When the German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw open Europe’s borders to over a million migrants three years ago – without a single security check – she didn’t consult with all of her EU counterparts, even though her decision would have disastrous consequences throughout the continent.
It was a classic example of the European political elite taking decisions without the slightest regard for the thoughts, feelings or welfare of the 500 million people they are supposed to represent.
Is it any wonder that so-called ‘populist’ parties – that is parties that actually listen to what voters want – have since surged in voter approval from Sweden to Austria, and from Hungary to Italy, to such an extent that the very future of the EU is now under serious threat?
Germany has not been immune from this anti-establishment uprising and Merkel’s decision to tear down Europe’s borders has come back to haunt her.
Following a series of high profile crimes committed by the migrants she invited in, including the Berlin terror attack in which 12 people were murdered in 2016, the Eurosceptic AfD party scored spectacular gains in German elections last September, and today Merkel is facing a growing revolt within her own CDU/CSU party.
But despite blame for the crisis being firmly laid at Merkel’s door, Germany did not suffer the worst of it. The impacts on countries closer to the migrant routes to northern Europe, for example Greece and Italy, were far more serious.
For example, since 2013 an estimated 700,000 migrants have been ferried to Italy by NGO ‘rescue ships’ and EU vessels. This placed huge pressure on a country already racked by high levels of debt, stagnant growth, and high unemployment, particularly amongst the young.
But Italy’s desperate pleas for help from the EU fell on deaf ears. In fact the French government closed its ports to migrant ships and mounted robust security operations on its border with Italy to keep the migrants out.
So much for the much lauded idea of EU “solidarity”.
When politicians stop listening to voters, we shouldn’t be surprised when the people vote for someone who will.
So it happened in March in Italy when the anti-establishment Lega and Five Star Movement pulled off a spectacular election victory on a Eurosceptic ticket.
The new Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini pledged to stop migrants being ferried to Italy and to deport all of the 500,000 illegal migrants in the country. This week he started to deliver on this promise when he refused to allow a charity boat, the Aquarius, loaded with over 900 migrants picked up off the coast of Libya, to dock in Italy.
This earned the new Italian government some withering criticism, not least from Emmanuel Macron who accused Italy of “cynicism and irresponsibility”.
The hypocrisy of the French President is staggering. As Salvini pointed out, the French agreed to accept 9,816 migrants to relieve the pressure on Italy as part of a 2015 EU redistribution scheme. So far in three years they have accepted just 640.
Salvini also argues that migration across the Mediterranean is part of a huge moneymaking racket run by ruthless people-smuggling gangs operating out of Libya. The NGO and charity ships are simply operating a naval taxi service by picking up these paying customers a few miles off the Libyan coast and transporting them to Italy.
Occasionally, the rickety boats setting off from Libya sink before the charity ships can reach them, and people drown. But that is clearly a price that the people-smugglers – and their enablers in the charities and NGOs – are prepared to pay.
The charities tell us the people on the board the ship are “desperate”, but not so desperate that they would seek refuge in the nearest safe port – in Tunisia. They have paid hard cash to get into Europe and they expect to get what they paid for.
The Aquarius is now en route to Valencia where the Spanish socialist government has agreed to allow it to dock. Good luck with that, Spain. I suspect if you accept many more migrant boats your politics will soon go the way of Italy’s.
Clearly France and Germany could do a lot more to help Italy cope with the crisis.
But surely Salvini is right when he points to the people-smugglers as the heart of problem. Unless we can disrupt their operations, and stop the charities from assisting them, the images of drowned children will become increasingly common.