News Analysis: Italian politics being shaped by migrant issues as EU elections approaches

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, May 11, 2019
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by Eric J. Lyman

ROME, May 10 (Xinhua) -- Migration is shaping up to be a central issue for Italian voters heading into the upcoming elections for members of the European Parliament.

The biggest political change in Italy between the previous European election five years ago and the upcoming vote will almost surely the new power of the League, a nationalist party that is currently the junior partner in a two-party coalition government headed by Giuseppe Conte.

In 2014, the League won 6 percent of the vote for European Parliament, enough to take just five of Italy's 73 parliamentary seats. If the vote were held today, the polling firm Opinioni said the League would earn around a third of the vote, translating to at least 25 of Italy's 76 seats in the new parliament.

If that prediction holds true, it would not only make the League Italy's most powerful political party by a large measure, but also one of the best represented political parties in the European Parliament.

"There is little doubt that the League will see the biggest gains, and also that the central issue behind the rise of the League has been its strict stance against migration," Maria Rossi, Opinioni's co-director, told Xinhua.

In recent weeks, the Conte government took the unusual step of calling for European Union member states to act together to confront the risk of a wave of hundreds of thousands of would-be asylum seekers in the north African country of Libya from setting shore for Europe.

"I think it's true Europe should be coordinating their efforts, but more to avoid the humanitarian crisis that is growing in Libya," Stefania Panebianco, co-editor of the Global Affairs Department in the School of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Catania, said in an interview.

League supporters have also grasped data released by Italian law enforcement showing a significant fall in crime nationally compared to last year as a consequence of the Italian government's strict ban on migrant arrivals to the country. Overall, crimes were down 15 percent over the first four months of the year compared to the same period in 2018. Murders were 12 percent lower, attempted murders down 16 percent, and robberies fell by 21 percent.

"Crime rates in Italy have been falling for five years," Anna Italia, a security analyst with research entity Censis, told Xinhua, but doubted the relation between the decline and migrants. "It's really hard to attribute the latest figures to migrants. Look at the most frequent foreign nationalities in Italian prison. It's the Albanians and the Moroccans, and not the nationalities the government is blocking from entering the country."

Giuliano Bifolchi, head of the analysis unit with the Rome-based Association of Studies, Research and Internationalization in Eurasia and Africa, a think tank, said that even if the link between crime and the number of migrants in the country is minimal, it is easy for non-experts to think it is real.

"At first glance, that interpretation can make sense," Bifolchi said in an interview. "That is enough for a lot of people to make a decision." Enditem

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