Conte and Macron Call for Reform of “Ineffective” Migrant Policy

Conte and Macron Call for Reform of “Ineffective” Migrant Policy

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron have called for an overhaul of the European Union’s immigration policy, slamming the current lack of political unity as “ineffective” for dealing with the region’s current challenges. 

“The European Union hasn’t shown enough solidarity with countries handling first arrivals, notably Italy,” said Macron after holding talks with Conte, “France is ready to develop this in the framework of overhauling the Dublin accords [under the banner of the European Commission].”

Current EU regulation assigns responsibility for handling migrants to the nations of first entry. 

Conte presides over a government that is little more than a week old, after anti-migrant, far-right leader Matteo Salvini brought down the government last month in a failed bid for early elections. The new government faces a tightrope of possible policy changes, and is now seeking support for a pan-European migrant strategy.

In the 15 months in which Salvini was interior minister, he was well-known for his Trump-esque calls for “Italians First,” and hardline stance on immigration- including blocking ports to prevent the docking of ships carrying rescued migrants, and the passing of new security measures that further criminalised boats for rescuing migrants at sea.

Despite international criticism for policies that left vulnerable migrants stranded at sea for days, if not weeks, at a time, Salvini enjoyed broad support at home. Italy and Malta are typically the first ports of call for migrants who survive the treacherous route from North Africa to Europe via the Mediterranean, and the two countries have long lamented that they bear an unfair share of the burden for Europe’s so-called “migrant crisis.”

The French and Italian leaders’ calls for unity is the first such demonstration after two years of disagreement, due in large part to the antagonistic rhetoric of Salvini and his League-Five Star coalition. While Salvini regularly slammed Macron as “arrogant” and a “hypocrite” over the French leader’s stance on migration, Conte seems determined to take a more measured approach. 

“Migration is a complex phenomenon. It’s vital for Europe to turn the page towards the structural, and no longer emergency, management of migrants,” said Conte, Macron beside him, “migration must no longer be a theme of anti-European propaganda.” 

The migrant deal proposed by Conte’s government would put an end to case-by-case negotiations over which countries would host those saved while crossing the Mediterranean. France and Germany have reportedly thrown their support behind the new system, which could also include cooperation from Malta, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Luxembourg. 

Macron was also careful to clarify the difference between those fleeing war and persecution, and those seeking economic advantages.

“Many women and men who have risked everything to leave their country found themselves on Europe’s borders wandering with no one taking responsibility,” he said on Wednesday, “we are collectively ineffective with those who have a real right to asylum and those who have no such right and should be sent back as quickly as possible.” 

Italy’s proposed mechanism will be studied in greater detail at a meeting of interior ministers next week in Malta, with a European summit in Luxembourg to follow next month.

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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