Matteo Salvini can declare himself satisfied. His war against NGOs has now enlisted the support of the vessels of the Italian Navy and the Financial Police, called to “defend” our ports. Such were the measures decided Monday during an emergency meeting of the National Committee for Order and Public Safety, convened by the Interior Minister to discuss how to prevent humanitarian ships from entering Italian territorial waters.
Among other measures, there will be an increase in controls aimed at reducing the number of departures of boats from Libya and Tunisia, through the use of radar, aircraft and drones, to further accelerate the interventions of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and the Tunisian Coast Guard. Another decision they reached was to supply the Tripoli government with a further 10 patrol boats, a repeat of a policy that the Interior Ministry had previously announced on June 11, after another meeting of the National Committee.
“I don’t need an operation to transport immigrants around the Mediterranean. I need an operation to protect and preserve, and today the representatives of the defense forces gave useful suggestions, not for distributing the problems around Europe, but for blocking them at the root,” Salvini said after the meeting.
For propaganda purposes, the Lega’s new measures are certainly a success. It remains to be seen whether they will actually bring the results desired by the yellow-green government.
For now, the technical staff of the Ministry of Defense is working to figure out how many ships will be necessary in the near future to increase our presence in the Mediterranean. The plan provides that the Finance Police will have authority within national waters, while the Navy will be tasked with monitoring international waters.
But what will happen when the latter come across a boat in distress, or an NGO vessel?
Salvini didn’t say anything about that, but sources from the Defense Ministry leave no room for doubt: “Everything will be done in compliance with international standards,” is the answer we are getting. Which means that there will be no mass rejections to Libya of boats carrying migrants, which are banned by international law—and also that there will be no maneuvers to hinder the path of NGO vessels that have rescued men, women and children and which are trying to reach a safe harbor.
“As was also mentioned by the Interior Minister, Libya is not a safe harbor”—this is the message coming from inside the Defense Ministry.
Therefore, at worst we can assume that there will be inspections on board the ships so as to delay their passage. However, it is very unlikely that a Navy commander—an institution which, back in 2014, gave birth to the Mare Nostrum mission, “saving Europe’s honor” according to then-European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker—would decide to force such a situation.
Meanwhile, the question of the landings keeps rattling the relationship between the government allies, to the point that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has called a meeting at Palazzo Chigi for Wednesday, which, in addition to Salvini, Ministers Trenta, Toninelli, Tria and Moavero have also been called to attend. The purpose is to coordinate the activities of the ministries “to avoid inconsistencies or confusion that would be ultimately prejudicial to the effectiveness of the actions of the government,” according to the statement from Palazzo Chigi.
Further confirmation of the existing tensions—if more was needed—came Monday, with a joke Luigi Di Maio cracked in response to Salvini complaining that he had been left alone to face the supposed threat of the NGO vessels. “If the Interior Minister feels alone, and we can’t get it through to him that there are alternative paths to solve this problem for good, we’re just going to send him a teddy bear,” said the M5S vice-Prime Minister, defending his party colleague, Defense Minister Trenta, who had been the target of attacks from the Lega.