Italy’s new government has declared victory in a standoff over a German-owned rescue boat that brought hundreds of migrants to its shores. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused MS Aquarius, which carried 629 migrants on board, to dock over the weekend. Spain’s newly elected Socialist government accepted the boat, which ended the impasse.

“Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not,” Minister Salvini wrote on Facebook. “Italy is done bowing its head and obeying. This time there’s someone saying no.”

“France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration,” Salvini told reporters on Sunday. He announced the move on Twitter using hashtags such as “we’re shutting our ports”.

Surprisingly, there was hardly any reaction from Germany and the European Union, as the UK left-wing newspaper The Guardian remarked, “Germany was too busy to comment as its leaders sound off over tougher asylum laws in response to the grisly murder of a teenage girl. Last week, German police detained an Iraqi asylum-seeker, who later confessed raping and murdering a 14-year-old Jewish girl in Mainz, near Frankfurt.

France-based broadcaster EuroNews covered the incidents that unfolded off the coast of Italy:

More than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean will be transferred from the overloaded ship that saved them onto other vessels for the voyage to Spain.

After Italy and Malta refused to accept the 629 passengers on board the Aquarius, Madrid stepped in and said it was prepared to open a port. (…)

Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini banned the ship from docking, saying he wanted to prevent the country becoming a “huge refugee camp”. Salvini said Malta should accept the boat and its passengers, who had been rescued at sea in separate operations off the Libyan coast. When Malta also refused, new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made an offer to take the ship at Valencia.

The ship was registered to SOS Méditerranée, a Berlin-based NGO. According to the charity, “the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya,” British daily Independent reported. It is unclear why Italy must feel obliged to accept refugees rescued by a German-owned boat picking up migrants off the coast of Libya. Estimated 600,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s coasts from Africa since the refugee influx began five years.

The incident confirmed Brussels concerns over the new anti-EU government in Rome. Last month, Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing League party formed a coalition government. The parties were called to form the government after the EU-backed Italian establishment failed to install an unelected pro-EU prime minister without consulting the major elected parties. French opposition leader Marie Le Pen had described the move to nominate Carlo Cottarelli—pro-EU technocrat and former director of the International Monetary Fund—at the helm of the Italian government as “a coup d’état, a robbery of the Italian people by illegitimate institutions.”

Many in the European ruling establishment are still incensed by the formation of a right-wing government in Rome and want to take the “insubordinate” government head on. The EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger wanted “markets” to punish Italian voters for daring to vote anti-EU parties into power. “[C]oming weeks will show that the development of the markets, government bonds and the economy of Italy will be so far-reaching that this will be a possible signal to voters not to vote for populists on the right or left,” Oettinger told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Oettinger, who belongs to Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, was later forced to apologize for his comments.

Earlier this month, the billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros, who funds several pro-immigration charities, urged the EU not to seek direct confrontation with the Italy’s newly elected government over its tougher immigration policy. The EU “will dig its own grave by provoking a negative response from the Italian electorate, which would then re-elect Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega Nord with an increased majority,” Soros warned.

The standoff in the Mediterranean sea could be an opening salvo in Italy’s confrontation with the EU and European establishment over the open border migrant crisis. By taking a tough stance of illegal immigration, Italy’s ruling alliance is merely fulfilling its electoral promises. This, however, is an alien concept for Europe’s present ruling class to wrap it head around.

[Cover image via YouTube]


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