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Will Lampedusa split the EU?

10,000 migrants from West Africa have landed in Lampedusa over the past week. Credit: Getty

September 19, 2023 - 11:45am

For the European Union, controlling the accelerating flow of migration from the Global South is a headache that just will not go away. The recent chaotic scenes on the Italian island of Lampedusa, just off the coast of North Africa, where more than 10,000 migrants from West Africa landed over the past week (dwarfing its 6,000 population), have now stoked a pan-European crisis. 

Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who came to power vowing to halt the migrant flow, has instead found herself presiding over twice as many arrivals as last year — 127,000 so far in 2023. While most migrants intend to move on to the richer countries of Northern Europe, Germany has already announced that it will refuse to accept arrivals from Italy, followed by France’s Interior Minister GĂ©rald Darmanin, who observed that while Europe has an obligation to host genuine refugees, the current flow of economic migrants from countries such as Guinea, Gambia and CĂŽte d’Ivoire is a different matter entirely. 

“There should not be a message given to people coming on our soil that they are welcomed in our countries no matter what,” Darmanin told French radio. “We should absolutely send back those who have no reason to be in Europe.” Further, he pledged “to help Italy to maintain its borders”.

But while the no-nonsense rhetoric is being framed as a new, harder European line on migration, what this all means in practice is hard to discern. Meloni has staked her political capital on pushing an EU naval blockade of the Libyan and Tunisian coasts to preserve “the future of Europe”, but when European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen arrived in Lampedusa on a “solidarity mission”, she shied away from the topic. Instead, she unveiled a 10-point action plan focusing on deploying Frontex to help the Italian coastguard manage arrivals, and on persuading the countries of origin to take back their unwanted migrants.

Still, Meloni hasn’t given up on her blockade aspirations, vowing to pursue the idea at the next EU summit, while the Commission’s spokesperson Anitta Hipper asserted that “we have expressed the support to explore these possibilities”. But details on how the blockade would work, presumably analogous to Australia’s successful operation to turn back migrant boats, are sparse, and observers are sceptical that European and international maritime law would permit it to function effectively.

In the meantime, European leaders find themselves threatened by increasingly restive voters, and dependent on the goodwill of African leaders. The recently announced EU migration deal with Tunisia’s new dictator Kais Saied is evidently not yet bearing fruit, despite his increasingly radical crackdown on African migrants within his borders, and is now taking flak from the EU’s own Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell for overstepping the bloc’s opaque and overlapping jurisdictional competencies. 

In all this, the recent coup epidemic in the Sahel throws another unpredictable element into the mix. The now Russia-sympathetic countries in the region are the overland trafficking route from West Africa’s poor and populous countries of origin, but their leaders are increasingly disinclined to work with European counterparts. More than this, they are likely amenable to Russian attempts to use migration as a weapon against Europe’s stability, as was the case with 2021’s Polish border crisis. 

Perhaps increasing violence and instability in the Sahel will make the route as undesirable for migrants as Libya has now become, stemming the flow — or perhaps dwindling state capacity and Russian mischief-making will accelerate the flow. Either way, European leaders have very little agency in cutting off the flood closer to its source, deepening the already controversial dependence on Tunisia.

As the great Italian writer Giuseppe Tomaso di Lampedusa, whose ancestors were once the feudal rulers of today’s stricken island, observed in his classic novel The Leopard: “For things to stay as they are, everything must change.” European leaders find themselves wrestling with a similar paradox: to preserve the continent’s political stability something drastic has to be done, and quickly, but the EU’s own internal tensions and stifling legal framework limit their capacity to find a workable solution.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago

The irony of seeing boatloads of Africans risking their lives to escape their homeland in a desperate attempt to reach the systemic racism of Western European shores is just too visceral.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

I think it’s high time for all the earnest young men, women, and other who are loyal to the Church of Woke to venture forth as missionaries to darkest Africa to enlighten the natives there as to exactly how racist Western Europe is.

