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June 29, 2017

Europe’s next refugee crisis

Europe’s refugee crisis is boiling over once again, this time in Italy. The Italian government has threatened to close all of its ports to ships with refugees unless the EU provides relief. The decision by the Italian interior ministry follows the arrival of 12,000 migrants in 48 hours on 22 ships. Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, is invoking a national security exception to defend the decision, which at this stage is only a threat. The EU’s internal affairs commissioner Dimitri Avramopolous said he wants to discuss the issue at the next internal affairs council. It is not clear from the coverage what Italy's exact demands are in order not to carry out its threat, but if it were carried out a major human catastrophe would be upon us in the Mediterranean.

Italy has been supporting a quota system to relocate refugees throughout the EU, but this is firmly rejected by countries such as Poland, Hungary, and several others. We don’t see Italy’s threat all of a sudden producing a quota system, which is the only way to alleviate the structural pressure on Italy. Corrriere reports on frantic diplomatic activity going on at all levels in Brussels, involving Italy's most senior EU officials: Federica Mogherini and EP president Antonio Tajani.

France has just taken 200 migrants at the Ligurian/French border, but this is clearly not enough to provide relief, as Italy has had to cope with 76,000 migrants that arrived since January. At the current rate of arrivals, and in particular if the peak of 12,000 in just three days continues to become a wider trend, Italy is unable to cope with the incoming refugee streams. The Italian governments puts the country’s capacity at 200,000 refugees per year.

Corriere della Sera writes that technical details of a decree to issue a ban on refugees are being drafted right now, ready for deployment when it becomes clear that there is no sufficient support from the EU. Since the rescue operations do not take place in Italian waters, Italy is under no obligation under international law to take the refugees in. Italy will, however, continue to participate in rescue missions. President Sergio Mattarella is also said to support the decision, calling the refugee situation in Italy unsustainable. 

A recently signed bilateral agreement with Libya failed to alleviate the situation, so that Italy is now reverting to what it thinks is the last tool it has at its disposal.

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June 29, 2017

The smell of hegemony

Normally the election of positions in the French assembly is a pure formality. The heads of the parliamentary groups get together and distribute the positions of six vice-presidents, three quaestors, and twelve secretaries. The National Assembly rules of procedure call on deputies to choose a bureau reflecting the political composition of the chamber, to ensure that the opposition is adequately represented. 

What happened yesterday, however, looked more like a coup. The Republicans expected to get the position of quaestor responsible for finances in the assembly. But the Macron-compatible new group in the assembly, the Constructives, a splinter group from the Republicans and the centrists, put their own candidate on the list arguing that they, too, are in opposition and thus have a right to be represented. 

As a result, for the position of the three quaestors there were two candidates from LREM, Eric Cotti from the Republicans and Thierry Solère from the Constructives. Normally there is a simple agreement between the group leaders, but this time there had to be a vote and Solére won against Cotti, with the backing of LREM MPs. The Republicans, the second strongest party in the assembly, are contesting this vote and will boycott the bureau, arguing that this is the denial of democracy and political pluralism, according to Le Monde. The session had to be interrupted and, after resuming, the LREM announced that it will fill in the vacant positions with candidates from the majority until the Republicans come back on board again.

Another blockade is building up against Emmanuel Macron’s appearance in front of a joint session of assembly and senate in Versailles next Monday, one day ahead of the government’s presentation of its political road map. Several MPs, including the leader of the centrist UDI group, said they won’t go to Versailles because they see Macron’s intervention as an affront against the government, a waste of money, or a pure Macron show. The Elyssée assured that the two speeches by the President and the PM are written in tandem and are totally different in character. But together with the events in the assembly yesterday it could well mean that there is a first wave of rebellion against Macron's hegemonic presidency.

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