Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has called on the European Union to create a naval blockade in the Mediterranean Sea to stem the flow of migrants, arguing that the “future of Europe” is at stake.
“What is at stake is the future of Europe because the future of Europe depends on its ability to face the enormous challenges of our time,” Meloni told reporters at the weekend, according to a report in The Telegraph.
The prime minister’s comments come after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Lampedusa at the weekend, a small Italian island that has become one of the hotspots of Europe’s migrant crisis. More than 10,000 migrants arrived on the island just north of Africa last week, according to the report, far outstripping the permanent population of 6,000.
Meloni argued that the only “serious” way for Europe to deal with the crisis was a blockade, preventing migrants from being able to leave North African countries on boats bound for Europe.
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According to figures compiled by the Telegraph, 126,000 migrants have entered Italy since the start of the year, almost double the number who arrived in the country over the same period in 2022. That number is poised to break Italy’s 2016 record , when 160,000 immigrants entered the country.
Meloni has made stemming the flow of migrants a cornerstone of her policy promises, a pledge the prime minister has so far struggled to deliver.
Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Freedom Center, told Fox News Digital that Meloni found herself in a difficult position on the crisis, arguing that most of Europe was “weak” on the issue and undecided about the problem.
“The scale of the crisis is huge … Meloni is one of the toughest leaders in Europe on illegal immigration, but she is overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and it will only get worse,” Gardiner said.
The Italian prime minister appears to have found a sympathetic ear in von der Leyen, who pledged that “irregular” migrants would be returned and that there would be a crackdown on the “brutal” migrant smuggling operation.
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The EU leader unveiled a 10-point plan to help Italy manage the flow of migrants into the country, which included taking them to other European countries and helping with registration and fingerprinting.
Part of the plan included implementing a deal with Tunisia, a popular departure destination for migrants, that would see the EU provide funds to the country in exchange for cracking down on migrant departures.
“Italy can count on the European Union,” von der Leyen said.
Meloni also expressed optimism that an EU naval blockade mission would be discussed during a meeting of European leaders in October.
Meloni also garnered support from the leaders of other European countries, with German Interior Minister Nancy Feiser saying on Friday that her country would continue to accept migrants who had arrived in Italy, reversing a decision two days earlier that had resulted in an agreement between of Berlin and Italy. Rome was suspended.
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French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed his support for Italy in a phone call with Meloni on Saturday, acknowledging the need for a response “at European level”.
The Italian prime minister also found support from French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, who said her country and Italy were “fighting the same battle”.
“You in Italy and we in France are fighting the same battle, the battle for freedom, for the homeland,” Le Pen said during a rally organized by Meloni’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.
However, Gardiner believes Meloni is unlikely to find much help from other European powers.
“Italy is very much on its own here,” Gardiner said.
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Gardiner believes Meloni’s desire for a naval blockade may be the only way to stem the crisis, but expressed doubt that the EU or other countries would help the effort.
“He must take decisive action to defend Italian sovereignty,” Gardiner said. “They have to develop their navy and they have to stop the boats. That’s the only thing they can do.”
Gardiner pointed out that the EU has laws that protect illegal migrants and make it harder for member states to deport them, making moves to prevent migrants from reaching Italian shores a vital strategy to stem the flow. Italy is also a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Gardiner pointed out, which also has rules that make it harder to deport illegal immigrants.
Leading a push for Italy to leave the EU and the ECHR would go a long way in helping Italy combat the crisis, Gardiner argued, although he noted there appeared to be little political appetite in the country for any move. A boycott, on the other hand, would likely be quite popular with Italians, Gardiner said.
“This would be an extremely popular move,” Gardiner said of the Italian navy’s deployment. “But it would of course be condemned by all the liberal elites who have ruled the country for decades and are probably condemned across the EU.”
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Ultimately, Meloni acting decisively on its own is the only way for Italy to deal with the crisis, and the Italian navy is up to the task, Gardiner said.
“This is the only thing they can do. If they are going to wait for the European Union to do something, Italy is going to have to deal with huge numbers of illegal immigrants flooding the country,” Gardiner said. “The Italian navy is not at the same level as the British navy or the French, but it still has the ability to stop migrant ships from coming in.”