Italian voters rallied behind the center-right in local elections as its leader, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, left a boat with over 600 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.
As Italy’s populist government dials back its challenge to the European Union’s budget rules, Salvini is dramatising his commitment to turning the tide on immigration. Salvini visited Como in northern Italy to meet two bus drivers who had allegedly been assaulted by African migrants. As voters were awaiting the announcement of a coalition deal last month, he posted a video on social media showing a black man plucking a pigeon in the street.
Salvini refused to allow the rescue boat Aquarius to dock in Sicily and wrote to the Maltese government saying it should take responsibility. The ship is operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sos Mediterranee and, according to press reports, is starting to run low on supplies. Salvini has attacked aid agencies for providing what he called a “taxi service” to migrants from Africa to Italy.
“Starting today, Italy will start to say NO to human trafficking, NO to the illegal immigration business,” Salvini wrote in a Facebook post.
That approach has made Salvini’s anti-immigrant League the rising force within the two-party coalition. The League delivered a strong showing in local and administrative elections over the weekend, helping the center-right alliance to gain control of cities such as Treviso, Brindisi and Vicenza up and down the country.
Salvini’s coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, was the biggest loser, with its vote declining in many places, including Rome. The ballot was open to 6.7 million voters in more than 700 cities and towns across the peninsula.
The new administration is still calibrating its approach at the start of its first full week in office, looking to show supporters it will deliver on its promises without sparking a crisis with investors or the EU.
With Salvini’s public grandstanding grabbing the attention of many voters, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria is seeking to reassure markets with a pledge to head off any questions about Italy’s commitment to the euro and to be responsive to investors’ concerns.
In a newspaper interview, Tria said he aims to boost Italy’s economic growth through structural reforms rather than deficit spending, pledged to consider the sustainability of the pension system in any reforms and distanced himself from plans to issue government paper to pay some suppliers.
Carlo Cottarelli, a former International Monetary Fund executive lined up last month as a potential technocrat premier, had previously estimated that the coalition’s plans for new benefit spending and tax cuts would cost as much as $148 billion in their first full year.