The Five Stars have bent under pressure once again: the poverty subsidy that they are improperly calling a “citizenship income” will not be available to foreigners, but only to those living in absolute poverty who happen to be Italian. The announcement by the M5S vice-prime minister, Di Maio, came after an intense barrage of carefully targeted statements by the shadow allies of his supposed equal partner in government, the Lega’s Salvini, who is governing in partnership with Forza Italia in all the northern regions of the county. After this game of one-upmanship played by those vying for the title of Most Racist Politician, facing the specter of the Lega’s ambivalent loyalties, the embattled Di Maio was forced to disavow in just 48 hours the latest of the many drafts of the decree on the aforementioned “income,” which the government should finally pass next week: “We’re not talking about the 5 years that are in the draft, that needs to be changed”—said Di Maio, trying to justify his obvious flip-flop—“the goal is to give it to Italians.” It seems that the Five Stars have finally embraced the “Italians First” slogan of the nationalist-populists as their own, just as Salvini is poised to strike against the mayors who stand in opposition to his inhuman “security decree” against refugees.
According to the latest version, the poverty subsidy will be available only to foreigners who have been resident in Italy for 10 years, “which are equivalent to those required to obtain citizenship.” It appears that the government is trying to invoke the principle already adopted for the so-called “autonomy income” in the region of Lombardy, whose applicability for foreigners is tied to the years of residence. However, the residency requirement set by the region is five years. On the national level, the intention seems to be to push that to an even more inaccessible extreme.
The malleable Di Maio got a strong push from the other power players at the Palazzo Chiggi, who, through the now-notorious and well-informed “sources,” leaked to the media that the underlying principle was going to be that the “income” would only be available to “long-term residents who have made a great contribution”—as Di Maio put it in his own words. He was perhaps confusing the beneficiaries of this poverty subsidy with people receiving the title of senator for life, or an honorary knighthood from the President of the Republic. Giuseppe Conte, who is, after all, a law professor—as well as a great fan of “informational legal journals that operate on the free market”—ended up translating this strange criterion into the more comprehensible one of “residence for over 10 years.”
And that was not all: we finally got clarification on another principle that will underlie this xenophobic version of a poverty subsidy, already tied to mandatory unpaid work (8 hours per week) and the obligation for the poor to move up to 500 km away from their place of residence to accept any precarious job. The further condition, according to officials at the Palazzo Chigi, will be that the beneficiaries should have a clear criminal record—which, they say, should still allow “over 90%” of Italians to receive the “income.” No doubt, the extra “restrictions for foreigners” will restrict the pool of potential beneficiaries among them to a far greater extent, in an additional act of pure discrimination. One can only hope that the government’s law experts, who will be expected to somehow formulate these policy proposals in a manner consistent “with the EU and the Constitution,” will remember a bedrock principle of our fundamental law: that after someone has been convicted for a criminal offense, once they have served the terms of their punishment, that person (even if they are a foreigner) is in possession of all their legal rights, including the right to such an “income”—and particularly so if they have been residing in Italy for over 10 years.
It seems that a silent clash between the Lega and the Five Stars has been taking place during the recent days on a delicate point for the newly surging racism, which appears to have ended (for now) with yet another decisive victory for Salvini and his followers. He had previously won another such victory by transforming the much-vaunted pseudo-“citizenship income” into a monetary incentive for 5-6 months for companies who would hire the “income’s” beneficiaries. The Lega has further demanded that the subsidy payment to companies should be for no less than 18 months, just like Renzi wanted with his Jobs Act, fiercely fought at the time by the Five Stars. Now, it is quite possible that Salvini will get what he wants, even if in some compromise, face-saving form.
The problem for the Five Stars had emerged as early as in September, when Salvini, now with the “government contract” in hand, dictated his terms: the “income” would be only for Italians. That was when the “10 year” figure first came up—which was later pared down to five years, close to the two years wanted by the Democratic Party as part of the criteria for the “inclusion income” (ReI) which is the model for the Five Star-Lega proposal.
According to the President Emeritus of Consulta, Cesare Mirabelli, with these discriminatory criteria, the government is openly defying the constitutional principle that “European citizens … cannot be discriminated against, just as it is not allowed to discriminate with regard to this measure against people who have a long-term residence permit—while it remains a subject for debate whether this aid would also be given to other foreigners lawfully present on the territory of the country.”
The proposed measure also flies in the face of European law, which calls for the equal treatment of subjects who were born in different European countries but reside on the same national territory. When analyzing this attempt at discrimination on an ethnic and national basis that the government is trying to justify, we should recall that according to the current laws, foreign citizens, and non-EU citizens in particular, who hold a residence permit (even for one year) are required to support themselves. If they do not have any gainful employment, according to current regulations, they are not allowed to legally remain in the country. This existing legal framework is what the national-populist government is trying to override and dismantle with their much-vaunted poverty subsidy.
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