The Europe that deals with the economy or that discusses vaccines is very different from the Europe that deals with thorny issues such as immigration. The first two issues are debated and fought over, but in the end, it’s not impossible to find an agreement that suits everyone, or almost everyone. But on the latter, the more likely outcome is crashing into the wall that many European capitals have been putting up for years.
On Tuesday, Mario Draghi showed he understood this well, speaking at the end of the European Council, where he tried to explain that a change of approach was needed in how the 27 have dealt with the migrant emergency to date. Particularly on the issue of relocations between member states: “pure voluntarism has proven to be ineffective,” he explained at the end of the summit, and a more effective mechanism must be found. The Prime Minister spoke against the backdrop of the terrible images released by the NGO Open Arms of the bodies of children on the beach of Zuwara, in Libya.
He rightly called these images “unacceptable,” but they didn’t seem to move the heads of states and governments beyond the declarations of solidarity they also gave in the past after other tragedies in the Mediterranean. Nobody moved to take more courageous decisions, such as launching a European search and rescue mission, or being willing to receive those who land on Italian shores. Their only concession: to agree to discuss immigration at the next summit to be held in June, the last before the summer. “The first steps seem to show a certain awareness that we need a response with solidarity, not an indifferent one,” the Prime Minister said, noting the goodwill shown. But then, he admitted that “for now, we know that we will be on our own until the next European Council. It is up to all of us to prepare well for it.”
So, if Italy wants to get some results, it would do well to prepare seriously for the next summit. There is a real risk that it will conclude with nothing achieved, and not only because the predictable Viktor Orbán has already made it clear that he intends to “protect Hungarian families.” But also because a leader who is certainly not hostile to the Italian position, Emmanuel Macron, sees the prospect of an agreement between the 27 as a difficult one to achieve: “I would be lying if I said that in June we will resolve the whole [immigration] package. The disagreements are still too deep,” warned the French president.
However, there has been no lack of expressed willingness: “The will to meet us halfway is there, at least in words,” said Draghi. Among the most receptive countries were France and Germany, which, together with Italy, could form the framework of a new version of the Malta Pact of 2019, with a number of states that agree to receive migrants—perhaps providing for a mechanism of mandatory relocations and no longer strictly on a voluntary basis. However, the risk is that of creating “a second Europe”: “We can find a pool of countries that would help each other,” as the Prime Minister explained.