The Italian general elections, held few days ago, have been marked by many topics: the most important one was migration. Many among journalists, analysts, professors and experts, both Italians and foreign, have tried to understand why this issue assumed a key role.
We don’t pretend here to give a thorough answer to this hard question, but we could try to give our small contribute beginning from some considerations.
First of all: migration flows in Italy increase year by year, but that’s nothing new. Migration flows did not begin last summer. Every year we assist to this phenomenon but in our days the number of the people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea has grown.
Arab spring are the fact, and the factor, that changed completely the North African scenario; indeed, Italy has always tightened strict relations with Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, not only at economical level but also at political level. The biggest foreign citizens’ communities in Italy are made by Egyptians and Tunisians: it means that when important changes hit these countries, they also have direct consequences over Italy.
The political instability, the clashes and the violence pushed out lot of people from those countries, both citizens of the North African countries and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, it is important to consider that when there is no more a strong and powerful State, its borders become more and more vulnerable.
But the Arabs spring is just one half of the coin. If we want to understand why the Italian general election campaign was focused on migration, we have to move our sight from Northern Africa to Italy.
The history of the Lega Nord’s raise is crucial, in this sense. The party of Umberto Bossi before and now the Lega led by Matteo Salvini has played a crucial role in building up a perception of Italy being under siege by the migration pressure. The Lega was born in Lombardia, in the North of Italy, where the concentration of migrants is quite high, so this storytelling initially was more influential in this part of the country.
Since Silvio Berlusconi’s popularity has decreased, he also begun to concentrate part of his electoral campaign on the migration issue and the danger related with this phenomenon, trying to get back part of the consensus and votes that Salvini “stole” to him.
Salvini is one of the most exposed Italian politician. He often makes very sensationalist speeches, that deal with the idea of “Italian first”. Not only Berlusconi followed Salvini ideas about migrants but also other politicians.
Indeed, also the leader of the Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi, and the leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Luigi Di Maio, have started to talk about migration more and more frequently than before. For example, last summer Di Maio strongly attacked the NGOs that take care of migrants lives in the Mediterranean Sea, calling them “sea taxi”.
The Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who replaced Renzi as Italian PM after his defeat in December 2016, appointed Marco Minniti as Minister of the Home Affairs. Minniti took a very hard line against migrants both with many declarations but also with the law “Minniti–Orlando”. With this law the exiting government intended to facilitate the judicial procedures for the asylum seekers and to increase the expulsions’ number of the “irregular” migrants. Probably, all this fostered the conviction among people that an invasion is taking place. On the other hand, the Democratic Party lost consensus among people with a different point of view about migration. Definitely, the Party lost more votes than the ones he would like to get back. In fact, the center–left PD was the third party in the election with the 23% of the vote.
In conclusion we could suppose that the long lasting consequences of the Arab spring combined with the Italian politicians trying to ride the wave of the fear of migrants are the key factors that pushed the topic of migration as one of the most important item in the Italian general elections campaign and that, in some way, influenced the results.