In the Italian electoral campaign, immigrants are a problem


February 3, 2018 – Macerata, Italy. In broad daylight, an Italian man opens fire on a group of black people, injuring six of them. The targets are deliberately chosen only for the colour of their skin, highlighting the racist motives. The shooting spree lasts two hours before Luca Traini turns himself in to the authorities, proudly covered in an Italian flag. In his house, police find a copy of Mein Kampf with other fascist symbols. Newspapers report his political connection with the right-wing party Lega.

What follows is a shameful display from the Italian political leadership. Such shamefulness does not lie in the exploitative usage of the event for the sake of the campaign, but rather in the levity of the aftermath. Indeed, one would expect a true leader to firmly reject any justification of such a despicable act. Instead, Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini claimed, “anyone who shoots is a criminal […], however [emphasis added], it is clear that unregulated immigration, such as the invasion we are living […] has the power to drag society toward social clash.” But even the left-wing’s response has been unsatisfactory. Democratic Party Secretary Matteo Renzi worried that such an event creates an opportunity for the right-wing to win the hearts and minds of the electorate. As a result, he promised ten thousand extra units of security forces.

Immigration represents one of the major issues of the 2018 Italian election. What is striking is that the phenomenon is only framed in terms of security, as the statements following the Macerata shooting demonstrate. One could excuse these individual reactions as shock. However, these positions are systematized in the parties’ electoral platforms. Comparing the campaigns, one would immediately notice three alarming issues, all indicating a convergence of political opinion towards the right.

First, immigration has come to equate insecurity. Thus, the political response to such an event cannot be anything but security. Suggestions of border control, forced rejection, and repatriation dominate the mainstream discourse, no matter the ideology.

Second, immigration issues have become the battlefield between domestic and supranational institutions. On the one hand, political parties promise policies that are not within the scope of the Italian government. On the other hand, they blame Europe for the invasion  – as Salvini calls it – that Italy is experiencing. This narrative fools the electorate into believing that, by voting for these parties, the Italian government can suddenly be the sole deciding force. Many parties are dishonest about the fact that immigration is simply too challenging to be managed domestically. A rational response would emphasize the need to cooperate with the European institutions, and to transform immigration into a benefit, rather than a burden.

Finally, regardless of their despicable proposals, the majority of Italian parties at least clearly explain their action-plan to the Italian voters. However, the Five Stars Movement simply uses immigration as a talking point to win electoral support, with no clear policy goals. Its position has changed dramatically from pro-immigration to anti-immigration over just the last year. During the immigration scandal last summer, it was one of the groups accusing NGOs of profiting from rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, its election platform stays ambiguous, and the reason behind this strategy is obvious: by not taking any clear position, they gain support from both the left and the right.

The elephant in the room remains the desperate call for social integration. Little choice is left for any voter who wishes for a constructive approach to immigration. This is dangerous because immigration is likely to increase in the future due to climate change and growing political instability in Africa and Middle East.

Moreover, it is important to recognize that thousands of migrants already live within our borders. Thus, achieving a multicultural society is not a choice, but a necessity. Hate speech and xenophobic rhetoric do not help the process of integration, which requires significant effort and commitment. Those who are supposed to mitigate people’s fear and guide them in periods of distress are instead making political gains out of society’s perceived need for security.

What will happen after the 2018 election is not yet known. Italy is not an isolated case, but part of a troubling rightward shift on immigration issues seen across the E.U. However, it is clear that while this game may yield short-term advantages to a few, it ultimately threatens the long-term legitimacy of Europe’s political institutions.

Francesca, Francesa and Pantea are all MAIA candidates at SAIS Bologna