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20th Jan 2020

Italy targets Hungary with EU budget threat on migrants

  • Migrants have been stranded in the Italian port for a week (Photo: Contando Estrelas Follow)

Top officials from Italy's ruling Five Star Movement (M5S) said EU funds to Hungary should be suspended because it was unwilling to take in migrants.

The parliamentary leaders of the Italian populist party spoke ahead of a meeting on Tuesday (28 August) between Italy's far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini and Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban.

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  • Prosecutors started investigating Salvini for possible kidnapping a few hours before migrants were allowed to disembark (Photo: European Parliament)

"Countries that do not participate in relocation and which do not even deign to respond to Italy's request for help, should no longer receive European funds from us, and among these at the moment, is Hungary," Francesco D'Uva and Stefano Patuanelli, leaders of M5S in Italy's chamber of deputies and senate, said in a statement over the weekend.

Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, which is also part of the Italian ruling coalition, said last week in an interview that he would review the EU's asylum policy with Hungary's Orban.

The Hungarian leader has been a staunch opponent of distributing migrants across member states, something which Italy, as a frontline country on the Mediterranean, has been pushing for.

The 5MS statement highlights the difficult and unlikely nature of the alliance between Salvini and Orban.

Both of them are hardline anti-migrant politicians, but they see the problem differently, with Italy pushing for EU burden-sharing and with Hungary pushing for national control of immigration.

An EU level compromise on the bloc's asylum policy has been made difficult by the two countries' stubborn and opposing positions, EU officials said earlier.

The meeting comes after Italy allowed around 150 people to disembark from the Diciotti, a coast guard ship, after they spent nearly a week at a port in Sicily.

Salvini let them off the boat only when Albania, a non-EU country, and Ireland, an EU state, pledged to take about 20 people each.

The Italian bishops' conference, a religious organisation, also promised to take care of 100 of them.

Salvini had earlier vowed not to allow disembarkation unless EU countries took them all.

But the migrants were allowed off the boat shortly after Sicilian prosecutors announced they were opening an investigation into Salvini for "illegal confinement, illegal arrest and abuse of power", Italian media reported.

Italy renews budget threat

A meeting of EU diplomats last Friday from around a dozen countries did not produce any pledges to take in the Diciotti migrants.

EU leaders, at a recent summit, agreed to create new disembarkation centres on both the southern and northern Mediterranean Sea coasts, but these have not yet been built.

The EU has struggled for the past two years to reform its asylum laws, which require the first country where migrants enter to take care of them, putting the bulk of the burden on Italy, Greece, Malta, and Spain.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos welcomed Albania and Ireland's pledge to take in the Diciotti migrants, calling it the result of "solidarity across borders and communities", but he also said that a permanent solution was needed.

The 5MS threat to Hungary comes after Italy also. threatened to refuse to pay into the EU budget unless other countries relocated the migrants.

Italy's deputy prime minister, M5S's Luigi Di Maio, kept up the war of words on Sunday.

"We will look at all measures in discussions regarding the European budget and will block what's not convenient for us," he said.

"The European Union has decided to turn its back on Italy once again," Di Maio said.

EU fiscal rules

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte also said on Saturday that Italy cannot follow EU fiscal rules so long as the migration issue remains unresolved.

His warning came ahead of an expected showdown with the EU over his government's inflated budget plans, with countries due to present their budget proposals to the European Commission in October.

In anticipation of the budget confrontation with the EU, Italy's government is seeking investment as it prepares to break eurozone spending rules.

Italian finance minister Giovanni Tria is currently on a mission to attract investors in China, while PM Conte won a pledge from US president Donald Trump that the US will buy Italian government debt, Bloomberg reported.

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