American voters in Italy: ‘The future has never looked so uncertain’

It's been a long night for Italians and expats following the US election, with no clear result but a strong lead for Republican hopeful Donald Trump at 7:30am. So what do Americans living in Italy think, and what does this mean for American-Italian relations?

American voters in Italy: 'The future has never looked so uncertain'
Voters watching the election result come in in the US. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP

Democrats Abroad Italy hosted election night events in Rome – where free coffee was supplied to keep attendees going – as well as in Bologna, Milan, Florence and Naples, while plenty of other Americans living in Italy watched the results come in at home.

There were no official Republican party events in the country, but Republican supporters had plenty to celebrate as their candidate Donald Trump edged closer to the presidency with a series of victories in crucial swing states.

But what does the increasingly likely prospect of a Trump presidency mean for the average American expat in Italy?

Texan-born blogger Georgette Jupe, who runs the popular Girl in Florence blog, told us she had woken up feeling “sick”.

“I'm as shocked and horrified as much of the world,” she said. “I honestly feel a great sadness, as for me this is a person whose lack-of-policy platform was largely built on fear-mongering and hate.

“This was never about making America 'great' again, that we already are. However the future has never looked so uncertain.”

Kathleen, a retired American now living on the Italian Riviera criticized the Democratic campaign. 

“All we know is that a man who showed himself in many ways unfit and unprepared to sit in the most powerful seat on the planet has won,” she told us. “Along the way, so many of the traditionally stabilizing civic institutions of the United States were deeply discredited by their inability to cope with a campaign where both sides outdid themselves in mendacity, public ugliness and dodging responsibility.

“In particular, the American media let itself be distracted and became unprofessionally self-indulgent, and now can shed no light on what just happened or will happen, not having explored any issues of substance for the past 18 months.

“For me, I still think, without reservation, democracy produces the best possible outcomes and I am glad so many in America went to the polls to have had their say. Now it is up to everybody in America to keep listening, keep speaking up, keep voting.”

Rome-based Natalie Kennedy told us: “This has been a night of very little sleep. It is hard for me to understand how my country of birth has become a nation so divided and apparently supportive of a candidate who ran on a rhetoric that feels so un-American to me.

“Unfortunately, I absolutely believe this presidency will impact my life as an American in Italy. I expect travel to become more difficult as reciprocity decreases. I expect tax laws to become more complicated. I expect my marriage to a non-American to be increasingly unwelcome.

“But overall, I know that for the next several years Italian friends and colleagues will ask me “how did this happen?” and I won't be able to answer,” Kennedy concluded.

However, not everyone was disappointed by the result. One American living in Italy, Janice, told The Local she was “ecstatic” about the result. “It looks good for him… and America,” she added.

Another voter, Andy Williams, told us he blamed the Democratic Party for the result. “Hillary Clinton had no cross-party appeal and too many people didn't trust her,” he said.

Meanwhile, another commenter said they were “thankful” to have dual citizenship, allowing them to remain in Italy.

During the presidential race, Renzi had expressed support for Democrat Hillary Clinton and said he was convinced she would win, while Italy's far-right Northern League party leaned more towards Trump, with its leader Matteo Salvini hailing the billionaire real estate mogul as heroic

It wasn't only politicians who waded into the debate.

Pope Francis triggered controversy when he declared that Trump was “not a Christian” because of his plans to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, a remark Trump labelled “disgraceful”.

In the Italian population as a whole, a poll by think-tank Demos showed that 77 percent were supporting Clinton, 11 percent were rooting for a Trump win, and the remainder were unsure.

This poll showed a marked difference between different demographics; Italian millennials were far more likely than average to support Clinton while Trump's support soared among the unemployed.

When The Local spoke to American expats in Italy earlier in the election cycle, it was clear that there was no one 'typical' view, with several of the people we spoke to expressing dissatisfaction towards the choice of candidates.

One Trump supporter at the time told us she felt the Republican was “the lesser of two evils” and that she was voting based on “honesty and character”.

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EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”