France-Italy border dispute over migrants - is the EU breaking up?
Issued on: Modified:
On Sunday, Italy's Matteo Salvini invited France's newly appointed Christophe Castaner to Rome for talks. Symptoms of a larger discord between EU's nationalist and reformist factions?
On Sunday, Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini invited his French counterpart Christophe Castaner to a summit in Rome.
"Italy will no longer be helpless and cowardly. We will no longer accept being Europe's refugee camp", he declared.
A day earlier, Italy set up a special border patrol after French authorities continued to return migrants who crossed over to France from Italy.
Salvini said that Italian troops would stay in place pending talks with France's new Interior Minister.
Salvini condemns "hostile act" by France
The rhetoric between Italy and France, concerning the passage of migrants between the two countries, escalated over the weekend.
Matteo Salvini fired off tweets accusing French authorities of "abuse" and possible "hostile acts".
This was after French border police turned back migrants trying to enter French soil from the Italian village of Claviere.
In retaliation, Salvini set up a special border patrol in the area.
He also tweeted a provocative video
Video filmed by Claviere resident, tweeted by Matteo Salvini
++ ????Video incredibile! Condividi il più possibile! ++Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) 19 octobre 2018
Girato questa mattina a Claviere, sul confine Italia-Francia. Anche questa auto della polizia francese aveva sbagliato strada???
Macron, rispondi! pic.twitter.com/7qeLmwO2NL
Saturday's events were sparked off by another incident a few days earlier, when French local police dropped off two migrants in the woods of Claviere.
EU law versus bilateral agreements
France claims that sending migrants back to Italy is standard procedure, in accordance with EU law.
The Dublin agreement legislates that migrants must seek asylum in the European country they first set foot on.
However, Salvini claims there had been no bilateral agreement between France and Italy on such matters.
"Times have changed, and Italy will no more accept foreigners arrested on French soil without identity checks performed by Italian police." Salvini said.
Thousands of migrants trying to enter France from Italy
Each year, thousands of migrants trying to enter France are pushed back to Italy by French border police.
Last week, Matteo Salvini claimed 40,000 migrants had been thus returned to Italy since the beginning of the year.
"It is President Macron's right to protect his border," he said. "But let him not lecture me with moral discourse".
EU nationalists versus reformists - round one ?
The meeting between Italy's Matteo Salvini and France's Christophe Castaner will be a litmus test, both for France's Castaner as well as for European politics.
As France's newly appointed Interior Minister, this will be Castaner's first summit on migration, an issue tearing apart the current European political landscape.
On a larger scale, a Castaner-Salvini head-to-head may be considered the first round of a larger sparring game between rival political forces in Europe.
All three are characterised by nationalist rhetoric and anti-migrant policies.
Castaner, on the other hand, is a loyal footsoldier to French president Emmanuel Macron -- known for his desire to reform Europe with free-market economic policies.
The French president recently went on a tour of Denmark and Finland to woo these countries over to his side.
Mateo Salvini and Victor Orban issued a recent statement positioning themselves as opponents to Macron's vision of Europe.
As the 2019 elections approach, it is highly probable that this sort of incident concerning migrants be used as a catalyst to spur on the growing rivalry.