The liberal facade behind Europe's grand refugee acceptance experiment took a big hit on Friday, when Italy's Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and head of the ruling Democratic Party, said his country does not have "any moral duty to take in migrants", sharply toughening his stance over surging numbers of asylum seekers. His U-Turn follows that of Angela Merkel, who infamously accepted nearly 1 million mostly Syrian refugees in 2015, only to see a surge in terrorist attacks across Germany and Europe, and a plunge in her popularity as a result of an angry social backlash, prompting her to quietly but forcefully end Germany's "open door" policy.
Now it's Italy turn.
Recall that last week we discussed that with refugees arrivals in Italy up 20% over the same period last year, Rome threatened to close its ports to privately-funded aid boats - many of which are rumored to belong to Soros-linked organizations, or insist that funding be cut to EU countries which fail to help. Italy's interior minister Marco Minniti was angry: "They are sailing under the flags of various European countries. If the only ports where refugees are taken to are Italian, something is not working. This is the heart of the question."
One can see why Italy may be angry: with the Balkan corridor closed, Italy has emerged as the only port of entry into Europe. More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy over the past four years, the vast majority arriving by boat from Libya. About 85,000 have come ashore this year alone, accounting for the vast majority of European migrant arrivals.
And Just like in Germany two years ago, the popular reaction is one of growing anger - especially since migrants don't get to vote. However, the question has emerged: how does a "moral", liberal Europe square up to what is a growing undercurrent of resentment toward migrants, something traditionally associated with various loathed (by the establishment) populist parties? After all, if the same establishment admitted that what the "populists" offer is the right course of action, then a political crisis would ensue.
That did not stop Italy's former PM Matteo Renzi from saying that "we need to free ourselves from a sense of guilt. We do not have the moral duty to welcome into Italy people who are worse off than ourselves," the Democratic Party leader wrote in new book, excerpts of which were released ahead of publication on the PD website.
"There has to be a fixed number of arrivals," he said, adding that Italy should help migrants in their home countries, and sounding suspiciously close like Italy's anti-immigrant parties.
Sure enough, underscoring the sensitivity of the issue - and just how hypocritical Europe's liberal crown is - Renzi's comments were swiftly removed from the website, but not before they had generated a backlash among some PD supporters, and glee in the right-wing camp.
As Reuters reports, the biggest winner from Renzi's unexpected moments of honesty, was Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, who posted the deleted text on his own Twitter account. "Thanks for all the work. We will take it," Salvini wrote. "They (the PD) chatter and get embarrassed about it, while we can't wait to actually do it."
Meanwhile, Italy has found itself boxed in, with Brussels refusing to change its migrant policies even as rising popular anger means growing support for anti-establishment parties.
The upsurge in new arrivals, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa, has unsettled the Italian government, which has urged greater help from European allies in resettling the refugees. Its requests have fallen largely on deaf ears and Renzi warned on Friday that Rome would look to curb funding to EU nations that had refused to offer help.
"They are shutting their doors. We will block their funds," he said, sounding suspiciously like Turkey's Erdogan who has so far prevented a new refugee crisis in Europe by gating some 2 million migrants inside Turkey's borders.
Making matters worse, Italy's migrant crisis is pushing the balance of power away from establishment parties: last month, Renzi's PD party fared badly in local elections, losing control of 30 municipalities, including the traditional leftist stronghold of Genoa in northern Italy, with the migrant crisis increasingly weighing on the government.
Meanwhile, adding insult and injury to hypocrisy, Former European Commissioner for humanitarian affairs, Emma Bonino, caused embarrassment in PD ranks this week when she said that Renzi's government had requested in 2014 that all the migrants leaving Libya be brought to Italy. "At the beginning, we didn't realize that this was a structural problem and not a passing phase. We shot ourselves in the foot," said Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister. Oops.
Renzi of course denied her assertion on Friday, but said that in future, Italy should do more to encourage migrants to stay at home and develop their own economies.
"We need to escape from our 'do gooder' mentality," Renzi said.
To which we can only add that we are almost amazed at the speed with which Renzi, Merkel, and so much of Europe's "do gooder" liberal elite flipped its outlook on the idealistic act of accepting "people who are worse off than ourselves" the second said act starting having negative consequences on Renzi, Merkel and Europe's "do gooder" liberal slite. We would almost call this reversal glaringly hypocritical, but we are confident readers can make up their own minds.