Europe Must Firmly Address Illegal Immigration

Candidates for the European elections face a dilemma: if they talk about immigration they will lose – but if they don’t talk about it they’ll lose anyway.

europe-illegal-immigrationThis is the result of years and years of non-politics on immigration in Italy and in the EU.

It has left a wide open space between two extreme evils: alarmism and manipulation. They’re both laced with a kind of ecumenicism from those on the left, which people find hard to understand or accept.

In fact you can bet that, with each boat landing on Lampedusa, even good family men will – besides having feelings of compassion – secretly harbor dark and fearful thoughts. What will happen to the new arrivals?

Will they join the ranks of organized crime? Will they steal my children’s jobs? Will they camp drunk in my neighborhood? Why waste public money on supporting them, rather than sending them home?

Like it or not, these thoughts are very common. They turn into nightmares when, as is the case at this very moment, the immigration emergency makes front page news. The simple reason is that invasions by foreigners instil – and always have instilled – fear in people.

This is as true of Italy as of any other nation. Don’t forget, by way of example, that in recent days Spain has dealt with problems not dissimilar to those in Italy. The Spanish territories in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, were literally overrun by hundreds of Africans desperate to set foot in Europe.

Europe’s neo-populist parties understand all this. That is why they can fill squares with two simple and reassuring slogans: no euro, no immigration. We expected the same, of course with different positions, from the parties belonging to Europe’s two main political groups, the socialists and populists.

Instead, both groups have been silent on immigration. Aware that this is a thorny issue, they are waiting for the storm to pass, even though it looks likely to overwhelm them between May 22-25. There is a danger that European voters, called to elect a new parliament in Strasbourg, could severely punish their apathy with a low turnout or by giving the neo-populist parties a broad consensus.

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At least one of the socialist or populist leaders need to suddenly find the courage to put their hands up and speak out. Not to say that everything is fine but to admit that on immigration – and other issues – the EU has been a flop. The reason is rather simple, although it’s the opposite to that put forwards by the neo-populists.

It’s not that there’s too much Europe; it’s that there’s too little. We’re stuck halfway across the river. We need to move forwards or back. But we have to choose. And soon.

Giuseppe Terranova is deputy editor of the online newspaper West. He has a PhD in politics and comparative law of the euro-Mediterranean region, from Università Kore in Enna, Italy. As an expert on immigration policies, he is a member of the European Centre for International Affairs in Brussels and assistant professor at the department for sustainable development (working with Prof. A Giordano) at Luiss University of Rome. Read other articles by Giuseppe.