Promises, promises: Immigration and food in the 2018 Italian election

Another year, another Italian election. Some find this comical, others less so. I just need to figure out how to vote, people! Here is what the larger political parties are saying on immigration (everyone is worried about this) and food (no one really cares about this – I mean, have you ever heard of Coldiretti?). Any other information others find helpful or interesting is very much welcome, on any campaign related issue (government accountability, anyone?). I just figured a blog entitled food migration should cover… well, you get the point. A new electoral law makes coalitions the name of the game in this election, which is good for the right, not so good for the left or the… rebels?

Center-right coalition

You can read all about this coalition here – I like the Christmas effect of the arrows showing their balance of votes in each election – red, then green, then red, then green… but good old Berlusconi never waivers as their fearless leader. Here are the parties-ideologies-leaders involved, and what they say on food and migration.

Northern League – Populism – Matteo Salvini

I am putting this party first because they have, by far, the most to say about immigration.

The front page of the document outlining Salvini’s campaign notes that it is time to give our children the certainty of a better future. So far so good, and hard to argue with the first three points – more work, more security, less tax… but the fourth? Less immigration. To make our kids proud to come from the most beautiful country in the world. Italy is already doing pretty well in the beautiful country stakes… could a warmer welcome just make it more appealing?

Another thing – Salvini is a Trump fan, not to mention Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, and Geert Wilders. What does the company you keep say about you?

To be fair, he has also been vocal that legal immigrants are Italians and very welcome – see around 2:38 in the (English!) transcript of this recent interview. I appreciate this, and would love to see this sentiment lead to greater efforts to welcome, integrate and support legal immigrants.

Let’s see the details on the Northern League’s stance on immigration (it’s long, hang in there!):

* The summary statement says basically ‘we send aid to Africa, but we can’t welcome all Africans, they won’t fit in Italy’, but research indicates this sort of investment may actually increase emigration

* open at least one Center for Identification and Expulsion in each Region, lengthening processing time (euphemism for detention) to 6 months to make expulsion possible (the current maximum is 90 days; Italy has come under criticism about detention of asylum seekers, see the Khlaifia vs. Italy case in European court, and a lot of other relevant information here).

* put all of these centers under regional, rather than federal, control, and ensuring data sharing from the centers with local police. This may have to do with the Northern League’s past the focus on regionalism (long live Padania!). On a positive note, they are clear that these centers need to be managed transparently (frequent spending and occupancy surveillance are key here) and by certified experts.

* push governments of countries where immigrants originate to enter into bilateral agreements for repatriation (I think they actually mean deportation), combined with economic agreements; economic sanctions will be used for countries that do not comply.

* consider filing a complaint against the government for not applying regulation law and not controlling Italy’s borders (but if he were premier, wouldn’t this mean he would file the complaint against himself?)

* proposal to create EU funded migrant hosting centers in Tunisia, similar to those in Turkey

* to turn away all NGO boats with passengers that don’t have proper identification (the current center left Democratic Party (PD) government already threatened to do this last year); they want to put Italian police on the NGO vessels to check for illegal immigrants and prevent them from setting foot on shore.

* signing into law a bill they proposed back in 2016 to streamline the asylum request processing procedure… here is the proposal in Italian, which basically calls for replacing the territorial commissions that consider asylum claims with justices of the peace, requiring police office receiving the claim to transmit it to the justice of the peace within 48 hours, and outlining new steps for processing claims that gives the justice of the peace greater discretion and makes all decisions final at 6 months after the request was filed. On this last point, the appeal to the Italian version of the Supreme Court, the Cassation Court, could still be pending on expulsion at 6 months. They argue that the appeal process taxes the judicial system and leaves migrants stranded in Italy for two or three years. EU funds don’t cover the costs of hosting refugees, and complaints against refugees have risen 340% and imprisonment of immigrants 50%… but where is the denominator? There are many more refugees, so these figures are also simply capturing the increase in immigrants present in Italy.

* negating international protection rights if an immigrant is found to have ties to terrorism, illegal drugs, kidnapping, violence, destruction of property, occupation of structures or land, or if they break the rules of the detention and repatriation centers. To me, this targets groups like those who were living in the abandoned Turin Olympics Village or in abandoned buildings in Rome – they were squatting, but not necessarily because they want to be in that situation.

* creation of a list of safe countries from which asylum seekers will not be accepted… but they don’t elaborate on the criteria to be used in deciding which countries are ‘safe’!

