Neither Malta nor Italy can cope alone. On Monday, Malta called for the EU to invoke a 2001 directive that grants migrants temporary protection in cases of ‘mass influx’. Italy also petitioned Brussels to spread the physical burden. The EU did not acquiesce in either case, which especially outraged the Italian government: both Berlusconi and immigration minister Maroni said that the European Union stands and falls together, and they threatened to withdraw.
Berlusconi’s government may be mired, but its response is striking nonetheless. In addition to the stern rhetoric, the Italians have issued arrivals with tourist visas in the hope that the immigrants will travel north. The countries to the north of Italy are signatories to the Schengen Agreement, so holders of Italian visas can cross their borders without passports.
One almost has to admire Berlusconi’s audacity: give that man a bunga. But, as the Economist’s Charlemagne reports, countries to the north of Italy are openly aghast at the Italians’ brazen irresponsibility, which has undermined the mutual trust needed for Schengen to operate. In response, France, Austria and various German states plan to introduce border checks, in direct contravention of the Schengen agreement. Incredibly, the EU ratified the Italian visas yesterday, which is certain to incense Paris, Vienna and Berlin still further.
First the sovereign debt crisis and now the Schengen fiasco: rarely can the European integration project have been more doubted by its chief proponents.
But Europe’s concerns over immigration do not end there. For example, the French press has been hounding interior minister Claude Guéant for weeks. The pressure forced Guéant to concede last month that the immigration system is ‘out of control’. A contentious immigration bill, designed to substantially reduce legal migration, is currently before the French parliament. Guéant expanded on his policy in this interview with Le Figaro and called for a Europe-wide report into immigration policy. Certainly, Sarkozy’s hand may have been forced by the resurgent Front National, but Marine Le Pen’s rampant success in some areas (£) is a symptom of sustained poor government rather than a cause.
The British government should be able to join with other European governments to force the EU to tackle immigration more effectively. For the EU’s part, Herman van Rompuy said yesterday that Brussels ‘can and must do more’ to allay the concerns of member states about immigration. Vince, it seems, is indeed just Vince.