Last edited 9 months ago by Right-Wing Hippie
Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
9 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

“systematic racism” – exactly what is meant by this. Because there is no systematic racism in Europe or the US. There is a huge shortage of actual racism to back up the boilerplate bullshit of this kind of reflective brainless accusation.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

I think he’s being satirical

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Inspired by titania McGrath, for sure.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago

At the moment, criticising Meloni for “promising too much” seems to be the only response in town in the German-speaking media – and of course, there are many references to how Meloni is a populist/post-fascist etc. Which isn’t relevant to the matter at hand – but which journalist ever passes up a chance to write the word “populist”?
Concentrating attention on Meloni is also to miss the point of how a “European solution” has been promised for 8 years now. So where is that and who can we blame for its non-materialisation? Whoever made that comment about never knowing who to call in Europe (Henry Kissinger?) was spot on.
VDL’s comments in Lampedusa was just the EU trying to pay lip service to its own promises and avoid the accusation that Brussels isn’t able to produce workable solutions to the big questions…while also trying to publicly keep its hands clean by avoiding talk of anything which goes beyond its previous (completely useless) approaches.
Italy is now basically on its own – just like it was at the start of the pandemic. Meloni will have to decide whether she wants to try a naval blockade herself using Italy’s own vessels/resources. Then we will be able to watch the pathetic spectacle of the EU Commission avoiding any association with the undertaking, criticising Italy and its nasty government loudly (Populists! Populists! Populists!)…but then secretly being glad and relieved that someone has actually done the dirty work.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Go to the FRONTEX internet page. At the moment there is an article about car thefts, a map of migration in Europe and an article about how ‘irregular crossings’ have risen by a fifth and are higher now than at any point since 2016. There’s also a video profile of an ‘advanced level document officer.’
What you will not find is any kind of urgency about the situation on Lampedusa or anywhere else. The mission is stated as, ‘together with the Member States, we ensure safe and well-functioning external borders providing security.’
At some point, populist or not, the EU is going to have to front up to this level of failure, the ten point plans simply have not worked. VdL’s visit to Lampedusa was head in the sand.

Last edited 9 months ago by Sam Hill
Fergal Ó Ceallaigh
Fergal Ó Ceallaigh
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Absolutely spot on.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Lampedusa is closer to Libya than Italy. Meloni should simply renounce Italy’s claim to sovereignty over it and allow it to become part of Libya.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago

No surprise that Useless Von Der Leyen shied away from the topic. Papering over the cracks is pretty much all the EU can do, until the countries most directly affected take matters into their own hands as is now beginning to happen.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
9 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Are they?

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin
Glyn R
Glyn R
9 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

I think Starmer, eager to be made the EU’s darling, will be sure that Britain takes up any slack left by Germany’s withdrawal.

Last edited 9 months ago by Glyn R
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Isn’t a failed nation state one that rejects mass immigration but is helpless to stop it? Securing the border is a basic function of govt.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
9 months ago

I would not say Europe is one step away from fairly brutal responses – and by this I mean for example simply ignoring drowning boats, and even physically blocking boats from entering sea pinch points in the Med by force. But I honestly don’t think they are more than 3 steps away.

At which point you get a psychological breakdown across societies, of people who have built a metal image of themselves as better than the type of people who would ever consent to such a thing. A couple of points to clarify what I mean by all this. The first is, I don’t mean this to be a right vs left point, although I think the mental discomfort, the’wriggle’ will be more pronounced on the left. The second point is about scale, and is illustrated by the psychology of what happens to people whose mental model is that they are the ‘good guys’ (help people in trouble, stand up to injustice etc), when such people walk into a country, say for tourism, where the true brutality of poverty is all around and constant. You hand over some money to the first child begger who walks up to your taxi in chaotic traffic. And the second. And the third. And the fourth… Then you see the beggermaster openly assaulting some little girl in the street because she fell when one of the cars she was begging at drove away. And your helplessness is laid bare. Will you keep forking out to the fifth, the tenth, the thousandth? Will you give up all you have and your career to try and improve the lot of the people who are begging? A vanishingly small number do, but most simply become inured – they have their own commitments and families and responsibilities.

