Millennium Post

Proud of being a "populist"

Europe's emerging far right is making its brand of pragmatism on migrants clear with vengeance. Italy's hard-line interior minister, for example, has said that being called a populist was "a compliment" and claimed recent elections that brought right-wing, anti-immigrant parties to power were a sign European liberalism had failed. Matteo Salvini has said he relished his role as an outsider and praised the populist wave sweeping across Europe. "(Populist) is used as an insult, but for me, it is a compliment," Salvini, also Italy's deputy prime minister, said. Salvini said that if there was a lesson to be learned from Brexit and recent elections in Italy and Austria, which saw populist and right-wing parties score major victories, it was that people want identity, security, and jobs." Salvini, the 45-year-old leader of the League party, the junior partner in Italy's new anti-establishment coalition government, has taken a hard line on immigration since entering office. In recent weeks he has closed Italy's ports to foreign-flagged ships that have rescued migrants from the Mediterranean Sea. His radical stance has ignited a war of words between Europe's political leaders over who should shoulder the burden of migrants. Salvini said Italy had done "more in the last couple of months than years of talk" by European leaders had achieved on the immigration issue. He also took aim at French President Emmanuel Macron, who criticised Salvini's rejection of migrant ships as cynical and irresponsible this month. While Salvini has come under fire for his immigration stance, he has not suffered political fallout back home. Many Italians are exasperated by Europe's fractured response to the crisis, and polls have shown a majority of Italians support the new government's hard-line migration policy. He said Italy's objective was to stay in Europe, with "changing some of the rules to the advantage of Italian citizens." The new interior minister added: "Europe was born as a good project. I would like it to go back to the identity of the European Community, a community of equals that respect each other, that respect each state's sovereignty." Salvini said Europe needed to strike deals with the countries from where migrants originate, describing such a setup as less costly than hosting migrants in reception centers on the continent. Salvini's approach to redirect migrant arrivals appears to be paying off after Malta agreed to take in hundreds who had been stranded on the German rescue vessel Lifeline for nearly a week. It was the third instance this month of a rescue ship being forced to drift for days in the Mediterranean as states wrangled over responsibility.

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