“To understand the tensions between France and Italy on the subject of migrants, it is necessary to place this theme over the long term and go back to 2011..” Jean-Pierre Darnis is a university professor and responsible for the Franco-Italian master’s degree at the University of Nice-Côte d’Azur.
At the time, hundreds of Tunisians landed in Italy while the Arab Spring has been inflaming the countries of North Africa for a year. Provided with a “temporary residence permit“provided by Italy, they can present themselves at the border and France cannot refuse to welcome them.”The sooner we issue them these papers, the sooner these immigrants will leave our country.“, proclaims Matteo Salvini, then deputy of the Northern League.
Tensions take root for good, in 2013, with the war in Libya initiated by France and which leads to large waves of migration to Italy.
“We will then see the idea of a French fault spreading in Italy which would have destabilized Libya and for which Italy would pay the piper.“, continues Jean-Pierre Darnis.
Fertile ground for the Italian far-right”who puts the package on anti-migrant speeches“, says Marie Bassi, lecturer at the University of the Côte d’Azur in Nice, a specialist in migration issues and questions.
Escalation of diplomatic tensions
Conference organized in 2017 on the war in Libya without Italy being invited, control of migrants by French customs officers in Bardonecchia (Piedmont), in Italian territory in 2018, the question of migrants is increasingly straining Franco-Italian relations.
“In the case of Bardonecchia, however, there was nothing illegalrecalls Jean-Pierre Darnis. But the theme has gained momentum in political speeches.” To the point that the French ambassador will even be summoned to respond to French policy at Farnesina, the Italian foreign ministry.
“The Ocean Viking affair trapped France“, continues Jean-Pierre Darnis, also a columnist for the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.
While voices in Italy reported on an informal agreement between Giorgia Meloni and Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of COP 27 in Sharm-el-Sheick last Tuesday for France to finally welcome the ship, the publication of a note by the Giorgia Meloni’s cabinet, publicly thanking France for its effort, immediately rekindled tensions. “Especially since Matteo Salvini has outbidcontinues Jean-Pierre Darnis. The Elysée was very embarrassed.“
Isolation of Italy on the European scene
Italy too alone in the face of migrant problems? This is also one of the key arguments of the Italian far right, in particular for the refusal to dock ships.
“In 2018, already, there was the resounding case of the Aquarius which finally docked in Spain after being refused access to the Italian gates.remembers Marie Bassi.
“The problem in Europe is that there is no common policy on the distribution and reception of migrants“, continues the researcher.
Scattered and bilateral agreements, such as the recent Quirinal agreements signed between France and Italy in 2021 where the two countries recognized “the need for a policy for the management of migratory flows and asylum, shared in the European Union and based on the principles of responsibility and solidarity” address the issue. But their proper application remains dependent on the political color of the governments in place.
“In 2015, Jean-Claude Juncker, then President of the European Commission had indeed attempted a fairer relocation of people but this had only been weakly applied..”
Little challenged for the moment, the Dublin agreements under which migrants are sent back to the country of arrival, is considered highly unfair by Italy, the preferred gateway for boats arriving from the Mediterranean. An argument there also strongly exploited by the Italian far right while the Peninsula remains the third country in terms of reception of asylum applications. Just behind Germany and France.
Migrant crisis: the underside of tensions between France and Italy