Italy's Salvini wants 'League of Leagues' to unite EU govts aiming to 'defend their borders'
Italy's interior minister wants to turn next year's European Parliament elections into an immigration referendum. It comes with the EU still split on how to handle migrants after a summit on the topic produced a failed compromise.
Speaking to around 50,000 supporters at his party's annual gathering on Sunday, Lega Nord's Matteo Salvini said that he wants the 2019 election to be a "referendum between the elite, the banks, finance, immigration and job security, and the Europe of the peoples and of work."
He also said he wants to unite with political movements in other countries that want to "defend their people and their borders."
"I am thinking of a League of Leagues that will put together all the free, sovereign movements" in various countries, Salvini said at the event in Pontida, Italy, referring to the idea as an "international alliance of populists."
"I will tour capital cities, and not just European ones, to create an alternative to this Europe founded on exploitation... [and] mass immigration," Salvini said.
Addressing the crowd, Salvini asked if they would "swear, yes or no, to liberate the peoples from this Europe." They responded with a resounding "Yes!"
Salvini has made headlines since taking office as part of Italy's newly-formed coalition government, particularly for his crackdown on migrants entering the country, which included a vow to ban NGO rescue ships from docking in Italian ports.
He reiterated on Sunday that "the doors of Italy will be wide open for women and children who flee war," but "for the others, no."
Salvini's Sunday comments come as Europe is divided on immigration, and after a public row between Paris and Rome over French authorities pushing back migrants at the France-Italy border.
It also comes after a summit of EU leaders, during which they carved out a vague "compromise" to the immigration situation. However, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary later announced that no agreement had been reached, despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel's claim that she had received "political consensus" from 14 EU nations to strike the compromise deal.
Striking a deal on immigration was extremely important for Merkel, as German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has threatened to use his power to turn away migrants at the border if an agreement wasn't reached – a plan which Merkel is adamantly against.
Europe saw more than 1 million migrants arrive to the continent during the 2015 refugee crisis, with Italy receiving many of those, as a frontline state. However, arrivals to Italy have dipped by 96 percent since the peak of the crisis, according to AFP.
A total of 377,000 migrants reached Europe in 2016 and some 160,000 entered via sea routes last year. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates 80,000 people will enter by sea in 2018.
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