Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, recently accused the new Spanish government of “encouraging out-of-control immigration.” The retort came after the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, told a German newspaper that “Salvini is doing politics at the expense of not just Spain, but at the expense of all of Europe.”
This is in reference to the hard-line stance that the Italian right-wing populist has taken toward the trafficking of African migrants across the Mediterranean into Italy, closing ports and forcing ships to turn back. Spain accepted one of these ships in June, the Aquarius, which held around 630 people, after it was refused by both Italy and Malta. That same month, the left-wing government took steps to extend automatic public healthcare coverage to foreigners.
Spain’s new Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, was sworn in after a vote of no confidence in the previous conservative PM, and made accepting migrants a priority of the new government. This includes a deal with Germany that will allow the latter country to begin sending migrants back to Spain. Under Angela Merkel, Germany has accepted over 1.6 million since 2014, provoking a nationalist backlash in response to the massive increase in crime and unsustainability of the policy. The deal with Spain came shortly after the issue almost caused Merkel’s own party to split.
Borrell’s statement shows that the Spanish government’s façade may be starting to crack as well, hinting that Spain is not actually able to handle the increased influx of migrants that the Socialists initially welcomed. Hardly a two months after their rise to power, the new government has already begun adjusting its policies in the face of hard reality which is also slowly provoking popular backlash. When a boat of 87 African migrants landed last week, rather than being given special stay permits and fast-tracked paperwork, they will be processed at a guarded migrant camp with the possibility of asylum denial and expulsion.
Spaniards received a wake-up call in late July when more than 700 migrants stormed into the Spanish territory of Cueta on the Moroccan border. Five Civil Guard officers were hospitalized after the migrants threw “plastic containers with excrement and quicklime, sticks and stones, Molotov cocktails” while jumping the fence, with 602 successfully forcing entry. Right-wing parties such as the Popular Party have already begun to seize on the issue by promising to protect their borders and deal with immigration and assimilation realistically.
Standing above this devolving situation, Salvini refused to be baited by Borrell, making it clear that he considers Spain’s handling of the issue to preclude them from passing moral judgment. In further comments, he clarified his motives, stating that his “concern is for the security, culture and identity of the European people.”