Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

The money, the migrants and the coasts

How many more immigrants should arrive in Europe and how much more money should be funneled to Turkey for EU to finally act?

A few days ago the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met German Chancellor Angela Merkel for what had been billed as a “decisive round". Before then, for weeks, poisonous jokes crossed between Rome and Brussels about the slowness that the EU shows in dealing with emergencies.

At one point Renzi had asked that the Italian contribution to the 3 billion payable to Erdogan to block Syrian refugees (by the way, when will he begin to do so?) were to be excluded from the calculations of the "stability pact" offered to Turkey, after which the European accountants intervened to talk about the Italian budget deficit.  

In short, conditions were ripe for clarification or even a break. Instead, neither has happened. And this was for the simple reason that Renzi raised an issue that goes far beyond Merkel’s powers: joint patrolling of European borders.

The meeting certainly was not the friendliest, the expressions of the two leaders at the subsequent press conference spoke volumes and, in addition, for the occasion Ms. Merkel abandoned her endless series of green clothes in favor of wearing a severe dark gray seal that would suit a professor (or an accountant, in fact...). The usual phrases were spoken out regarding the will for cooperation that exists between Italy and Germany and that the Union must be protected, etc. But the real battle was postponed to the next Council of Ministers of Europe and promises to be bloody.

The former mayor of Florence is certainly not someone with extensive international experience, but in internal politics he has proven to have great flair, and now it is clear to him that if the European Union goes on in this way, in the next Italian election the winner will be the Northern League (that advocates immediate exit from the Union) or the "Five Star" movement (which stands for leaving the Eurozone with immediate effect). Or, worse, both. 

Even Ms. Merkel has great problems back home with her popularity, yet this "encounter between the weak" produced no expected breakthrough.   And that was for the simple reason that Renzi’s request coincides with the positions of Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, and might be shared soon by Spain and Greece. In short, what is about to occur is just what the pro-Europeans feared most: deep fractures between northern Europe and the Mediterranean countries (already announced by disagreements on the new gas pipelines from Russia).

Among other things, now there is no way to avoid this confrontation and tones have started to rise again. The day before yesterday, Renzi was reminded of the difference between refugees sanctioned by Brussels, defined as "acceptable," and the remainder who are not (that is, between Syrians, Afghans and Ethiopians on the one hand, and on the other those who do not flee from war zones, and, therefore, must be rejected). But, Renzi responded with a great decision: "For us there are no series "A" and series “B" lives. We shall continue with the rescue of all distressed migrants at sea as we have already been doing for years. Leave those distinctions to bureaucrats who are proving to be increasingly useless."

In Spain, the lack of a new government prevents support for the Italian request, but this is a matter of weeks, and Mr. Alexis Tsipras' position is well known. Be warned - this is not about alliances between leftist governments or leftist movements, but a forced pact between the nations of the Mediterranean Sea that have long coastlines. With the Italian stretch of 8,309 km counting the islands, Spain’s long 4,963 km coastline (although half of it overlooks the Atlantic) and the Greek, at more than 13,600 km: can anyone think that any individual country could stop a new massive influx of refugees by sea?

This problem has been discussed for months - indeed, in Italy for years - but virtually nothing has happened so far. For two and a half years, the Italian Navy led the “Mare Nostrum" operation bringing tens of thousands rescued migrants. A few months ago this gave way to the European operation “Triton", but the ships of allied countries are limited in their activities to stopping African and Middle Eastern fishing boats and dinghies and then releasing the refugees in Italian ports.

The majority of migrants now remain in the Peninsula. From France to Slovenia, neighboring countries tightened the border controls, the level of Merkel’s redistribution among the European countries so far resulting in the departure of 38 - repeat, 38 - refugees (that is if you add another strange departure, 56). And with these numbers, Europe plans to deal with the emergency and the new wave of migrants waiting for next spring?

The Spanish situation is a bit less dramatic because Madrid has always practiced more rigid behavior, but in Greece, it is catastrophic since the arrivals from the Aegean Sea have joined the forced returns of thousands of migrants who are now stranded at the border of Macedonia. And if Europe was fast when it came to talking about the debts of Athens, now it is agonizingly slow when it must talk about aid.

So, Renzi has not suddenly discovered himself to be a great politician ready to be launched on the international scene, and neither are Rajoy, Tsipras, or anyone that you might find in their place, taking a different approach. This is simply a time bomb that will explode, and moreover on the eve of national elections that are particularly delicate, and then if the bureaucrats want to continue to contend, let them, but soon they may discover that the Europeans pulled the chairs from underneath.

To get out of this tragedy, or at least to try to manage it, there is only one way: to leave in force the agreement on the free movement of Schengen – because to suspend it would mean not only renouncing the European ideal, but inflicting damage in the hundreds of millions for circulation goods lost - and consequently to better defend the Union's external borders. But for this, it would take a European police force, a European customs and European means to respond to a European authority that today does not exist. All in all, Mr. Renzi has some reason to raise his voice.

EXPERT OPINION

Joshua Tartakovsky

Merkel blackmailed Renzi, now Renzi arrested Erdogan's son. The story of Erdogan Jr.’s money laundering just came out yesterday in the main press, but it appeared on GIA over a month ago in an article by Alessandra Benignetti (Bilal Erdogan in Bologna, GIA, January 11, 2016).

Let's see what happens but my guess is Merkel will pressure for his release. The drug trade, the weapons trade, the prostitution trade, the child trade, all must continue. The cycle connecting German and Turkish banks will not be disrupted. A brave choice by Italy, however. Renzi must have serious concerns, perhaps due to the next elections, perhaps due to patriotism.

Read more

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