Now we also have to endure Hungarian provocations.
Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán sent a letter to Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Friday, asking Italy to close its ports to landings of migrants and offered the “help” of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — the four countries of the Visegrad group — to counter the flow of boats from Libya. Without excluding, if necessary, “military actions” in the North African country.
This was received after the Austrian threat of closing the Brenner Pass border crossing if migrants will not be stopped in Lampedusa. Orbán’s words, rather than an offer of collaboration, sound like a mockery. In fact, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are among the countries that have refused to accept refugees from Italy and Greece in the last two years. This even pushed the European Commission to initiate an infringement procedure against them.
The reaction from Chigi Palace was immediate. “We have the right to claim solidarity from the E.U. countries,” replied the Italian premier. “We do not accept lessons, we cannot accept any threats.”
Orbán’s untimely outburst followed a few hours after the words of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz who every day threatens to close the Brenner Pass, which just barely creates a possible common strategy between Vienna and the Visegrad group. For months, indeed, the five countries have convened meetings to discuss how to make their borders safer against unlikely migratory invasions and almost always moving like a group apart from the European Union.
The news is that they now also act together in pressuring Italy to take more radical measures to stop the flow of migrants. Orbán declared on Hungarian public radio “If the ports are not closed,” the problem will become unmanageable as Austria and Germany will soon close their borders.”
Therefore, the only possible solution for Budapest is to block the migrants before they leave Libya, a goal to which Italy has been working for a long time. To do so, the four Visegrad countries offer their contribution to the European Union’s activities at the southern borders of the North African country, as well as the management of hotspots outside the Union’s borders and training of the Libyan Coast Guard. All points on which Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic arrive abundantly late.
However, the Eastern countries are now using this to divert attention from their failures and to try to block the initiative with which Rome has been trying for months to convince the European Union to take up its share of responsibility in welcoming the tens of thousands of desperate people who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
This Hungarian intervention was, however, not the only one judged to be inappropriate on Friday. Chigi Palace did not like the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron invited Libyan leader Fayez al-Serraj and General Khalifa Haftar for a summit on Libya that should be held next Tuesday in Paris. Macron would like to exploit the influence Paris has on Haftar to try to reach an agreement that would lead to the country’s pacification. If this were actually achieved, it could have an impact on the departures of boats toward Europe.
Apparently, Italy was cut off from all this diplomatic work; this would have irritated not only Chigi Palace but, in particular, the Viminale that has be having meetings for months with Serraj, the mayors of the Libyan cities and tribal leaders seeking a collaborative effort to counter immigration.
For this reason, looking for alliances to limit landings in Europe, especially, in Italy, on Monday another conference will start in Tunisia, with the participation of the European Contact Group conformed by Italy, Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland, in addition to representatives of Libya, Algeria, Chad and Niger.
Also in this case, the objective will be to persuade the Chadian and Niger governments in particular to strengthen controls over the 5,000 kilometers of border in common with Libya in return for investments. In addition, refugee camps operated by IOM and UNHCR should be opened in the two Sahel countries to encourage voluntary repatriation.