Blame Macron for Europe’s migrant crisis, not Meloni. To have accused Italy of mishandling it could be construed as hypocrisy of the highest order.
France and Germany have fallen out again after the French interior minister Gérald Darmanin accused Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni of incompetence in her handling of the migrant crisis. In response, Itay’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, has canceled a meeting in Paris scheduled for Friday and he is demanding an apology from Darmanin for his “vulgar insults.” Meloni has put on hold her own visit to Paris, which was due to take place next month, according to the Italian press.
It’s not the first time the interior minister has outraged a neighbor. Twelve months ago, Darmanin was accused of wrongly laying the blame for the chaos that erupted in Paris during the Champions League final on Liverpool fans. In fact, they and the Real Madrid supporters were the victims of the lawlessness that has come to characterize the French capital in recent years. It took many weeks before Darmanin issued an apology through gritted teeth.
It’s not Meloni Darmanin should be attacking but the leader of his own country
His latest blunder is more serious, given the gravity of the situation in the Mediterranean: so far this year an estimated 40,000 migrants have crossed into Italy. This is having ramifications for France with a record number of unaccompanied minors breaching their border with Italy in March.
But instead of trying to work together to resolve the crisis, Darmanin used a radio interview on Thursday morning to attack Italy. Asked about recent comments made by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party regarding the worsening crisis on the Franco-Italian border, Darmanin retorted, “Madame Meloni, a far-right government chosen by Madame Le Pen’s friends, is incapable of solving the migration problems on which she was elected.”
Darmanin first angered Rome in November when he and Meloni had words following Italy’s refusal to allow an NGO migrant vessel to dock. France directed the ship to one of its ports, but not before the Italian prime minister criticized Darmanin’s “aggressive, incomprehensible and unjustified” reaction towards her country.
Tajani’s visit to Paris was supposed to be part of the reconciliation process, but that now lies in tatters thanks once more to Darmanin.
“The insults towards the government and Italy uttered by minister Darmanin are unacceptable,” announced Tajani in a tweet. “This is not the spirit in which common European challenges should be addressed.”
His French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, clearly embarrassed by the row, spoke subsequently to Tajani on the phone. “I told him that relations between Italy and France are based on reciprocal respect, between our two countries and their leaders,” she said. “I hope to be able to welcome him in Paris soon.”
Many commentators in France were surprised Darmanin survived the Stade de France scandal, and this latest diplomatic disaster will once again raise questions over his suitability for office. His petulant comments are perhaps an indication of the huge strain he is under, domestically and internationally. The police handling of the pension reform protests has drawn criticism from home and abroad, most recently from the United Nations. Then, last week on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte (a French Department), Darmanian was humiliated by a local court which put a stop to his attempt to evict illegal immigrants.
To have accused Italy of mishandling a migrant crisis could therefore be construed as hypocrisy of the highest order, a point made by Jordan Bardella, the president of the National Rally.
“With Gérald Darmanin as minister of the interior, France is beating all immigration records,” he tweeted. “A record that disqualifies him from giving the slightest lesson in firmness to our Italian neighbors.”
As undiplomatic as Darmanin’s remarks were, they hit a nerve in Rome, where there is growing despair at the soaring numbers of migrants landing on their shores. Last month, Italy declared a six-month state of emergency. But what unfolds in southern Europe will inevitably have repercussions in France and Britain, two of the most popular destinations for those making the voyage across the Mediterranean.
France’s response to all this seems to be insults and inertia; in February, Darmanin made a great play about the tough new immigration bill that would address the crisis. It was supposed to be presented to the Senate in March; then it was pushed back to the early summer. Last week, prime minister Elisabeth Borne announced it won’t be examined until the fall at the earliest. She cited a lack of cooperation between the governing Renaissance party and the center-right Republicans as the reason for its delay; their support will be needed in parliament. In reality, the division is within Macron’s own party, many of whom are opposed to any stringent crackdown on illegal immigration.
Herein lies the bitter truth for Darmanin, one of the few ministers in Macron’s government who genuinely understands the seriousness of the migrant crisis. It’s not Meloni he should be attacking but the leader of his own country. Macron has been in office longer than most EU heads of states, and since the departure of Angela Merkel in December 2021 he has regarded himself as the Union’s senior statesman. He therefore should take the initiative in co-ordinating a robust response to the chaos in the Mediterranean.
That was the ambition outlined by Macron in one of his first major speeches as president in September 2017. In an address entitled “Initiative for Europe,” Macron stressed both the urgency of the situation and the need for co-operation.
“In the coming years, Europe will have to accept that its major challenge lies there,” he said of the migrant crisis. “So long as we leave some of our partners submerged under massive arrivals without helping them manage their borders; so long as our asylum procedures remain slow and disparate; so long as we are incapable of collectively organizing the return of migrants not eligible for asylum, we will lack both effectiveness and humanity.”
But Europe has proved incapable of accepting the challenge. The number of migrants grows, and so do the insults between member states. Instead of effectiveness and humanity there is just ineffectiveness and humbug.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.