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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

How victory for Italy’s far right could impact lives of foreign residents

Italy's hard-right anti-immigration alliance have come out on top in the country's elections. But what exactly are these parties planning to do once in government and how would their policies affect foreign residents?

How victory for Italy's far right could impact lives of foreign residents
League leader Matteo Salvini (L) and Fratelli d'Italia leader Giorgia Meloni are set to form a government together following the election. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

If you’ve been following our coverage of the Italian elections in the last few days you’ll know that the right-wing alliance led by the far-right Brothers of Italy party under Giorgia Meloni has triumphed and looks set to form a new government in the coming weeks- or months. 

TIMELINE: What happens next after Italy’s historic elections

This coalition of parties led by the post-fascist Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI), along with the hard-right populist League, led by Matteo Salvini, and Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia gained around 45 percent of the vote.

EXPLAINED: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

As the leader of the party that took the biggest share of the vote – around 26 percent – FdI leader Giorgia Meloni is on course to become the next prime minister of Italy.

While they’re often described as a ‘centre-right’ coalition in Italian media, at least two of these parties have policies which lean heavily towards the far right – particularly when it comes to immigration, which they frame as a question of national security.

League leader Matteo Salvini, well known for his populist, anti-immigration stance, is reportedly aiming to return to his previous post of interior minister if the right-wing bloc takes power, meaning his party would have the biggest influence over policies affecting foreign nationals living in Italy.

READ ALSO: ‘I plan to leave’: Foreigners in Italy fear for their futures if far right wins election

His party promotes a hard line against “illegal immigration”, with a heavy campaign focus on stopping migrant arrivals by sea from northern African countries. But the League also has a history of making life more difficult for documented immigrants and refugees.

Salvini was Italy’s interior minister between June 2018 and September 2019, during which time he passed a ‘security decree’ (often referred to as the ‘Salvini Decree’) that abolished the country’s humanitarian protection status for migrants and prevented asylum seekers from accessing reception centres.

The decree also made applying for Italian citizenship a more difficult and uncertain process, and made it easier for the state to remove Italian citizenship from those who have naturalised.

This decree was overhauled and softened in 2020 with the passage of a new law by the coalition government then in power.

The right-wing bloc has indicated it intends to bring the decree back, with the coalition’s immigration agenda in its joint election manifesto consisting of a series of mostly vague statements topped by a bullet point that simply reads “security decrees”.

READ ALSO: Five ways Italy’s 2022 elections will be different

League leader Matteo Salvini (C) visits a migrant reception facility on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on August 4th as part of his election campaign. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

On the topic of immigration, the manifesto also pledges that the parties will:

  • “Fight irregular immigration and ensure orderly management of legal immigration;
  • Promote the social and labour inclusion of legal immigrants;
  • Defend national and European borders as requested by the EU with the new pact on migration and asylum, with border control and blocking of landings in agreement with the North African authorities, to prevent the trafficking of human beings;
  • Create centres in non-European countries, managed by the European Union, to evaluate asylum applications.”

These pledges were summed up by FdI leader Giorgia Meloni in a debate with centre-left leader Enrico Letta.

Meloni said Europe should strike a deal with North African governments to keep their citizens at home and open local centres for refugee applications.

READ ALSO: Five key points from the Meloni vs Letta debate

“We must prevent the departure of the boats, open application centres and evaluate in Africa who has the right to be a refugee. By blocking illegal immigration, legal immigration can be reopened,” she said.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera noted that Meloni appeared “more cautious than usual on the issue of migration” in the pre-election televised debate.

Letta pointed out that the FdI leader no longer uses the term “naval blockade” – something she has repeatedly called for in posts on social media.

Leader of Italian far-right party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) Giorgia Meloni, addresses supporters during a rally in Milan on September 11th. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

He noted that Meloni was also silent on her coalition partner Salvini’s preferred tactic of blocking rescue boats and refusing to allow them to land – something he is currently standing trial for in Italy, after repeatedly leaving people stranded at sea during his time in government.

Salvini potentially faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of kidnapping and abuse of office for using his position as interior minister to detain 147 people at sea in August 2019.

The trial is ongoing, with the next hearing set for December this year – however this doesn’t prevent Salvini from standing for election or taking office again.

While it seems likely that the League’s return to power would mean the return of such policies under new security decrees, there’s nothing in the manifesto or the debate so far which gives more concrete information on their plans, or on how the parties would treat legal migrants to Italy.

READ ALSO: Will Italy’s hard right win the election with a ‘super majority’?

