9th Dec 2023

Far-right Meloni praises von der Leyen's migration stance

  • Italy's far-right prime minister Georgi Meloni praised the letter on migration sent by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: European Union)
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The European Commission is sending out political signals that its top priority on migration is to shore up borders, send people packing, and prevent others from arriving.

A letter sent ahead of the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (26 October) by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, lays out a vision on migration that appears to increasingly echo far-right grievances [see letter here and annex].

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"The fact that von der Leyen is sending a letter is very symbolic," said Italy's far-right prime minister Georgi Meloni.

In it, von der Leyen says that the way forward on migration first entails strengthening external borders and stopping others from fleeing on boats towards Europe.

And she praises the delivery of rescue vessels to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia as a sign of progress in its broader efforts to stem irregular migration towards Europe.

Egypt is set to get its first of three boats in December, while Libya already received five, and Tunisia is set to get EU funds to retrofit others.

"All five vessels promised to Libya have been delivered and we see the impact of increase patrols," wrote von der Leyen.

Such boats have in the past fired shots to intimidate rescue operations in waters under the Maltese search zone. But they have also intercepted around 11,000 people so far this year.

The boats are part of a larger and very visible effort by the EU to curtail migration amid wider fears that the recent war in Gaza could spark an increase in boat departures towards Europe.


For Egypt, the plan includes a possible partnership agreement on migration that spans anti-smuggling and the promotion of legal pathways.

Von der Leyen says Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry had "confirmed interest" in a deal during a meeting with EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.

Such ideas are likely to be discussed next month at an EU-Egypt meeting on migration. The end of November will also see a much larger conference to tackle migrant smuggling.

Orban conflates migration and terrorism

The praises also comes against the backdrop of Thursday and Friday's summit of EU leaders where Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban conflated migration with terrorism. "Those who support migration also support terrorism," the nationalist-conservative leader told reporters on arriving at the Brussels venue.

And it also came amid a further political push to return rejected asylum seekers back to their home countries, following recent terror attacks in Belgium and in France.

"We need to work more on return, the last weeks showed us that there are loopholes," said European Parliament president Roberta Metsola.

The terror attack in Brussels by a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia had in fact followed a series of administrative cock-ups and incompetence by the Belgian authorities.

Belgium's justice minster has since resigned, after it was revealed Tunisia had demanded Belgium extradite the suspect last year. Yet that demand was neglected by Belgian justice authorities.

The attacker was shot and killed by armed police, the morning after shooting dead two random Swedish football fans in the Belgian capital.

Hard borders

Von der Leyen's letter also demands a shoring up of external borders.

The emphasis on external borders, some of which have already been walled off, have also seen a surge of rights abuses and internal border closures amid a backdrop of a fractured asylum system in Europe.

EU-funded pilot projects to fast-track asylum and fund border technologies in Bulgaria and Romania are now being touted as a possible best practice for others to copy.

Although draft EU summit conclusions, seen by this website, make only a cursory reference to migration, the issue remains politically-charged and tricky for an EU leadership that has yet to deliver on promises made years ago.

This includes cutting deals with autocrats and using visa-free regimes as leverage to get others to take back their nationals in exchange for "tailor-made partnerships".


How centre-right conservatives capitulate to the far-right

Many conservatives in Europe seem to have forgotten the lesson of 1930s Germany. They sacrifice their principles on the altar of the polls and all-too-often try to overtake rightwing radicals on their own pet subjects like security or migration.

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