James Forsyth

Will Italy’s first fight with Brussels be over immigration?

Will Italy's first fight with Brussels be over immigration?
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Italy has a new Prime Minister: Giuseppe Conte, who heads up a Five Star / Lega coalition. He presented his list of ministers to President Mattarella this morning and, with the Eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona moved from Finance to European affairs, it was accepted. The way is now paved for this Five Star / Lega coalition to start governing.

President Mattarella has succeeded in preventing Savona’s appointment as Finance Minister without collapsing the whole government, which must be considered a success for him. But his victory is not total. Savona is still in the government and will be able to cause plenty of trouble from his role as Europe minister. His likely replacement as Finance Minister, Giovanni Tria, has also been deeply critical of the single currency.

But, I suspect, that the new government’s first confrontation with Brussels will come over immigration not the single currency. Salvini, the extremely ambitious leader of Lega, has taken the Interior Ministry for himself. He is already talking about delivering on his campaign pledge to deport half a million undocumented immigrants. I sense that if there isn’t some agreement on burden sharing at the European Council later this month, Salvini will take matters into his own hands; putting him on a collision course with Brussels. He’ll be confident that in this fight, Italian public opinion—wearied by years of dealing with the refugee crisis with little help from the rest of Europe—will be on his side.