The Franco-Italian migration dispute is spreading to the EU level

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Migration is an unusual topic on foreign ministers’ agendas, but Italy’s new top diplomat Antonio Tajani has insisted the matter, which has recently soured Rome’s ties with Paris, be discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council today. We will explore the issue and examine what Italy’s other allies had to say in a joint letter criticizing non-state bailouts at sea.

Meanwhile, world leaders arrive in Bali for a G20 summit, and we’ll bring you the latest on why Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, despite his absence, is set to overshadow the meeting. In Ukraine, several murals were painted by Graffiti artist Banksy have surfaced on bombed-out walls on the outskirts of Kyiv, the BBC reports.

And in Slovenia, Nataša Pirc Musar, formerly lawyer for former US first lady Melania Trump, is on course to become the country’s first female president after yesterday’s election.

Club Med fight

Italy may have inflamed France’s ire when it refused to let NGO ships rescue migrants ashore at sea, but it still has some allies in its stance, they write Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens, Sarah White in Paris and Valentina Pop in Brussels.

In a joint statement over the weekend, migration ministers in Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus said they could no longer accept irregular migrants being brought to their shores “on the basis of a decision taken by private ships” as long as they staying there is not an “effective, fair and durable burden-sharing mechanism” at EU level.

Mediterranean countries have been calling for an EU-level relocation mechanism for years to treat and house migrants more evenly across the bloc. However, discussions on introducing such a mechanism have stalled as Central and Eastern European states are unwilling to play along, now pointing to the much higher influx of Ukrainian refugees they have been receiving since February.

Notably absent from Saturday’s joint statement were the ministers of France and Spain, who are normally part of the Club Med alliance on migration (though perhaps less anti-NGO than the rest).

“We reiterate our position that the actions of these private vessels are not in accordance with the spirit of the international legal framework for search and rescue operations, which should be respected,” the statement said.

And in another blow to Paris, given that several NGOs operating rescue vessels in the Mediterranean are of French descent, ministers added: “Each state must effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control over ships that fly its flag.”

NGO vessels should act in “full respect” to coastal states’ authorities, the ministers say, calling on the European Commission and Council to hold a “serious discussion on how these operations in the Mediterranean can be better coordinated”. (Although it did not sign the joint statement, France indicated last week that it also wants to convene a ministerial meeting to ensure NGO ships do not inadvertently facilitate human trafficking).

As a reminder, the ship that has been in the headlines in recent weeks after being refused berth in Italy, the Ocean Viking, flies the Norwegian flag and is operated by the Franco-German rescue initiative SOS Mediterranean. After weeks at sea with more than 200 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya, the ship docked in France on Friday.

France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who is due to meet Tajani in Brussels today, said Rome had acted in an “unacceptable manner” and warned of further “consequences” for Italy if it continues to turn away ships. In retaliation, France has said it will not take in 3,500 migrants it was supposed to take in from Italy.

“This is a very big disappointment,” Colonna said in an interview with Le Parisien published on Saturday. “Italy does not respect international law or the law of the sea,” she said, adding that Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was “in complete contradiction” to what Paris and Rome had previously discussed.

“These methods are unacceptable,” Colonna said. Council observers better prepare for a long session today.

Chart du Jour: Poland’s mortgage problem

Bar chart of SFr-denominated loans as a % of total gross loans, end-2021, showing Polish banks' exposure to the Swiss franc

Poland has a simmering Swiss franc mortgage problem, unlike other central and eastern European governments, which have stepped in by capping repayment exchange rates or converting loans into local currency.

Trouble in Paradise

EU leaders landing in Bali today ahead of tomorrow’s opening of the G20 summit face a difficult balancing act: taking a tough stance on Russia while bowing to concerns from non-Western leaders who are under suffering the effects of the war in Ukraine, she writes Henry Foy in Bali.

Vladimir Putin will not be there, having flinched at the thought of being either confronted or ignored by the majority of his fellow leaders. But like the ghost at the banquet, he will nonetheless mar the proceedings because of his invasion, which has disrupted global stability.

Two major hot spots are the summit communiqué and the photo of the traditional leaders. Both are high priorities for the Indonesian hosts and many other major developing nations in attendance, who want to show consensus on efforts to improve global food supplies, cool energy markets and curb inflation.

But Western leaders insist they will not pose alongside Sergei Lavrov, Putin’s foreign minister who was sent as deputy, and are reluctant to sign a communiqué that does not condemn the war — something Russia (and China) do not want to agree.

Delegation officials, who have been in Bali for several days now negotiating aspects of the summit, say a Western compromise on either of these issues might be possible as a sop to developing countries, but not both.

Keeping countries like India, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and Indonesia on the sidelines is a key priority for Western capitals, who want broader compliance with sanctions on Moscow and support for issues like the G7 oil price cap. A bitter G20 summit that ends in bitterness and zero convergence between West and East would not be ideal.

Populist defeated

Slovenians yesterday elected Nataša Pirc Musar as their first female president, a victory over the populist brand of politics espoused by former Prime Minister Janez Janša and his American role model Donald Trump, writes Marton Dunai in Budapest.

Trump’s name is not entirely unknown to Pirc Musar, as the 54-year-old human rights lawyer once represented former US First Lady Melania Trump in her native Slovenia. But their leadership style could not be more different than that of Janša and his protégé, former Foreign Minister Anže Logar, whom she easily beat yesterday with 54 percent of the vote compared to his 46 percent.

Logar sensed the shift in public sentiment and had tried during the election campaign to shed the divisive legacy of Janša’s closeness to Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. But Pirc Musar was more convincing.

She said she would “open a dialogue between all Slovenes” after a year in which the left-liberal side found a new base in the country.

The President will have the opportunity to appoint six new judges to the nine-member Constitutional Court, shaping the Alpine nation’s direction more deeply than usual.

What is there to see today?

  1. The EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels

  2. Parliament and Council negotiators hold talks on the 2023 budget

  3. European heads of state and government speak at the Vienna Economic Forum

. . . and later this week

  1. G20 leaders (excluding Russia’s Vladimir Putin) are meeting for a summit in Bali tomorrow and Wednesday

  2. British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will present the autumn financial report on Thursday

  3. The COP27 in Egypt comes to an end on Friday

Remarkable, quotable

  • Taming Crypto Beasts: The European Central Bank’s head of financial supervision told the FT that the EU’s forthcoming regulatory regime for crypto asset providers will prove difficult to enforce due to its cross-border and high-risk nature. Global regulators have been scrambling to respond to the collapse of crypto exchange FTX, which filed for bankruptcy in the US on Friday.

  • Bomb attack on Istanbul: A bomb ripped through one of Istanbul’s busiest streets yesterday, killing six people and injuring at least 81, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, raising the prospect of a resumption of political violence ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

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Adam Bradshaw

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