That hasn't happened since the war


Franco-Italian relations, already in crisis, are now sinking.

The Italian Foreign Minister has canceled his trip to Paris. And the whole government is waiting for a public apology for the words spoken to Giorgia Meloni. The other day the French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin said that Meloni "is not able to solve the migration problem, although it was the issue on which she won the elections." So, according to the French minister, Meloni is lying to her voters.

Migrants have been spoiling life for both neighbors for a long time. Meloni was elected last September, and a month and a half later the first crisis occurred. The salvage ship Ocean Viking picked up 230 migrants at sea and tried to take them to Italian shores. But the country's new right-wing government stood firm – your moorings will not be in our ports.

After a long showdown, involving the highest EU powers and convening special EU meetings, the ship sailed to the French port of Toulon, where the migrants disembarked. The French reaction was very "aggressive," as the Italian prime minister described it at the time.

And four years before the events described, France quarreled with the Italian leaders Salvini and Di Maio and even the French ambassador was recalled from Rome, one of the most extreme measures in diplomacy. Franco-Italian relations have been called "the worst since World War II."

The current episode is related to the fact that groups of refugees, mostly teenagers aged 16-17 and children, are coming from Tunisia. Parents themselves send their children to Europe, because it is impossible to imprison them as minors, but what if they manage to catch on and drag their whole family through a program of family reunification? In 2020, there were 7,000 underage refugees in Italy. And in 2022 there were 20,000.

According to the EU migration rules, the first country in the Union where a person applies for asylum is subsequently responsible for him. That is, if he is caught without documents in Germany, it would send him, for example, to Italy, where he declared his intentions.

The Tunisian teenagers understand that they will be refused in Italy right now, but it is the closest place to the coast. So they have to cross the "boot," move to France, where the rules and conditions are more tolerant, and apply there and wait.

During the four months of this year, according to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, 36,000 people entered Italy from the Mediterranean Sea. Roughly speaking, three hundred a day. Last year during the same period Italians counted 9,000 visitors. That is an increase of times. And the UN International Organization for Migration estimated that the deaths of migrants in the first quarter of 2023 broke the "record" of 2017.

In this context, France sent an additional contingent of gendarmes and police – 150 men for the present – to the frontier department of the Alpes-Maritimes and announced the creation on this basis of a new unit, for some reason called in English "Border Force."

French government spokesman Olivier Veran said that his country will no longer be able to implement bilateral agreements, which stipulate that France is ready to host 3,000 refugees currently on Italian territory as mutual assistance.

"In Australia," the French Minister of the Interior did not relent, "everything works fine. At the border, they 'accept' refugees, check their documents and send them away." In 2019, the country's then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison reopened the once-banned migrant camp on Christmas Island because of unrest that erupted. It's in the Indian Ocean, 2,300 kilometers from Western Australia's capital, Perth. It's practically near Indonesia. There is no time limit under Australian law for the preparation and review of a refugee file.

Somehow the French did not like Meloni immediately, although Macron declared that France would work with any prime minister. Meloni's campaign slogans nevertheless puzzled his neighbors. France's Secretary of State for European Affairs, Laurence Boone, and, indeed, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne emphasized that they would "closely monitor" respect for human rights in Italy and, in particular, women's right to abortion – these positions in Meloni's electoral program particularly puzzled the French leadership. The Italian prime minister said that such statements were "nothing but interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign EU member state."

Then there was a rather offensive episode for Meloni, connected with Zelensky's visit to Paris. Then Macron invited German Chancellor Scholz to participate in the meeting, but not the Italian prime minister. She was then indignant and recalled "European unity and the driving forces of the EU."

It turns out, in principle, that Meloni is just keeping her electoral commitments, but the French minister does not like it. The migrants are falling on his head. And Italy, most likely, just does not prevent the illegal transit of Tunisians through its territory, and it does not even register them – thus it does not bear any responsibility. But they are not in Italy – so the obligations are fulfilled.

On top of everything else, French Minister of the Interior Darmanin is preparing to present a new draft law on immigration to the French parliament, which will surely be a fight. And after barely pushing through a pension reform, resorting to a constitutional trick with Article 49.3, which allows the law to be approved without parliament, the government has now run out of options. There will be a real fight over the migration law – its discussion has already been postponed, and there are crowds of Tunisians from Italy.

Meloni's official state visit to Paris is scheduled for early summer. But somehow it is hard to believe it.