* getting rid of the Dublin Regulation of 2003, which requires the EU country where an immigrant first sets foot to process their request for asylum. This means no choice for immigrants and a huge burden on border countries like Greece, Italy and Spain

* signing accords with the tribes of southern Libya, and asking Russia for help signing an accord with general Khalif Haftar, all with the aim of stopping the flow of migrants from Libya… but this is confusing, as deals are already in place

* implementing the Spanish protocol for controlling sea borders (bilateral agreements with northern African countries to prevent emigration in return for economic benefits, basically); Open Migration summarizes this (and basically anything else about immigration) brilliantly

* setting a limit to government spending per asylum seeker equal to the disability pension for citizens… but the devil is in the details, which are not provided! Does spending per asylum seeker include a portion of costs for the economic incentives built into bilateral accords with countries of origin, or judicial and administrative costs of processing claims, or collection and upkeep of detention and repatriation centers? If so, the disability pension won’t go a long way. I could accept this if it meant money received directly by the immigrant for basic needs, AND if it were accompanied by investment in programs to integrate immigrants and help them enter the labor market. Possible?

* abolishing an earlier decree that allows asylum seekers to obtain identity cards that would give them access community services (though they would have trouble buying a bed at Ikea in Sweden, apparently…)

* bring a criminal case against international human trafficking organizations, working with other EU countries (though there is already multi-national police cooperation to prevent trafficking in Italy)

* deporting imprisoned non-citizens through accords with origin countries, providing escorts out of Italy

* reviewing the quota system for work and residence permits, letting ‘market forces’ drive them, and copying the German system of allowing communities to issue and control short term residence permits

* preventing immigrants from accessing social services through a simple self-declaration, which is possible for citizens

* including exams on Italian language, culture and traditions in citizenship applications (yikes – good thing I didn’t have to pass these!)

* finally, they have a whole section on Roma, noting ‘exponential increases’ in crime committed by those in camps and the terrible conditions of these areas. Their solutions are to close all camps (though no plans for where all the inhabitants will go – same issue as in Turin and Rome above), set up transition areas where people can stay for one week (but can people really overcome discriminatory housing policies in one week?) and to copy Sarkozy’s 2010 policy to deport illegal Roma immigrants or those who have been convicted of crimes. I wonder if the Vatican will be happier with the local version of this plan?

And on agriculture they say (a lot less, thankfully):

* lobbying in the EU to reform the Common Agricultural Policy to be enacted after 2020, securing more direct EU funding, allowing more national level autonomy, streamline help to rural areas, and to develop and enforce market rules (to address, for instance, labelling of non-Italian products with ‘Italian sounding’ names – Chef Boyardee, anyone?)

* changing free trade laws, which they argue favor importation of raw materials and exportation of processed goods, hurting Italian producers of raw materials – they are not explicit, but it seems what they are getting at is that they want to impose more tariffs.

* reorganizing national agricultural agencies (AGEA, which distributes EU assistance and subsidies, and SIAN, which digitizes payment of subsidies and other support from five regional associations). The idea is to make them more effective and efficient, and to expand from focusing solely on agriculture to address economic development as well. Let’s just hope they don’t create additional agencies.

* involving farmers in efforts to address hydrogeological instability (I hadn’t ever heard of this term, either – seems to cover landslides and floods) because of their knowledge of the land? In reality, this point was just an excuse to lament what the outgoing PD government has done to address these issues.

* to protect agricultural investments by… training specialized hunters to work for each region? The logic is that land abandonment leads to greater biodiversity, threatening cultivated crops, causing traffic accidents, and generally disturbing people. They want to support hunters to take care of the animals and make it easier for people to claim damages from invasive plants. Australian farmers would probably say this isn’t the best idea…

Forza Italia – Liberal Conservatism – Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi dedicates his first campaign promise to… love. It just seems right, though I can’t tell if he has a sense of irony or not.

On immigration, Berlusconi proposes to set up a Marshall Plan to develop African economies and provide a future for these populations in their home countries rather than in Italy (remembering the research above, such investment may take a long time to have the desired effect, actually increasing emigration in the short and medium term), based on a German proposal last year. He points out the immigrants themselves are not to blame when their illegal status makes them vulnerable to involvement in organized crime, which I really appreciate. But he wants to do away with the Ius Soli reform, which would allow children of foreign parents legally present in Italy for five years to apply for citizenship at birth, while other children of immigrants could apply for citizenship after five years in Italian schools or finishing an Italian academic cycle, changing the current law allowing children of foreign parents to apply for Italian citizenship only after turning 18 and only if they had lived in Italy from birth without interruption. He doesn’t want to give false hope to potential emigrants from Africa, but wouldn’t giving illegal immigrants already in Italy a chance to be documented, giving them a chance at integrating, finding a job and maybe, just maybe, contributing to Italy?

