Migration Crisis Imperils Italy's Political Stability and European Unity
Posted on: November/08/2016 7:33 am by: Ugo Trojano

Italy is currently facing two major challenges that are severely stressing our country's economic, social, security, and cultural life. Increasing irregular migration flows from the Middle East and Africa are forcing unsustainable governmental efforts in terms of budgeting, policing, and caring for these migrants. At the same time, Italy suffers from weak economic growth and higher rates of unemployment stemming from austerity measures imposed by the European Commission, under German influence, on member states of the European Union.

In addition to these challenges, on December 4th Italy will hold a referendum on whether to approve or reject broad constitutional reforms to streamline government structures. The reforms are proposed and strongly supported by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Should voters reject his proposed reforms, the stability of the Government would be at stake, setting the stage for new general elections.

In the past few weeks, Prime Minster Renzi has openly criticised the European Union's contradictory approach of, on the one hand, imposing strict budget restrictions to curb public sector debt while, on the other hand, offering no concrete common policies to deal with the migration crisis. Instead we witness the rigidity of the EU bureaucracy and meetings and summits without achieving effective results that de facto leave it Italy and Greece to absorb the migration invasion across the Mediterranean Sea.

What was supposed to be formal solidarity among EU member states regarding agreements on the shared redistribution of migrants is not being effectively implemented. Neither is the major investment program for Africa launched by Jean Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission, whose own position and role are also under criticism. Juncker is increasingly viewed by a number of member states as the executor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's priorities rather than as an impartial European leader managing a period of crisis when unity, flexibility, and leadership should prevail over the EU's heavy-handed bureaucracy.

Some facts and figures to help understand Italy's latest reactions to Brussels:

1. This year migrant arrivals, most of them irregular, are estimated to have topped the 170,000 mark set in 2014. As of mid-October arrivals reached 155,000.

2. This year's migration costs have doubled compared to 2011-2013 and involve expenditures for sea rescue, naval engagement, and migration reception, security, and assistance that now cost Italy over 3.3 billion euros per year.

3. Meanwhile, Italy annually contributes 20 billion euros to the EU budget but gets back through programs only 12 billion euros. Italy's contributions includes economic support to new members from Eastern Europe. Yet, these same countries have not allowed transit and redistribution of migrants debarking Italy and Greece as promised. Instead, Hungary, Slovakia and Austria have closed their borders, built walls, and undermined the common EU migration strategy. They argue that Italy and Greece are not doing enough to protect Europe's southern borders, as required by the Schengen Treaty governing border controls within the EU zone, and, therefore, are absolved of their migration responsibilities.

4. According to a recent report by the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs, another 360,000 migrants are waiting to embark from Libya at the earliest opportunity.

5. Large segments of Italian public opinion now oppose EU policies and its bureaucracy as never before. Rome is seen as responding too weakly to Brussels and, as a result, center-right opposition parties have gained political ground by demanding tougher policies on security, repatriation of irregular migrants, while expressing a willingness to challenge the EU's bureaucracy, Eurozone, and migration policies.

6. The demands of emergency expenditures to support earthquake victims in central Italy along with recovery and reconstruction adds to our budgetary pressures.

Due to the prevailing situation, Prime Minister Renzi informed Brussels that he will not amend his annual budget plan due to the extraordinary financial demands of the earthquake and migration crises. If the EU will not support Italy's extra expenditure requests and refuses to compromise on deficit flexibility and migrants, Prime Minister Renzi will be put in a position to veto the EU's own general budget proposal which must be submitted to member states for approval.

Italy's combative approach is just another indicator that EU institutions are in crisis due in main part to the lack of unity among its member states to identify concrete responses to major crises, such as the migration issue.

Finally, Libya is another source of worry. The international community has failed to offer short term prospects for a positive solution. Italy contributes to Libya's stabilization by maintaining a functional hospital at the Misrata Airport with a protection team of over 100 paratroopers, six naval warships to protect off-shore oil installations, and Special Forces units on the ground alongside other international forces. The time has come for a genuine coordinated global effort to defeat ISIL in Libya and prevent an increasing terrorist presence on the Mediterranean Basin as a consequence of the wars in Iraq and Syria. As such, Italy has again solicited from the international community a migration compact plan for Africa to stabilize these countries as key in the fight against irregular migration. 

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