Analysis. Conte offers few specifics about changes to Italian immigration policy in Salvini’s wake. But there are signs that the new government will undo cuts to integration services, allows rescue ships to dock, and repair relations with Europe.

The Italian government is reviving a nearly forgotten word: ‘welcome’

It was one of the thorniest issues to be addressed in his speech before the Chamber of Deputies, and Giuseppe Conte dealt with it the only way he could: by merely hinting at the yellow-red government’s future policy on immigration, without entering into specifics. This was a choice the premier had to make due to prudence and the need to get the votes to install the new government. 

Those who hoped for an explicit retiring of the closed ports policy—a much-touted sign of discontinuity, of leaving behind Salvini’s choices once and for all—were disappointed, at least for now. There will be a turning point, or at least one hopes. But for now, rather than a revision of the rules in force, the change could take place through the choices of the ministers most directly involved in the immigration emergency.

Interior Minister Lamorgese, Defense Minister Guerini and Infrastructure Minister De Micheli are the only ones who still have the authority to prohibit a boat with migrants on board from entering Italian territorial waters. They will probably not take such a decision. We won’t have to wait long to verify this, since two NGO ships are currently in international waters, the Alan Kurdi and the Ocean Viking, with around 55 migrants on board. These might decide to go toward Italy. “The Ministry is operational 24 hours a day. We will address this emergency as well, if there will be an emergency,” Lamorgese told the Transatlantico on Monday. 

The government’s priorities will involve changes to the security decree, Europe-wide agreements for the distribution of migrants and the revision of the Dublin regulation—and also an emphasis on both welcoming and repatriation. These were the directions that Conte highlighted on Monday with regard to the future moves of the government. Concerning the two security decrees that are Matteo Salvini’s proudest achievement, the premier reiterated that he wanted to implement the points indicated at the time by President Sergio Mattarella, while regarding the “Security bis” decree, he wants to return to the version put forward in May by the Council of Ministers, “before changes were introduced which, upon implementation, have compromised its overall balance,” he explained, provoking a noisy reaction from the Lega deputies.

This is a partial step back, but it still doesn’t change the anti-NGO orientation of the measure under Salvini’s Interior Ministry. Although less onerous, the fines for ships that do not respect the ban on entry would remain (€10,000 to €50,000 instead of €150,000 to €1 million), with the sequester of the ship in case of a repeat offense. Not exactly a great start.

However, it’s possible to see the glass as half full if we focus on the key word “welcoming.” The prime minister has used it several times in recent days, and so has Minister Lamorgese, who, during her tenure as prefect in Milan, made serious efforts to convince the mayors of the province to take charge of the asylum seekers. Promoting integration, as Conte emphasized on Monday in the Chamber of Deputies, means restoring all the services for asylum seekers that were cancelled by the reform of the SPRAR system (“Asylum Seeker and Refugee Protection System”) that Salvini pushed with the first security decree, such as Italian language courses or job training.

There should also be a new relationship with the EU, putting Salvini’s quarrels behind us, with the hope of being able to reach a definitive agreement for the distribution of migrants arriving in Italy throughout Europe, thus overcoming the current situation of emergencies dictated by moment-to-moment developments. 

The first decisive date will be Sept. 23 in Valletta, where the Interior Ministers of Malta, Italy, France, Germany and Finland (which holds the rotating Presidency of the EU) will meet to discuss this issue. Finally, another important point concerns the reform of the Dublin regulation, in particular the obligation for the country of first arrival to take charge of the migrants. One can only wonder why everyone keeps ignoring the fact that the European Parliament already passed an excellent reform over two years ago, which is still waiting to be examined by the officials of the member states and governments.

However, the road ahead will still be an uphill one, and not just because of the predictable opposition from the Visegrad countries, and more generally from countries in northern Europe, which are against the principle of quotas. According to information leaked from Brussels on Monday, the new Immigration Commissioner who will replace the outgoing Dimitris Avramopoulos (from Greece) will not belong to any of the countries most directly affected by the immigration emergency, i.e. those with the greatest interest in reforming the Dublin regulation.

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