He doesn’t have anything to say about agriculture… but his last point is that he wants to be like Zorro. Is he going to pull a Paulo Fonseca if his coalition wins?

Brothers of Italy – National conservatism – Giorgia Meloni

This far-right group uses some of the most strident anti-immigration rhetoric of any party running in the current election, and makes the following campaign promises:

* Revising the Dublin Regulation

* Adequate defense of borders with the Middle East… as Meloni has said, Italy will use naval blockades and trenches if necessary.

* they also want to get rid of nomad camps to eliminate intoxicated rogues in cities – though Roma are not mentioned specifically

* immediate expulsion of foreigners who commit crimes to their home countries… it is not clear if this means any type of criminal offense, like, say a fender bender. Have you ever tried to drive in Italy?

* working against illegal immigration by entering into agreements with North African countries, expelling illegal immigrants, and stopping activities harboring or exploiting illegal immigrants.

* only giving asylum to women, children and nuclear families fleeing from war.

* they are also against Ius Soli

* promoting an international aid plan to combat hunger and poverty in Africa to reduce migration… remember the article arguing aid to Africa could actually increase the number of people able to immigrate?

* upper limit to number of foreign students in school classes – here is a nice summary of the evidence on how immigrant students impact educational outcomes for native students. There seems to be evidence supporting this proposal, with a higher proportion of immigrant children linked to lower test scores, higher dropout rate and higher likelihood of being bullied among native students. I just hope there are plans to integrate and welcome immigrant children in Italian classrooms, along with limiting their numbers.

On agriculture, the Brothers of Italy promise:

* pushing ‘Made in Italy’ labelling – this is one of many points of friction between Italy and the EU… and the devil is in the details, with local producers arguing over what “Made in Italy” really means. Probably the biggest issue related to food in this election.

* Incentivizing “kilometer zero” consumption… which Italians already do quite well!

Us with Italy – Christian democracy – Raffaele Fitto (wonder if these guys are ever invited to Bunga Bunga?)

To me, these guys are the most militant about immigration:

* using EU troops to stop illegal migrants from entering Italy, repatriating (there’s that word again!) all illegal migrants, and stopping smuggling and emigration in home countries through international accords

Less armed forces involved in their campaign promises on agriculture:

* Lobby in the EU to make the Common Agricultural Policy more effective (not sure what this means?)

* They also promise to promote ‘Made in Italy’, as well as traceability of DOC products (it’s not just for wine!)

5 Star Movement – Big tent – Luigi Di Maio

I hate that I have to resort to Wikipedia rather than the official party sites for most of the information here, but I suppose that makes sense as these are Italian parties. The funny thing about using it for information on M5S (their Italian acronym) is that they are accused of copying parts of their election platform from Wikipedia. Always against coalitions with existing political parties, Di Maio recently clarified that they are ‘eliminating the words alliance and coalition from the dictionary’ but ‘will it.’ The term flip-flop is probably staying put in the dictionary.

These guys let people provide input directly on their political program, and vote on various aspects, through an online portal called Rousseau. This results in longer, messier presentations, but it is interesting.

In agriculture, M5S has 7 key policy objectives:

  1. Promoting fair prices for commodities – through promoting unions of producers and consumers, promoting a transparent production and distribution chain, as well as one that is short and limited geographically, and by limiting uncontrolled imports.
  2. National strategic plans in principal sectors – with a focus on efficiency, innovation and sustainability.
  3. Guaranteeing use of ‘Made in Italy’ label in the EU for products.
  4. Revising the EU Common Agriculture Policy (here they are more specific than Us with Italy)– moving from an industrial, global system to a decentralized system based on local needs and strengths.
  5. Revising EU free trade agreements – let Italian parliament vote on these treaties and remove bias towards benefiting multinational corporations.
  6. Revising the IMU property tax – right now only farmers with certain land arrangements are exempt from paying, and M5S wants to help a broader range of farmers avoid this tax. This article (in Italian) from a communist publication argues that the tax reforms passed by the current PD government eliminated taxes for landowners involved in farming, favoring medium to large organizations rather than smaller farmers who may rent their land. This cut 530 million euro out of tax revenue… How much would further revision cut, and where does this tax relief have the most effect on sustainability and productivity in the agricultural sector if any?
  7. To support smaller niche sectors and not only larger commodities.

