Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the far-right League party, has regularly lambasted migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean. He called Carola Rackete, the German-born captain of the Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship, a "pirate" and an "outlaw." He has also said that Italy will not be used as a refugee camp by the rest of the European Union, and has accused Germany of "blackmail." Moreover, on June 11, he signed a decree ruling that any vessel entering Italian waters without permission would face a fine of up to €50,000.

But the reality of the negotiations with his EU partners doesn't necessarily correspond with Salvini's hard-line rhetoric.


BERLIN — If you want to get a sense of how two-faced populists are, you just need to look at Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The leader of the League has been fighting for months against Italy accepting migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa. On Facebook, he condemns all efforts to coordinate sea rescue operations at the European level, and derides meetings with his EU colleagues. Italy would "never sign a document that would allow everyone to come home to me," he said after a meeting of EU interior ministers in Helsinki to try to coordinate migrants' rescue. Salvini called a later meeting in Paris, which he did not even attend, a "flop."

What he is hiding to his supporters is that internally he has already approved in principle the plan for coordinated sea rescue operations.

Germany, Malta, France and Italy agreed on five points in Helsinki, which have been made public by the German Ministry of the Interior. They agreed on fighting smugglers, on creating better repatriation measures for rejected asylum seekers, but also on using more humanity. "We need a temporary controlled emergency mechanism for the reception and redistribution of those rescued from distress," reads one of the five points. It is a first compromise between the interests of Italians, where most migrants first arrive on European soil, and those of other states. It was a negotiation success for all sides. But in Salvini's public statements, we hear none of it.

He exaggerates details to create scandals.

Instead, the minister exaggerates details to create scandals. Initial considerations were that maritime rescue services can call on the "closest" port to bring migrants ashore. From there they would be quickly distributed to other EU countries. Salvini did not like that — rightly so. He worried that Italy would be the main target, not the more remote France. But instead of looking for a solution, he attacked his partners. Italy "raised its head," he declared, and wouldn't accept any orders.

What's the point of this? Does the minister worry that he will appear weak vis-a-vis his right-wing supporters if he cooperates with Germany and France? Or does he not stand behind the decisions he takes with his European partners?

It is pure double dealing. He is not only misleading Germany and France, but also the Italian people. The citizens of Italy should have the right to know what their minister has agreed to.

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