Salvini towards a new trial for blocking migrants at sea

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Senator and leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, in the Senate, in Rome, July 30, 2020. – Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The Italian Senate voted this Thursday to lift the parliamentary immunity of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League (far right), paving the way for his referral to justice in a case of migrants stranded at sea when he was in government . The vote comes amid an upsurge in migrant crossings in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of them disembark every day on the coasts of the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily, aboard small boats, or to be rescued at sea by humanitarian ships and coast guards.

Matteo Salvini is accused by the court in Palermo, Sicily, of kidnapping people for having refused in August 2019, in his capacity as Minister of the Interior, to authorize the disembarkation of more than 80 migrants on board the humanitarian ship Open Arms, stranded off Sicily. The Senate decision represents “an important opportunity to set the record straight,” responded Open Arms. “It is not the former minister that we would like to see judged, but a vision of the world and of politics” opposed to the reception of migrants, added the NGO.

“Political trial”

The obstacle of immunity lifted, Matteo Salvini, 47, faces up to 15 years in prison in this case if the legal proceedings come to an end. “I am proud to have defended Italy and I would do it again”, reacted hot Matteo Salvini. “If someone thinks of scaring me with a politically motivated trial, he is wrong,” he had launched a little earlier in the House.

A Senate committee expressed itself in May against the lifting of immunity in this case but the Senate, in plenary, had already lifted it in February in another case for which he will be judged on October 3. In this procedure, he is accused of having blocked 116 migrants in July 2019 for several days on board the Gregoretti, a coastguard vessel.

And in both cases, the League had tried to clear its customs by asserting that the blocking of ships was a collective decision of the government, and therefore also the responsibility of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The League at half mast

A green light from the Senate to the lifting of immunity will “certainly have consequences for Salvini”, whose popularity has crumbled since the start of the pandemic, which has become the main concern of Italians in front of immigration, his favorite theme , argues political scientist Franco Pavoncello.

A poll by the Demopolis institute published this week credits the League with 25.4% of voting intentions, down 11 points in one year, while the postfascist party Fratelli d’Italia is on the rise. The League remains however the main political formation of Italy. “At the moment, Salvini is generating little media interest. The decision to deprive him of immunity (…) could rekindle media attention, ”emphasizes Franco Pavoncello. However, “a trial could be costly for him in the long run, because the charges are serious,” he adds.

Matteo Salvini’s setbacks began in August 2019. Then Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister, he made a strategic error by causing a government crisis. “Il Capitano” loses at his own game: the unnatural coalition that his party, the League, has formed since June 2018 with the 5-star Movement (M5S), shatters, and his ex-ally manages to form a new government with the Democratic Party (PD, center left). Since then, the man has been sailing in the opposition, without giving up his ambition to one day become Prime Minister.

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