20th Jan 2022

Italy and EU trade barbs on Lampedusa migrants

  • Berlusconi wants to buy up the old Tunisian boats and start a fishing business 'when I'm out of politics' (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Italy on Wednesday (30 March) accused the EU of "inertia" in helping to relocate the north African migrants currently overcrowding its tiny island of Lampedusa, where premier Berlusconi made populist promises of swift evacuations and nominated the island for the Nobel peace prize.

"At this time, Europe is completely inert," Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with Sky TV. He dismissed the previous offers for additional funding made by the EU commission and said the matter was not about extra money, but about a "plan to distribute among member-states a sudden massive influx of refugees," similar to the one experienced by Italy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Since most of the Tunisians arriving in Lampedusa are economic migrants looking for jobs in France, the EU should also assist Italy with their repatriation, Frattini added. He also lashed out at Paris for "not showing solidarity" and sending Tunisians back to Italy.

Under EU law, governments can send back only asylum applicants, not irregular migrants, to the first country of arrival. An exception so far has been made only concerning Greece, where reception conditions for asylum seekers are more horrendous than in Italy.

An EU commission spokesman in Brussels meanwhile rebuffed the Italian complaints, saying that "funds are made available," with €80 million allocated in 2010 and 2011 for border assistance, repatriations and refugee aid last year, on top of €25 million of emergency funds handed to all EU member states.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, while on a trip in Tunisia, told AFP that she was working on convincing the new government in Tunis to sign a readmission agreement which would allow the migrants to be sent back to their home country.

As for Frattini's suggestion to make up a plan for other member states to take in some immigrants, Malmstrom said: "The European Commission can only encourage them. It cannot force states to take in people."

Frattini's comments came just hours before Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made a snap visit to the island of Lampedusa, making generous promises of evacuating the migrants within 48-60 hours, offering economic sweeteners for the local tourism and fishing industry and "nominating Lampedusa for the Nobel peace prize."

But even as Berlusconi was paraphrasing the famous John F. Kennedy quote by saying "I am a Lampedusan," to the ovations of a small crowd, another boat with some 100 migrants arrived on the dock, boosting the ranks of the 6,000 migrants outnumbering the regular inhabitants of the island.

Berlusconi also told Lampedusans he had bought a villa there and joked about buying up the migrants' boats piling up in the old port: "That way when I am out of politics I will use them to set up a fresh fish business."

Not everybody acclaimed the Berlusconi pledges. In Puglia, on the Italian mainland, a mayor rendered his resignation, along with Italy's deputy interior minister, as a makeshift shelter located there, which should have been capped at 1,500 migrants from Lampedusa, was set to receive an extra 1,400 following the Berlusconi plan.

Macron promises strong EU borders

Obligatory detentions, more security-screening, and faster deportations - these are the French EU presidency's migration priorities.

MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'

MEPs will vote on new rules setting out transparency obligations for online players and holding Big Tech giants accountable. But some issues proved to be divisive after EU lawmakers tabled over a hundred amendments on the file.

Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia

Emmanuel Macron also took hits from French political opponents, including the Green party presidential challenger MEP Yannick Jadot in the European Parliament ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in France in April.


Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers

President Emmanuel Macron's address to the European Parliament championed a bold and ambitious pro-European agenda. There is one problem though - the plans rely on a system of governance that has gridlocked the EU for over a decade.


Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?

The EU plans to label natural gas as 'green' in sustainable investment rules. From 2026 it will have to be blended with low-carbon gases like green hydrogen - but many scientists warn this is inefficient, costly and damaging to health.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs call for full-scale election observers in Hungary
  2. Nato membership 'very unlikely' on her watch: Finland's PM
  3. Germany investigates Green leaders' Covid-bonuns
  4. Officials surprised by Macron's call for seperate EU-Russia talks
  5. Commission to withhold EU funds from Poland in mine row
  6. 'Patriotic millionaires' call for wealth tax at virtual Davos
  7. Borders must not be moved by force, Scholz warns
  8. MEPs demand public consultation on gas and nuclear


An EU-Africa 'equal partnership' must tackle past and present

Competition is fierce and getting African leaders' attention is no easy task. US president Joe Biden has his own Africa summit, and Turkey, Japan, Russia and - most importantly - China, also have Africa forums up and running.


Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show

On Thursday, MEPs must press for a ban on all live exports outside the EU, and call for overall journey times within the EU to be limited to four hours for poultry and rabbits, and eight hours for other animals.

Latest News

  1. Macron promises strong EU borders
  2. MEPs to crackdown on digital 'Wild West'
  3. Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia
  4. Macron's vision will hit EU Council veto buffers
  5. Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?
  6. Tomorrow MEPs can end EU animal export horror show
  7. An EU-Africa 'equal partnership' must tackle past and present
  8. Metsola becomes youngest EU Parliament president

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us