Report. The abstention from the Five Star Movement paved the way for the resolution to be rejected by a united right wing. It begs the question: ‘What, then, is the Italian government’s position on this topic?’

European Parliament says no to NGOs, rejecting open ports resolution for refugees

With a margin of just two votes, the European Parliament on Thursday rejected the resolution on the sea rescues of migrants which called for opening the ports to the NGOs. The majority that elected Ursula von der Leyen as President of the EU Commission did not hold, while the right was unified. The MEPs rejected the text with 290 votes against, 288 in favor and 36 abstentions. Among the abstainers, who made all the difference for the final result, there was also the M5S group (with its 14 MEPs), triggering a new controversy in Italy between the members of the coalition backing the Conte 2 government.

The text of the resolution urged member states “to make full use of all vessels able to assist in search and rescue operations, including vessels operated by NGOs” and “to maintain their ports open to NGO vessels.” An amendment was tabled by the Socialists, Greens and M5S, additionally calling for “a permanent and mandatory relocation mechanism for sea arrivals.” 

The resolution also called for EU members “to enhance proactive search and rescue operations by providing sufficient vessels and equipment specifically dedicated to search and rescue operations and personnel, along the routes where they can make an effective contribution to the preservation of lives.” The text also mentioned a possible new EU mission “under the umbrella of a Frontex-coordinated operation,” or a series of “international or separate national or regional operations, preferably civil operations.”

The president of the Civil Liberties Committee, the Socialist Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, said with great disappointment: “Far too many people are losing their lives in the Mediterranean. This is an urgent situation and we have a system that is in urgent need of reform. We are not getting that same sense of urgency from the Commission or member states, nor from the center-right European People’s Party. Today made it clear that political groups on the right are willing to abandon their legal and moral obligations.”

Those who voted against were the MEPs from the ECR (Conservatives and Reformists), Identity and Democracy (the group to which the Lega belongs), the EPP and a dozen liberals from Renew Europe (mostly from eastern countries)—but also four Socialists and one member from the GUE/NGL (left-wing). 

Those who voted in favor were almost all the members of GUE, the Liberals, the Socialists & Democrats (including the Italian Democratic Party) and the Greens. If all the Socialists had voted in favor, the resolution would have passed. 

However, the abstention by the M5S again led to a rise in tensions among the government majority in Italy. The Five Stars have tried to shift the blame on the Socialists and Greens: “We had tabled amendments that would have given substance to a vague text,” said MEP Laura Ferrara. “In the paragraph on opening the ports, we asked for compliance with international laws and other applicable laws, with an amendment co-signed by the M5S, Greens and S&D groups. The explicit reference to respect for the Charter of Human Rights and international laws and conventions was there to refute those who had tried to describe our proposals as ‘anti-Carola’ amendments. But these amendments did not get the support of the majority—hence our abstention.”

The intractable problem with the amendment lay precisely in the part which invoked “other applicable laws,” which was obviously meant to include the security decrees passed by the yellow-green government in Italy, and which Luigi Di Maio is still supporting. Thursday, the M5S political leader posted a statement on social media in which he sounded very pleased with himself: “We are the ones who are tipping the balance in Europe. Italy cannot take on alone a problem that concerns the whole of the EU.” 

As for Matteo Salvini, he was jubilant: “A slap in the face for the ‘seat-loving’ majority of Macron-PD-M5S-Renzi. A victory for the Lega and Italy: we don’t forgive those who break our laws, who want to fill us up with illegals by opening the doors to NGOs, and who have put the lives of our financial police at risk, which is what Carola Rackete did. We are holding our heads high again, starting on Sunday, when the Umbrians will sweep away the whole PD-Five Star mess.” 

Forza Italia and FDL also jumped on the bandwagon, with a lot of jockeying for position on the right among the many trying to claim responsibility for the victory. However, Mariastella Gelmini from Forza Italia made a good point: “The parties supporting the government are split on this issue. What, then, is the Italian government’s position on this topic?”

There was plenty of discomfort on this issue among the PD: “The abstention of the M5S is a sign of a very serious problem. I do not think it is possible to build an alliance with a movement whose position on sea rescues is substantially similar to that of Salvini,” said the president of the Senate, Andrea Marcucci. 

Matteo Orfini said: “Following Salvini onto his turf is the specialty of the M5S. I have something to say to those who insist that we should build a new center-left together with them: open your eyes!” 

The Lampedusa MEP, Dr. Pietro Bartolo, expressed his disappointment in the starkest terms: “The biggest regret is about the abstention of the M5S, who seem to have forgotten that they’re no longer governing with the Lega, but with the Democratic Party.” 

Della Vedova of +Europa didn’t miss the opportunity to score a point against the PD: “Di Maio’s party voted for Salvini’s security decrees, and is behaving accordingly. If it’s going to pretend to be consistent, the Democratic Party must first of all ask for them to be repealed.”

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