Italy’s Eurosceptic, populist government pledged on Tuesday to work with the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary to “change the rules” of the European Union.
In what could emerge as a new axis between Rome and the so-called Visegrad group of Eastern European nations, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, said he looked forward to working with Viktor Orban.
“We’ll work to change the rules of this European Union,” said Mr Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister and the head of the hard-Right League party, which is in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
It came as the country’s new prime minister laid out the new government’s agenda, which risks putting it on a collision course with Europe.
Giuseppe Conte vowed to review EU sanctions against Russia and called for the swift and obligatory resettlement of migrants.
Mr Salvini and Mr Orban may share a nativist, anti-migrant agenda, but they differ on one key point – the Italian government wants migrants currently being cared for in Italy to be shared around the EU, a policy that Mr Orban vehemently opposes.
Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have rebelled against previous attempts by Brussels to foist mandatory migrant quotas on them. They flatly refused to accept any enforced relocation of migrants despite an EU plan agreed in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 migrants following that year’s refugee crisis.
“We will seek to set up an automatic, obligatory system to redistribute asylum seekers,” Mr Conte told the Italian parliament in Rome.
He called for the Dublin regulation, by which people seeking asylum submit their request in the first EU country they reach, to be overhauled. Italy has received more than 700,000 migrants and refugees in the last five years and Mr Salvini has declared that the country will no longer tolerate being “Europe’s refugee camp.”
Europe’s divisions over the handling of the migration crisis were laid bare on Tuesday after the latest attempt to reform the bloc’s asylum policy ended in deadlock in Luxembourg. The proposed reforms satisfied neither the frontline Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece, which want the burden to be shared, nor countries in Eastern Europe, which reject the idea.
After Italy voted against proposed reforms, along with Spain and several Eastern European states, Mr Salvini hailed it as a victory.
"We had held an opposing position, and other countries came to stand behind us; we broke the front.
"That means it’s not true that it’s not possible to influence European policies.”
Helene Fritzon, the migration minister for Sweden, which has taken more than its share of migrants since 2015, said the chances of a compromise had receded after right-wing gains in elections in Italy and, most recently, Slovenia.
“It is a harder climate, a harder political climate in Europe today,” she said.
Germany, which has taken more refugees than any other EU country, also rejected the proposed reforms as insufficient.
"The current state of negotiations is not acceptable," a senior German interior ministry official, said as he arrived for the talks.
"We are not ready to accept it (the plan)."
The reforms included more financial support for crisis situations and the compulsory relocation of asylum seekers, but only as a last resort and with eastern EU states given “flexibility” to reduce some of the numbers allotted to them.
On the other side of the bargain, frontline states face increased "responsibility" to register arrivals, with the Dublin regulation remaining in force for eight years.
Asylum reform "is dead," said Theo Francken, Belgium’s hardline migration minister, according to Belgian media.
"There is not enough basis to pursue the debate.”
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