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Italy’s PM takes aim at EU migrant policy, Russia sanctions in maiden speech

Andreas Solaro, AFP | Italy's new PM Giuseppe Conte, flanked by his two powerful deputies Luigi Di Maio (left) and Matteo Salvini (right).
5 min

The leader of Italy's new “anti-system” government won the first of two confidence votes on Tuesday after vowing in his maiden policy speech to challenge austerity, redistribute migrants in the EU and review the bloc's sanctions against Russia.


Giuseppe Conte 's eurosceptic government, made up of a coalition of hard-right and anti-establishment parties, was sworn in on Friday after almost three months of political turmoil that alarmed EU officials and spooked financial markets.

A lawyer with little political and no government experience, Conte was nominated by anti-immigrant League leader Matteo Salvini and the head of the anti-establishment Five Star movement Luigi di Maio – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers.

Conte's first address to lawmakers reaffirmed several of the coalition's key manifesto themes, including a tough line on migrants, rejection of economic austerity and conciliatory gestures towards Moscow.


"We want to reduce our public debt, but we want to do so with growth and not with austerity measures," he told senators.

"We will strongly call for the Dublin Regulation to be overhauled in order to obtain respect for a fair distribution of responsibilities and to achieve an automatic system of compulsory distribution of asylum seekers."

Under the Dublin Regulation, would-be asylum seekers must submit their applications in their country of arrival, meaning Italy has huge numbers to deal with.

On Russia, which faces EU sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Conte said: "We will promote a review of the sanctions system."

A puppet PM?

The alliance between Five-Star and the League won Tuesday's vote in the Senate, with 171 votes in favour, 117 against and 25 abstentions.

A second parliamentary vote on Wednesday in the Chamber of Deputies, where the two parties also enjoy a majority, will officially confirm the new cabinet.

The government is set to win despite both former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party – a campaign ally of the League – and the outgoing centre-left Democratic Party saying that they will not vote in favour.

On the 53-year-old prime minister's agenda in his first weeks in office are a Group of Seven summit in Canada this week and a key EU summit at the end of the month.

'Proud to be populist': Italy's new PM in maiden speech to parliament

Conte's low profile has fuelled speculation that he will take a back seat to his two powerful deputies. Salvini is to be interior minister in the new cabinet and Di Maio will hold the economic development portfolio.

Since being sworn in, Conte had limited himself to a Facebook post in which he said that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, and would meet the two leaders at the G7 summit.

'Good times over' for illegal migrants

On Monday, Di Maio, whose party has promised a basic income for Italy’s poorest households, met representatives of food deliverers in Italy's gig economy.

Afterwards Di Maio described the workers as "the symbol of an abandoned generation", and underlined the need to give them "job security and a dignified minimum wage".

Meanwhile, Salvini has wasted no time addressing immigration, his party’s main vote-winner. Visiting Sicily, where thousands of migrants have arrived in recent years, he declared at the weekend that Italy "cannot be Europe's refugee camp".

The 45-year-old has repeatedly promised to cut arrivals and accelerate expulsions from a country where around 700,000 migrants have arrived since 2013.

"The good times for illegals are over – get ready to pack your bags," he said Saturday.

European Union interior ministers are meeting on Tuesday to discuss possible reforms of the bloc's controversial Dublin Regulation.

Salvini has blasted the regulation as unfairly burdening Mediterranean countries and leading to "an obvious imbalance in management, numbers and costs".

He and Di Maio have been heavily criticised for remaining silent on the murder of Sacko Soumayla, a 29-year-old Malian who died from gunshot wounds after an unknown assailant fired at him and two others on Saturday.

However on Tuesday Conte called the incident "tragic and troubling", adding that Soumayla was "one of thousands of day labourers with correct immigration papers who every day in this country go to work in conditions below any level of dignity".

He added: "Politics should bear the responsibility of these peoples' ordeals and ensure pathways of legality, which is the guiding light of our government programme."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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