What Meloni’s victory in the Italian elections could mean for Malta

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All eyes in Europe were on Italy last week as the country went to the polls to elect its 71st government since the end of World War II.

The result of the weekend’s polls led many to say that Italy had somewhat come full circle since then, as the party that emerged as the most popular was the one with its roots in fascism: Fratelli from Italyor rather, Brothers of Italy.

Led by Giorgia Meloni, who is now set to become Italy’s first-ever female prime minister, the party is notoriously right-wing, with hardline stances on issues such as migration and progressive reforms related to women’s rights. and LGBTIQ+ rights.

It capitalized on being the only major opposition party to Matteo Draghi’s national unity government and became Italy’s most popular party with 26% of the vote cast. Meloni is now tasked with forming a coalition government with her fellow right-wing allies: Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

As Malta’s closest neighbour, political and economic events in Italy have always had a potential ripple effect on the country, and this new government, once formed, is also likely to have an impact.

Migration

We don’t need to look too far back to see what can happen when Italy decides to close its doors to migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

It was on June 1, 2018 that the notoriously intransigent Matteo Salvini – then a member of a government coalition with the anti-establishment movement Movimento Cinque Stelle – was appointed interior minister.

He has used anti-immigration rhetoric extensively in the run-up to the election and has made the promise to close Italian ports – his famous Porti Chiusi slogan – a cornerstone of his campaign and political ideology.

This came at a time when Malta was seeing fewer and fewer arrivals of illegal migrants, with the vast majority of those rescued being taken to Italy instead, even though they were rescued in Maltese waters.

It was the byproduct of some sort of secret deal between then Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi, in which Italy would take in irregular migrants and then be allowed to search for oil. in Maltese waters in return.

That deal came to a halt when Salvini took over the interior portfolio, leading to tensions between the two countries and leading Malta to a record number of migrant landings – 3,406 in 2019.

Accusations have been thrown back and forth and Salvini’s ruling counterpart Luigi di Maio has even brought up the Malta-Sicily interconnector in a veiled threat of a standoff between the two countries over a ship. NGO with migrants on board.

Those tensions eased when Salvini – who is now facing legal action for refusing in 2019 to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily – ceased to be interior minister .

Lately, Italy has been taking in more and more migrants and Malta less and less – but that could change as Meloni has views on migration that are quite similar to Salvini’s.

Just like in 2018, Meloni and the other two parties in his coalition said in a jointly published platform that they wanted to block rescue ships from Italian ports in order to put an end to “human trafficking” from Africa. .

In addition, his party has advocated for the establishment of some sort of naval blockade around Libya to prevent migrants from leaving the North African country in the first place – a proposal which international experts say , is unlikely to materialize.

Failing that, his government is more likely to funnel more financial support to the Libyan government so it can increase the capacity of its coast guard, responsible for turning back migrants leaving the country.

There will always be migrants who sneak through, however, and how their rescue is handled between Malta and Italy will be one of the key points in the dynamic between the two countries.

ItalQuit?

Brothers of Italy is traditionally a Eurosceptic party and counts among its allies the Hungarian Viktor Orban – recently castigated by the EU for his breaches of the rule of law – and the French Marine le Pen.

The impact that any Italian exit from the European Union may have will spread widely, just as Brexit did, and will also have an economic effect on Malta.

Just look at Brexit itself to see the effects it could have: the UK‘s exit from the single market has made life more difficult and more expensive for Maltese businesses that depend on imports from the UK .

The most common effects reported by those affected by Brexit in a study published in the sister journal, Malta’s Business Weekly last week have been cost and regulatory increases, longer lead times, and lower input availability and demand. In fact, the absolute majority of companies affected by Brexit reported an increase in their production costs. These costs include transportation costs and raw material prices, as well as other charges.

A Central Bank study showed that 73% of wholesale and retail businesses raised their selling prices in response to Brexit.

The effects of an Italian exit from the European Union could have the same impact, if not more, on the country and the way it does business.

However, any fears of a British-style exit from the European Union for Italy were allayed by Meloni who, despite his party’s historical background, took a softer stance, pledging to remain within of the EU – although she continues to want a more impactful and less bureaucratic union.

It remains to be seen, however, what Meloni’s relationship with the EU will be. Her far-right counterpart and coalition partner Salvini has given the union a hard time and while Meloni may not be so outspoken, there are still powers such as the veto she can wield over certain decisions. .

Even then, from the Maltese perspective, there is some reassurance that Meloni will not seek to leave the European Union and therefore economic relations between the two will not be expected to countries change a lot.

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