And it’s also worth noting that how much power the new government will have to enact these policies will depend largely on the size of their majority.

Either way, given Salvini’s history of tightening rules on obtaining Italian citizenship and his ‘Italians first’ rhetoric, it’s safe to say foreign nationals in Italy shouldn’t expect life to get any easier under a new hard-right government – wherever they come from, and whatever their immigration status.

Economy and social matters

Of course it’s not all about immigration when it comes to the impact of the result on the lives of foreign residents – much will depend on the economy.

The programme agreed in advance by the coalition says Italy should make full use of the almost 200 billion euros ($193 billion) it has been earmarked under the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan.

But it talks about changing the agreement with Brussels, which requires major structural reforms in return for the money. It says there are “changed conditions”, noting rising costs of energy and raw materials.

It calls for a reduction in the tax burden for families, businesses and the self-employed, including a flat tax for the latter, without giving any detail.

The citizens’ income, an unemployment benefit introduced under the populist Five Star Movement, will be abolished.

The programme also calls for a revaluation of the minimum pension, social and disability payments.

As inflation soars, there is also a promise to protect the purchasing power of families, workers and pensions, and reduce VAT on energy products.

Find all the latest news on Italy’s election here.

Member comments

  1. There is no need to fear Salvini unless you come over illegally or from Africa as his policies are correct and will hopefully protect Italy once again.

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POLITICS

France to let migrant rescue ship dock at Toulon

France said on Thursday that it would allow a rescue ship carrying more than 200 migrants to dock on its southern coast and disembark its passengers, harshly criticising Italy for failing to take them in.

France to let migrant rescue ship dock at Toulon

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the Ocean Viking, whose passengers include 57 children, would be granted access to the military port of Toulon after a deepening standoff with Italy over whose responsibility it was to take them in.

Visibly angered by Rome’s refusal to accept the ship, Darmanin called its stance “incomprehensible”.

The ship “is located without any doubt in Italy’s search and rescue zone”, he said, adding that “it was Italy’s job to immediately designate a port to welcome this ship”.

The French-Italian tensions are the latest episode in a European standoff over where to disembark migrants picked up after trying to reach Europe from North Africa, with Rome increasingly frustrated at taking in the bulk of those rescued.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Darmanin also warned that “it is obvious that there will be extremely severe consequences for bilateral relations” with Italy.

He said France had already decided to freeze a plan to take 3,500 migrants currently in Italy, part of a European burden-sharing accord, and urged Germany and other EU nations to do the same.

Earlier Thursday, France said it was disembarking four of the 234 migrants aboard the Ocean Viking via helicopter for health reasons.

The charity that operates the ship, SOS Mediterranee, had made the request to French authorities after refusals by Italy to allow port access for the past week, even as sanitary conditions worsened onboard.

After Darmanin’s announcement, SOS Mediterranee said it felt “relief tainted with bitterness”.

A one-off decision

A spokeswoman for the charity told AFP earlier that “one of the patients is unstable and no longer reacting to treatment since October 27”.

“The two others were injured in Libya and because of this long wait for treatment, they risk having long-term health issues,” she said.

France had insisted that under international maritime law, Rome must grant access to the Ocean Viking and the 234 distressed migrants it rescued, not least after it granted access this week to three other rescue ships carrying hundreds of people.

Darmanin said the decision to allow the ship to dock, after two weeks at sea, was “exceptional” and would not guide future action.

But the arrival of Giorgia Meloni as the head of Italy’s most right-wing government in decades could also spark a repeat of the European migrant fights of four years ago, when French President Emmanuel Macron in particular clashed with Italy’s populist interior minister Matteo Salvini.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said this week that he was sending a signal to EU nations that they must play an even bigger part.

Rome wants “an agreement to establish, on the basis of population, how migrants with a right to asylum are relocated to various countries,” Tajani said ahead of a meeting of EU ministers next week.

Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has also urged a rapid disembarkment and warned that “politics should not be pursued at the expense of people in distress.”

Under international law, ships in distress or carrying rescued passengers must be allowed entry in the nearest port of call — which means Italy and often Malta are shouldering the burden of taking in those rescued after trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

In June, around a dozen EU countries, including France, agreed to take in migrants who arrive in Italy and other main entry points.

So far this year, 164 asylum seekers have been moved from Italy to other nations in the bloc that have volunteered to accept  them.

But that is a tiny fraction of the more than 88,000 that have reached its shores so far this year, of which just 14 percent arrived after being rescued by NGO vessels, according to the Italian authorities.

According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, 1,891 migrants have died or disappeared while trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.

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