was acting with the consent and prior knowledge of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Seehofer is the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democrats (CDU), representing a more conservative wing of the movement.
Seehofer is advocating a “migration master plan,” in tune with Salvini’s demands, but in opposition to the Chancellor’s position on immigration.
According to the German public broadcaster (DW), Chancellor Merkel is opposing Seehofer’s “master plan” approach, favouring national solutions such as border checks for asylum seekers. Instead, Chancellor Merkel champions a comprehensive EU-wide policy agreement on migration management. Since 2015, the divergence between Seehofer and Merkel has become vocal but Seehofer now upped the ante by offering Salvini political support while he is criticized by President Emmanuel Macron.
Salvini on Tuesday used the #Italiansfirst hashtag to signal his defiance of President Macron,
Salvini underscored that Italy does not want money but the implementation of EU relocation policy that is “only on paper and not effective.” He called for the establishment of camps in North Africa that will prevent departures, that is, a plan for which he apparently secured the political consent of the German Minister of Interior.
Addressing President Macron’s criticism, the leader of the Five-Star Movement (MS5) Luigi Di Maio challenged France to open its ports.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hailed the “solidarity” extended from Spain in the Aquarius case by the Spanish government while accusing France of cynicism.
The European Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said that irrespectively of whether or not Italy’s stance was legal in the case of the Aquarius, Italy merits praise for its “Herculean efforts” in migration management and pledged the Commission’s continued support.
The Commissioner notes that Brussels will bolster the EU budget for external border management will reach €34.9bn euros in the 2021-27 EU period, that is, three times greater than the current sum. Approximately 40% of that budget is earmarked for repatriations.