So what makes anyone think the Europeans will, soon enough, do any different?

Last edited 9 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

What happens, when things are relentless, is that people start looking for liberation from having to be the good guy.

So when you see the beggarmaster, you have proof, that you can always present, should anyone challenge you.

So the psychology here, would be that Meloni would look for proof – preferably on camera – of bad behaviour from migrants during the early stages of the blockade.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dumetrius
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Who is European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyenand why is this bureaucrat running my immigration policy?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
9 months ago

This should be read in conjunction with the article above on the disaster of the US sanctuary cities. There is a struggle between unrealistic ideals and reality. Unfortunately those with power at present will put off the moment when they have to deal with reality and abandon their unrealistic ideals for as long as possible.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Isn’t this the ultimate dilemma of politics? Get into office by promising simple, idealistic solutions to complex problems. Once in office idealism collides with reality….and then what? Admit you were wrong and it’s not possible? No politician will do that as they know it’s guaranteed electoral suicide. So what do they do? Kick the can down the road so it becomes someone else’s problem and hope no-one notices.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

The UK and (secretly) the EU used to pay Gadaffi to stop the migrant ships leaving North African shores. Hillary and her lapdogs in Paris and London made sure that wouldn’t happen again.
The debacle in Syria and capitulation in Afghanistan only deepened the problems. Two more Democratic strikes, will the Ukraine be the third and out?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Yes. Not enough attention is paid to the role that Hillary Clinton has played in all of this – paying off her Saudi backers by killing Gaddafi and turning Libya into a rubble-strewn wasteland. A special place in hell is reserved for her, right next door to Tony Blair.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago

At some point a naval vessel will open fire.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

We’ve got all those handily placed WW2 bunkers along our coasts ……

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago

I myself saw dear Ursula in that fetching green creation making sure she smiled at the assembled and adoring presschiks and it seemed to me that post-ER she sees herself as the new Queen of the Continent.

What do you think ?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

More like Rosa Kleb..

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

She has always struck me as an old school Disney villain. Beautiful and evil.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Cruella de Vil perhaps?

Matt M
Matt M
9 months ago

There are only two solutions: 1. forcibly turn back the boats or 2. deport the passengers to an amenable third country.
The first option is very dangerous to do en masse with resistant, violent passengers and will inevitably end up in some drowned migrants.
If the British Supreme Court authorises the Rwanda plan we may see the second option in operation and will be able to judge its effectiveness.
We should pray to God that it is an effective deterrent otherwise the first option will become the only option and it will require a new set of much tougher politicians throughout Europe.
And once you get strong men in power that are ready and willing to break a few eggs etc, things can go south pretty quickly.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago

I’ve just visited the monument at Wimereux to Napoleon’s failed invasion of England. Isn’t it staggering that a country that managed to repel Napoleon, Hitler and the Spanish Armada cannot prevent a few hundred inflatable dinghies landing on it’s shores every year.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
9 months ago

Greg Abbott in Texas is prepared to resolve this problem. So, too, Tony Abbot in Australia. It’s about political will.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago

No.

Jim Glass
Jim Glass
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I agree, Frank. There will be fudge. Ursula Von Der Leyen will dollop it out.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Glass

Yes…but.
The issue that it hard to duck is that Meloni is most likely right. The way to stop illegal migration in that part of the world at least is almost certainly a blockade. Once some one tries it, it will be like border walls where the first one acted as a trigger for everyone else.
If Meloni were to try it and get any sort of backing from within the EU (and bear in mind here that a number of EU states are refusing to take in any migrants on EU plans) then the pressure to follow would probably be very real.
We’ve been waiting for the EU plan on migration now for the best part of a decade. Lampedusa is showing that whatever the plan is, it’s not effective.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
9 months ago

There clearly are political leaders unwilling or unable to police borders and bureaucracies that undermine policies with that goal out of incompetence, corruption, or sympathy for illegal immigrants.

jack sales
jack sales
9 months ago

.

Last edited 9 months ago by jack sales