European Union: A deep rift over migrants
The battle lines are drawn, said Henry Samuel in The Sunday Telegraph (U.K.). Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s far-right League party, joined forces last week with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban “to launch an anti-immigration manifesto.” The two nationalists pledged to work together in the run-up to next spring’s European Parliament elections, aiming to elect anti-immigration candidates in as many countries as possible. Both are already defying criticism from the European Union in their efforts to stem illegal migration. Hungary has erected a razor-wire fence on its southern border to thwart crossings by migrants, while Italy is threatening to pull out of EU search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean unless other EU countries let rescued migrants land at their ports and not just in Italy. And in this battle, the enemy isn’t just migrants: It is the European leader who defends immigration and multiculturalism, French President Emmanuel Macron. “There are two camps in Europe,” said Orban, “and one is headed by Macron.” Macron welcomed the challenge, declaring, “I will give no ground to nationalists and those who spread words of hate.”
Orban and Salvini understand that “nationalists need enemies,” said Laurent Marchand in Ouest-France (France). After more than 1 million desperate migrants arrived in Europe in 2015, when the Continent was still recovering from the 2008 economic crash, the far right encouraged angry citizens to believe that the new arrivals were the source of their woes. And now their hateful words are resulting in real pain. Salvini—whose League governs in coalition with the populist Five Star Movement—last month prevented 177 rescued migrants from disembarking in Italy for nearly a week, saying that other EU countries should take them instead. Worse, in both Italy and Germany, mobs have targeted foreigners, “something this continent never wanted to see again.”
Salvini’s alliance won’t help Italy, said Maria Serena Natale in Corriere della Sera (Italy). Italy needs other EU countries to share the burden of the migrants that land on our shores. But Hungary leads the Visegrad Group that includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, which have all “opposed the allocation of asylum seekers according to an EU quota scheme.” Macron, though, benefits from Salvini’s enmity, said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. Once the European debate is framed as “nationalists versus progressives,” Macron—who is struggling in the polls—gets to be the voice of reason and tolerance.
The nationalists’ thesis ought to be easily disproved, said Angelo Boccato in Independent.co.uk. The EU is not currently being overrun by migrants, because both Germany and France have already cracked down on illegal migration and tightened their asylum policies. So has Italy: Its previous center-left government last year brokered a deal with Libya’s warring factions to curb human trafficking across the Mediterranean, and migrant arrivals dropped 44 percent in 2017. But facts don’t matter to political leaders who see electoral gains in whipping up voters’ fears. Migrants are still “the perfect scapegoat.” ■