Democratic Party – Social Democratic – Matteo Renzi

The PD, as they are known in Italy, has had a rough time recently. This will likely continue into the election, where they seem to be splintering rather than forming the coalition they need. Also, leader Matteo Renzi resembles a certain celebrity, which is definitely important for you to know.

PD campaign promises related to agriculture include:

* increase agricultural exports to 500 million euro per year (they already lowered taxes for some farmers, as mentioned earlier)

* work towards more transparent labelling about product origins (does this include NO-CAP? It should…)

* they already passed a law against food waste and want to develop a National Plan to incentivize the circular economy

On immigration, there is a stronger stance:

* These guys also want to revisit the Dublin Regulation. PD says if the EU won’t share the burden of migration, Italy may stop paying their share of the EU budget.

* Revising the Bossi-Fini Law of 2002 – but what about the more recent Minniti decree on immigration and asylum? The existing paradigm seems to be focussed on externalizing borders (ie. providing resources, including armed forces, to border states like Libya and Tunisia to prevent migrants from starting the journey to Italy), which some argue increases the demand for smuggling and violates migrants human rights, and drastically reducing appeals when asylum is rejected (while making the asylum request process much less personalized).


That clears everything up, right?

While the anti-immigration sentiment running through many of these campaign promises is chilling, the recent move from protests against immigration to protests against fascism gives me some hope. And people are actually quantifying the impact of migrants on the economy (including the informal sector) and crime in Italy, essential to either supporting or refuting many of the views posited by political parties and individuals in these tense times.

As with everything, care needs to be taken in interpreting the data, or you end up with ‘more immigrants=more crime’ headlines on Breitbart. If you go to the analysis Breitbart references conducted by confcommercio, the largest business association in Italy, you do see that they show a positive relationship between the number of immigrants in a region and the overall crime rate. But there is also a positive relationship (and much stronger) between GDP and the overall crime rate. Authors argue that a higher GDP attracts more crime… but couldn’t that also be what attracts more migrants? The percentage of legal immigrant children enrolled in liceo is linked to lower crime rates, which points to integration as a way to address criminality. The report breaks down crimes conducted by Italians, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants by type, and if you compare across tables, you see that the rate of each crime committed by Italians and legal immigrants is very similar. For me what is missing are measures of variability, as rates among Italians (~55,000 people) are likely to be more precise than rates among smaller populations of legal and illegal immigrants (~5,000 people combined). In any case, authors conclude that integration seems to reduce crime, and increases in crime related to immigration seem strongly linked to the proportion of illegal immigrants. I know I am biased, but does this really add up to simply ‘more immigrants=more crime’?

Another area where data would be helpful in deciding what policies really make sense is the impact of efforts to integrate immigrants to Italy. It is hard to find very much, potentially because integration efforts themselves seemed to be limited until the recent National Integration Plan. Hopefully, this policy will help to address some of the areas for improvement pointed out by the Migrant Policy Index of 2015. Eventually having access to information on immigration like that provided by the Swedish government is one of my many dreams.

The elephant in the room in this discussion of the election is Italy’s national debt (it’s huge). This article from April last year was spot on when they said ‘the government could still end up making expensive vote-winning promises in the autumn as it prepares to do electoral battle.’ Are any of these political programs even realistic? Thankfully, economist Roberto Perotti at Bocconi, a top Italian university, has quantified the costs of the campaign platforms of the PD (56 million euros), the Five Star Movement (63 million euros), and the center-right coalition (310 million euros). So much for the plea from current prime minister Gentiloni to keep campaign promises reasonable…

In the end, I think I know how I am going to vote. Am I happy about this? Let’s just say I am not going to be posting selfies anywhere of me with an ‘I just voted!’ sticker.

One thought on “Promises, promises: Immigration and food in the 2018 Italian election

  1. Well done! But I wish I could read something also about center-left/left-winged parties, such as +Europa (radical, secularist, liberal; likely to get 2% at the polls, allied with the Democratic Party), Liberi e Uguali (social-democratic unlike the Democratic Party, which imho is rather closer to a Christian-Democratic party; 5%) and Potere al Popolo (left, 1%). Just to have a more exhaustive picture, as not all Italian parties are anti-immigration.


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