Europe Minister discusses issues relating to Italian election
Italy – European elections – Interview given by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, to France Info TV’s “L’instant politique”
Paris, 5 March 2018
Q. – Italy, where there is a complex election result, which is inconvenient for pro-Europeans at any rate, since the Five Star Movement is in the lead. Matteo Salvini, who is leader of the Northern League, a close friend of Marine Le Pen, is claiming power and seems poised to get it. Does this worry you?
THE MINISTER – For the time being, no one has won since no one has an absolute majority. This means that there is bound to be a coalition and this, moreover, is what the highly complicated and pretty odd electoral system was meant to promote. But we don’t know what coalition…
Q. – Even so, there are some who have won more than others and those who have won the most are the Eurosceptics and anti-Europeans.
THE MINISTER – That depends, because Eurosceptics – the Five Star Movement and the League – have got very significant results but neither is able to govern alone. We’ll see what coalition is formed after the election. You’ll recall, for instance, that the Five Star Movement began its campaign by saying it wouldn’t govern with anyone else; however, yesterday evening they launched an appeal for people to go and see them. So it’s a very fluid, very unstable situation.
Q. – Nevertheless, a coalition has won, the right-wing coalition; within that coalition, the Northern League won against Silvio Berlusconi. Matteo Salvini has said he’s in a position to govern. Does that worry you?
THE MINISTER – What’s striking is dégagisme (1). We’ve seen it elsewhere in Europe and here in a country where the traditional parties have been very much weakened: Berlusconi’s right-wing party and the democratic party of Matteo Renzi, who announced his resignation today. These traditional parties have been very much weakened. People went and voted for something offered that was more or less new – more or less, because the League isn’t that new –, with people who haven’t had responsibilities in government.
Q. – What’s being offered is right wing, indeed far right, and very anti-European.
THE MINISTER – Very anti-European in the same way as the Five Star Movement says it is anti-establishment. People went and looked for what they haven’t had yet. In France last year, Emmanuel Macron won because he offered something new. We were lucky that in the French political landscape, something new was offered which proposed concrete solutions which weren’t confined to simplistic slogans. This isn’t necessarily the case everywhere in Europe.
Q. – Who is Matteo Salvini? He’s said to be a close friend of Marine Le Pen. Do you know him? Is he a man from the far right?
THE MINISTER – He’s in the same parliamentary group as Marine Le Pen at the European Parliament. The League has already come forward on several occasions with Berlusconians employing language, for example, which was very harsh this year, especially at the start of the campaign, criticizing Europe; this has subsequently become more subdued. We still don’t know exactly… It’s been said that the League wanted to get Italy out of the euro and then in the end it has gone back. They’ve said they were going to alter the treaties; we know other leaders who have said the same thing before coming to power.
Q. – Sorry to press the point, but since he’s in the same group as Marine Le Pen, can you confirm that this evening the third- or fourth-biggest European power could be led in a few days by someone who’s in the same political group as Marine Le Pen?
THE MINISTER – Not alone. As everyone has seen, in Europe, a number of governments include far-right ministers – it’s never good news. The rise of the far right in Europe is never good news, particularly in a country as important as Italy, but this isn’t an isolated case.
Q. – I was surprised to hear the French President mentioning a context of strong migratory pressure to explain the result. I have a specific question: since, if the President is to be believed, there are too many immigrants in Italy, must we send back those known as “Dublined” – i.e. people who entered Europe via Italy and whom we’ve pledged to send back to Italy?
THE MINISTER – That’s not what Emmanuel Macron said: he didn’t say there were too many immigrants. He said the election result was the consequence of a context of strong migratory pressure, and populist parties are parties that stir up fear, and particularly fear of migrants. It’s what they’ve built part of their discourse on. Both the Five Star Movement, which says it doesn’t fit into any category, and the League have used anti-migrant discourse.
Q. – Is France’s official line that we should send back so-called Dublined people?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely. We should send them back to the country that has to examine their asylum applications.
Q. – Is that still on the agenda, when the President also says migratory pressure is already too strong in Italy? So should we be increasing it?
THE MINISTER – It’s not about increasing migratory pressure. It’s about asking ourselves whether someone who applies for asylum must do so in the country where they enter the European Union, or go where they want to apply for asylum. The principle of the Dublin system is actually that you request asylum in the country you enter, not elsewhere.
Q. – If we send them back to Italy, we’ll be increasing the migratory pressure the President himself says is too strong.
THE MINISTER – The President was the first, last summer, to ensure that we European countries work together, particularly with Italy, and much better with the countries at the origin of economic migration, by developing economic aid to those countries geared towards training and jobs, and that we also work to ensure we can try and stabilize transit countries.
We were the first to provide a response, the first to whom the Italians said, “at last we’re no longer alone, we’re no longer abandoned. The European Union, thanks to Emmanuel Macron’s action, is tackling the problem head-on”. It’s been observed that this year, at any rate in 2017, the migratory pressure has begun to decline in Italy, which indeed has been confronted with the arrival of some 700,000 migrants since 2014.
Q. – The elections in Italy follow other ballots in Europe that have shown Euroscepticism. In your opinion, will this have consequences on the next campaign, the next European election results? In your opinion, is a progressive majority still possible?
THE MINISTER – What happened in Germany yesterday shows, on the contrary, that our great partner is capable of establishing a resolutely pro-European government, not only in language, because there’s a coalition contract that was signed by the SPD, the CDU and the CSU which is very pro-European…
Q. – Yes, that’s the good news, but there’s a lot of bad news in Europe. And even among the good news, if we return to the elections, pro-European parties have declined considerably; the CDU-CSU grouping, which accounted for 70% of votes, now accounts for only 53%. So even if there’s a government agreement, Europe hasn’t gained from it.
THE MINISTER – There’s discontent, there’s worry. In Europe there are not only strong expectations with regard to Europe but also dissatisfaction and incomprehension. That’s why we’ve urged all our partners, 26 out of 27, to organize citizens’ consultations on Europe this year. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not for fun! It’s because we really need to know what Europeans expect from Europe, and also what they’re suggesting. Not to let populists take away the voices of European peoples but quite simply to give them their voices, listen, European policy by European policy, in order to see what we do too much, not enough, and what we could do better or differently. And by starting on the ground, by injecting democracy into the European enterprise, we’ll be able to address a whole load of challenges which, by nature, are European challenges. We’ve talked about migration, which is a challenge for the whole continent; we won’t resolve it by shutting ourselves away behind our borders./.
(1) An attitude which advocates the ousting, by force or other means, of political leaders deemed illegitimate.