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First the EU, now the prosecutors: the Italian Minister of the Interior feeds on friction

First the EU, now the prosecutors: the Italian Minister of the Interior feeds on friction

CATANIA / ROME, Italy (Reuters) – Italy’s hardline interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is sailing a wave of public support after his latest clash over immigration with the European Union, a dispute that also confronts him with a new enemy: the judicial power of your country.

The 10-day clash ended in the south of the port of Catania over the weekend after members of the EU, Ireland and Albania, aspiring to the EU, agreed to take away some of the 150 immigrants who had been rescued in the sea ​​and that Salvini denied them permission to disembark.

Salvini, however, remains under investigation by a Sicilian magistrate for alleged abuse of power and holding people against his will, an extraordinary challenge that seems to have strengthened his public appeal and his political power.


“He had tried to do the right thing for us and now they are investigating him,” 76-year-old retiree Sebastiano Pittera said in front of Catania’s main cathedral after the interior minister allowed immigrants to disembark from a rescue boat.

“We are not a dump for Africa.”

Around 650,000 people have arrived on Italian coasts since 2014, mostly from Africa, and the country is home to 160,000 asylum seekers.

The retiree’s statements are the same day’s poll by Sky broadcaster, which showed 80 percent support for Rome’s hard line, and with political experts who say the investigation helps Salvini in your campaign against the EU.

A survey of the SWG pollster, conducted at the end of July, showed 30 percent support for the right-wing Salvini League party, compared to its 17 percent support in the March general election and surpassing its partner in the largest coalition, the 5-star Movement. who won almost twice as many seats in parliament.

The stronger Salvini feels at home, the more pressure he can exert on his EU partners, not only on immigration but on EU fiscal rules, experts say. The coalition is pushing Brussels to approve a large Italian budget by 2019.

“The prosecutor has done Salvini a huge favor, making him a martyr,” said Francesco Galietti, head of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar.

Prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio, who traveled to Rome on Saturday to question Interior Ministry officials as part of his criminal investigation, declined to be interviewed by Reuters.

He opened his investigation last week against “unknown persons,” a preliminary step in Italian judicial investigations, but Salvini later said he was responsible for the actions of his ministry, challenging the prosecutor to arrest him.

“I am not afraid of anything: to investigate, to interrogate, to arrest myself, I am PROUD to fight to defend our borders and the security of the Italians and protect the future of our children,” he tweeted at the height of the confrontation.

Salvini has effectively closed the ports to asylum seekers rescued at sea, demanding their EU partners to accept a proportion of Africans who are intercepted by rescue ships from Italy.

Although the arrival by boat in Italy has dropped by 81 percent so far this year, the EU nations have not committed to carry those rescued at sea. At a meeting on Friday, EU officials did not go beyond the current dependency of the voluntary and ad hoc aid block.

Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of polling firm and political analysis firm YouTrend, said Salvini’s investigation would boost his support, just as former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi used judicial challenges to win voters’ sympathy in the 1990s.

“I have no doubt that this could be useful for him in terms of energizing his base,” Pregliasco said.

Salvini’s political appeal has been national despite the fact that his League was born in the rich north of Italy with the stated goal of separating from the poor of the south, a goal since it was abandoned.

In Catania, even those who are not fervent supporters of Salvini believe that they should not face a criminal investigation because of their refusal to allow migrants to land.

“He (the prosecutor) has not done well, nor Salvini, but if he had to choose between the two, he would choose Salvini, it’s not right that Italy is the only landing point,” said Michela Musumarra, 24, who works in a tourist office in Catania.

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