“Europe & Italy Need Immigration”: Giorgia Meloni’s Immigration U-Turn

In a move that has angered and disappointed many on the political right in Europe, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made a statement over the weekend claiming that her native Italy and the rest of the European continent “need immigration”, a statement which is in stark contrast to her own party’s strong anti-immigration stance. The right-wing (some have claimed far-right) Brothers of Italy party was voted into the Italian Government last year on a platform which was heavily focused on tackling the ongoing waves of illegal immigration into Italy via the Mediterranean Sea.

The majority of migrants entering Italy in general are North African and Sub-Saharan African, and while not all of them are necessarily illegal – as many have also legally applied for asylum or are genuine refugees fleeing war who have applied for relocation to Europe – the significantly high number of illegal migrants sparked anger within the Italian electorate, thus convincing them to vote for Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party.

Meloni’s Anti-Immigration Electoral Platform

Currently, the biggest question that we should be asking is why Meloni suddenly decided to soften her stance on immigration, after she was elected into power largely because the Italian electorate supported her pledges of stopping the waves of illegal immigration that have been negatively affecting Italy. According to many mainstream news outlets – such as The Telegraph, EurActive and France24 – Meloni’s rationale for her sudden change in stance towards immigration is that she allegedly seeks to build relations with African countries from which these migrants originate from, as well as countries through which many of these migrants pass through in order to contact people smugglers, who would then subsequently offer them passage via boats across the Mediterranean Sea. The cost of many of these crossings can amount to the equivalent of tens of thousands of US Dollars.

Months of domestic and wider European criticism from several right-wing figures and voters over her government’s failure to successfully tackle the ongoing waves of illegal migration ultimately convinced Meloni to organise and host a summit in Rome over the weekend, with representatives of 20 nations and several European Union diplomats also in attendance. The summit was organised in order to discuss and propose several potential long-term solutions to the ongoing migrant crisis. According to Meloni, speaking at the summit, “No one benefits from this except criminal groups, who get rich at the expenses of the most fragile and use their strength even against the governments.”

On Sunday, Meloni declared her intention to co-operate more closely with the migrants’ respective countries of origin in working to stop human traffickers and significantly decrease – or even stop outright – the regular flow of migrants entering Italy via the Mediterranean Sea. However, it is not yet clear as to exactly how Meloni and these various African nations plan to achieve such goals.

Between January – July 2022, over 34,000 migrants had entered Italy, compared with over 83,000 migrants arriving to Italy so far this year in 2023 alone. Such a significant increase in migration should lead many to ask Meloni and her government exactly why, under her strict anti-immigration platform, the number of migrants is rapidly increasing, not decreasing, contradicting her pre-election pledges.

Another “Populist Right” U-Turn?

As stated prior, Meloni had sparked a barrage of criticism from nationalists both within Italy and across the wider European continent following her statement that “Europe and Italy need immigration”, despite her and her party’s pledges to combat immigration. Meloni further intensified the backlash against her following her statements over the weekend’s summit that she wished to open up more “legal routes” into Italy for migrants.

Earlier this month, the Italian Government declared its intention to issue over 425,000 new work visas for non-EU nationals until 2025. For perspective and comparison, in 2019, Italy had issued around 30,850 such work visas. One should also bear in mind that in 2019, the Prime Minister of Italy at the time was Giuseppe Conte, who, since 2021, also currently serves as the leader of the centrist populist Five Star Movement party, who are far more moderate in their ideology when compared to Meloni’s hardline right-wing Brothers of Italy party.

If the Italian labour force and other sectors are in demand for more workers, as of June 2023, there are approximately 2 million unemployed Italian citizens – people who would surely be an immediate source of labour and would very quickly fill up these gaps in the workforce. However, it is likely that the Italian Government also suffer from a unfortunately all-too-common symptom of capitalism – the preference to save money by hiring cheaper foreign workers from all over the world (predominantly outside of Europe), rather than spend a little bit more in state expenses to pay higher – and well-deserved – wages for domestic workers, who know their own country very well, speak the language and belong to the local culture.

With an increase in immigration over a long period of time comes the inevitable increase for more workers in order to meet the demands of what would eventually become a rapidly-growing population overall, to the point where even the hiring of all 2 million domestic workers in Italy may end up not being enough in the long-term (decades) to supply and support such a migration-driven high population number overtime. Such problems have long been seen in countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany, at the expense of local, native demographics in many cities across these countries and others.

While there is still the possibility that domestic pressure could convince Meloni to abandon her plans to issue hundreds of thousands of work visas to non-EU nationals – and instead focus on employing more of her own people – in terms of the Brothers of Italy support base in the future, two other possibilities could emerge from all this controversy. Firstly, Meloni could start attracting more ideologically moderate voters to her party, leading them away from more liberal and even left-wing parties; secondly, disillusioned nationalists who had voted for Meloni previously could potentially seek out other alternative parties and movements even further to the right.

If these two scenarios take place simultaneously overtime, in the grand scheme of things, this would in fact be beneficial for Italy, from a nationalist perspective, because this would result in the Italian electorate as a collective shifting further to the right than ever before – moderates leaning more towards Brothers of Italy and existing nationalists leaning ever more towards more hardline nationalist politics.

It would be very easy for many nationalists to immediately dismiss Meloni and Brothers of Italy for being “ideological traitors”, but it would also be very easy for nationalists in Italy to take advantage of this situation and use it as an opportunity to envision and work towards the very real possibility of an even more right-wing nationalist Italy in the future, despite Meloni’s current controversy.

As the popular saying goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining…”

Stefan Brakus

ETN Board Member (Serbia)

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