Unemployment, population decline, changes in immigration and global events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Syria and Libya strengthen Italy’s anti-immigrant and anti-EU parties and their chances for power national.
Immigration and anti-EU rhetoric will play an increasingly important role in the upcoming regional and national elections in Italy. This will likely help Matteo Salvini and his anti-immigrant League party and Giorgia Meloni and his Brothers of Italy party to win elections in regions that have historically supported center-left politicians. The combination of national concerns and international events surrounding immigration issues could allow the League, the Brothers of Italy and the 5 Star Movement to gain national power, shift Italian politics to the right and harm to Italy’s relations with the EU.
Immigration in Italy in figures
Overall, illegal immigration to Italy has declined in recent years. Eleven thousand five hundred migrants arrived in Italy by boat in 2019, compared to 181,000 in 2016. However, there has been a significant increase in the number of immigrants arriving on Italian coasts by sea ââin 2020. Despite the overall decline, Italian anti-immigrant parties continue to call for stricter border enforcement, more deportations of migrants already in Italy and changes to asylum rules.
Even though Salvini failed in his August 2019 attempt to bring his League party to power, his anti-immigrant platform continues to advance in regional elections. The election in Umbria in October 2019 of Donatella Tesei, supported by the League, is an example. More recently in Emilia-Romagna, the League almost toppled the center-left regional government in power for seven decades. Although the center-left won the majority, looking at the distribution of votes between the parties, the League is only 2 percentage points behind the center-left. The League candidate lost around 100,000 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast. Anti-immigrant policies were the main element of their candidate’s platform.
Italian domestic concerns
Italy’s interior population is in decline. In 2019, Italy’s total population fell from 116,000 to 60.3 million. A steady increase in immigrant births helped offset the decline in the domestic birth rate, but the decline stuck. The loss of population is more visible in rural Italy, especially in the south, a phenomenon called rural void. Between 2000 and 2018, rural Italy lost nearly 800,000 inhabitants.
Young Italians settle in big cities or in other countries, leaving only the elderly in the villages. Some rural villages even resort to selling properties for one euro if the buyer agrees to live in the city and maintain the property. The decline of Italians living in these regions, combined with immigrant arrivals, has led some Italians to claim that Italy is becoming less Italian. These trends worry ordinary Italians, who feel that their way of life is threatened and must be protected from outside influences.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is felt among young people as well as older Italians, even in prosperous regions. One of the causes of this feeling is high youth unemployment. At 29% even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy’s youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in the euro area. As a result, many Italians leave Italy to find work in other countries.
Many unemployed people blame immigrants and EU policies for the situation. They have the feeling that the center-left parties have let them down and therefore the League, the Brothers of Italy and the 5-Star Movement are gathering part of the votes of young people. In recent pre-election data, the 5 Star Movement garnered the support of 31% of 18-22 year olds and 35% of 23-28 year olds. With the fall of the 5 Star Movement in recent polls, some of the youth support will go to the League and eventually to the Brothers of Italy.
The origin of immigrants has also changed. In the years following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, many migrants came from these countries. In 2019, the the biggest number of official migrants came from Tunisia (2,654), followed by Pakistan and CÃ´te d’Ivoire with more than 1,100 each. Many Pakistanis and Tunisians in Italy own, operate and maintain vegetable stalls and other small shops. Newly arrived immigrants find it more difficult to integrate than previous waves because they are culturally, racially and religiously more distinct from Italians.
In addition to national issues, international events help anti-immigrant parties. The COVID-19 outbreak means 60 million Italians only recently emerged from government lockdown, isolation and travel bans. Italy had one of the highest case numbers in Europe, and the outbreak was centered around the economic hubs of northern Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. The effects on the Italian economy have been extreme and are not yet fully felt.
Additionally, Salvini, Meloni and other anti-immigrant and anti-EU politicians have used the crisis to call for tighter borders and accuse immigrants and foreign tourists of bringing the virus to Italy. They also blame the EU for acting too slowly and ignoring Italy. Meloni joked:
âWhen the coronavirus was just an Italian problem, it was of no interest to anyone in the EU. They only did things when the virus arrived in Germany. “
Salvini for his part called for a tough approach, including closing all borders. As the true extent of the damage to the Italian economy becomes clearer and unemployment rises, anti-immigrant parties will find more support for the view that Italy needs to protect itself from the outside world. The last Politics The poll shows the League poll at 26%, 5 stars at 16% and the Brothers of Italy at 15%.
Other global crises are also having an effect. Continuing fighting in Syria’s Idlib province has created 1 million refugees, many of whom are heading to Europe, as evidenced by recent migrant clashes on the Greek-Turkish border. Turkey allows Syrian refugees to cross its territory unhindered. As the cracks in the Syrian ruling elite begin to widen, it is likely that there will be more unrest.
In addition, the conflict in Libya is escalating as both sides procure weapons and prepare for a long fight. Foreign powers (Turkey, Russia and Egypt) are sending weapons, mercenaries and troops into the country, and the entry of UN flights providing humanitarian aid has been blocked. Any significant increase in the fighting is sure to create refugees and increase the number of migrants seeking to reach Italy by boat. Libya is a transit point for migrants from other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, so more chaos there will hamper all efforts by the Libyan authorities to stop the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. Italy and the EU need to quickly develop coherent policies on these issues and have so far failed to do so.
Italy is a unique signal for anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiments across Europe. Anti-immigrant and anti-EU politicians in Italy are adept at exploiting local issues and world events that are currently eliciting âItaly firstâ sentiments. Salvini and Meloni are the Italian politicians to watch in the coming months, as national concerns and international events could allow their parties to gain national power, tilt Italian politics to the right and damage relations between them. Italy with the EU.