The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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What Meloni winning Italian election might mean for Malta

Albert Galea Sunday, 2 October 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

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

The result of the polls over the weekend led many to say that Italy had somewhat come full circle since then, for the party which emerged as the most popular was the one with roots to fascism: Fratelli d’Italia, or rather, Brothers of Italy.

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

She capitalised on being the only major Opposition party to Matteo Draghi’s government of national unity and emerged as Italy’s most popular party with 26% of the popular vote.  Meloni is now tasked with hashing out a coalition government with her fellow right-wing allies: Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Being Malta’s closest neighbour, the political and economic goings-on in Italy have always had something of a potential knock-on effect for the country, and this new government, once it is formed, is also likely to have some impact.

 

Migration

We don’t have to look too far into the past to see what can happen when Italy decides to shut its doors to the migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

It was on 1 June 2018 that the notoriously hardline Matteo Salvini – then in a governing coalition with the anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle – was appointed as Interior Minister.

He used anti-immigration rhetoric widely in the run-up to the election and made the promise to close Italy’s ports – his famous Porti Chiusi slogan – one of the cornerstones of his campaign and political ideology.

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

This was the by-product of something of a secret deal between then Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi, wherein Italy would take irregular migrants and would then be allowed to look for oil in Maltese waters in return.

That agreement was stopped in its tracks the moment Salvini took over the interior portfolio, thereby resulting in tension between the two countries and resulting in Malta having a record number of migrant disembarkations – 3,406 in 2019.

Accusations were flung either way and Salvini’s governing counterpart Luigi di Maio once even brought up the Malta to Sicily interconnector in a veiled threat over a stand-off between the two countries over an NGO boat with migrants on board.

Those tensions died down when Salvini – who is now facing court action for refusing in 2019 to allow a Spanish migrant rescue ship to dock in Sicily – ceased to be Interior Minister.

As of late, Italy has been taking in more and more migrants and Malta has been taking in less and less – but that may change as Meloni harbours views on migration which are quite similar to those of Salvini.

Much like in 2018, Meloni and the two other parties in her coalition said in a jointly released platform that they want to block rescue vessels from Italian ports as a way to stop the “trafficking of human beings” from Africa.

Furthermore, her party has advocated for the setting up of something of a naval blockade around Libya in order to stop migrants leaving the North African country in the first place – a proposal which international experts have said is unlikely to come to fruition.

Failing that, her government is more likely to funnel more financial support into the Libyan government so that it can increase the capacity of its coastguard, which has been responsible for pushbacks of migrants leaving the country.

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

 

ItalExit?

Brothers of Italy is traditionally a Eurosceptic party and finds among its allies Hungary’s Viktor Orban – recently blasted by the EU for rule of law failures – and France’s Marine le Pen.

The impact any Italian exit from the European Union could have will spread wide, much like Brexit did, and will have an economic effect on Malta as well.

We need only to look at Brexit itself to see the effects that there could be: the United Kingdom’s exit from the single market has made the lives of businesses in Malta that rely on imports from the UK more difficult, and more expensive.

The most common effects reported by those impacted by Brexit in a study reported in the sister newspaper, The Malta Business Weekly last week, were increases in costs and regulations, longer lead times and lower availability of inputs and demand. In fact, the absolute majority of companies impacted by Brexit reported an increase in their input costs. These costs include transport costs and raw material prices, as well as other fees charged.

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

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

However, any fears of a Britain-style exit from the European Union for Italy have been quelled by Meloni who, despite her party’s historical background, has moved towards a softer stance, committing to staying within the EU – even if she remains vocal about wanting a more impactful and less bureaucratic union.

It remains to be seen, though, what Meloni’s relationship with the EU will be.  Her far-right counterpart and coalition partner Salvini gave the union a tough time and while Meloni may not be so direct, there are still powers such as the veto which she can wield on certain decisions.

Even then though, from a Maltese perspective, minds are somewhat at rest that Meloni will not be seeking to exit the European Union and that, therefore, not much will be expected to change in the economic relationship between the two countries.

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