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Italy’s president calls for ‘urgent’ solution to political stalemate

The Italian president appealed on Friday for an "urgent" solution to the deadlock over who can lead a new government as talks with anti-establishment and right-wing leaders failed amid a row over Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy's president calls for 'urgent' solution to political stalemate
President Sergio Mattarella announced that Italy's latest government talks had ended without a deal. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

On Friday President Sergio Mattarella, who guides the talks and has the job of naming the eventual prime minister, confirmed to reporters that there had been “no progress” after concluding the second round of consultations.

However, he stressed the need to quickly form a new government given a  series of pressing domestic and international issues like the tensions surrounding Syria, but said that he would wait a few days before deciding how to “end the deadlock”.

READ ALSO: Who is Italian President Sergio Mattarella? The man guiding Italy through rocky government talks

Salvini's right-wing coalition, which includes Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, is the largest group with 37 percent.

The M5S is Italy's largest single party after picking up just under 33 percent of the vote in the March 4th election.

Both have repeatedly said that they are ready to work together, but Di Maio has demanded that Salvini break with Berlusconi.

The League only picked up 17 percent on its own and Salvini has refused to ditch his partner.

The 81-year-old broke ranks at the end of Salvini's post-consultation speech to media on Thursday, blasting the M5S as not knowing “the ABCs of democracy”.

READ ALSO: 


Rightwing allies Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi after talks on Thursday. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Later Di Maio asked Berlusconi, who cannot hold public office due to a tax fraud conviction, to “step aside” so that he could start working with Salvini.

But on Friday morning Salvini stood his ground and warned of new elections if they didn't stop “bickering”.

“The people will get fed up, I'll get fed up… either they pack it in or we vote,” Salvini said to national broadcaster Radio 1.

However, Mattarella has other options other than new elections at his disposal, including a third round of consultations or giving an “exploratory mandate” to an individual within the parliament who could try to gain consensus from the squabbling parties. 

READ ALSO: Italy's political rivals depicted as Caravaggio's cheats

The Cardsharps: Italy's political rivals depicted as Caravaggio's cheats
Photo: Fanny Carrier/AFP

MIGRANT CRISIS

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.”

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