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Jul 21, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

Where have I heard this before?

“Change is happening country by country,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a recent radio interview, “and after Italy we await the next member state to join our club.”

Recently, Germany’s Minister of Interior Thomas de Maziere and his Italian counterpart, Marco Minniti, issued a joint letter concerning the migration crisis and Europe’s borders, and they make some remarkable statements. It’s time to end, they say, the era of “creating the illusion of limitless welcoming" and begin moving the burden of border protection and asylum procedures beyond EU borders. If there’s a reason that sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because Prime Minister Orbán has been saying that for nearly two years and even formalized it in a ten-point action plan last year called Schengen 2.0.

“Change is happening country by country,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a recent radio interview, “and after Italy we await the next member state to join our club.”

Since the beginning of the migration crisis, over 600,000 migrants have set foot on Italian soil. Brussels’s moral reasoning aside, one must acknowledge that the situation in Italy is getting out of control. The figures for 2017 are already over 73,000 and we are not even through July.

Even though the majority of the rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea are still carried out by the Italian coastguard and military, the private vessels of NGOs, sailing under foreign flags, are significantly increasing the number of migrants that reach the Italian coast. More precisely, over the course of 2017, according to UNHCR,  one out of every three migrants has been picked up by private rescue teams.

In an attempt to decrease the burden, “the idea of blocking humanitarian ships flying foreign flags from returning to Italian ports has been discussed” by the Italian government, an anonymous source recently told Reuters.

In a meeting with the EU’s migration commissioner, Maurizio Massari, Permanent Representative of Italy to the EU, warned that the situation they are facing is serious and Europe cannot simply turn its back. “It’s unsustainable that all the vessels doing search and rescue operations are landing in Italy,” he added. Reacting to the ambassador’s warning, Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, “Italy is right” and “the situation is untenable along the Central Mediterranean route.”

Former PM and leader of the ruling PD party Matteo Renzi joined the debate by proposing that Italy should escape from its “do-gooder’” mentality and, as he wrote in a book featured on PD’s website, "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." With that remark, he is implying that those who are coming are not all refugees, which is a point that Hungary’s prime minister has also been arguing for some time.

Meanwhile, Austria has deployed some 750 soldiers and four armored military vehicles to the Brenner Pass – a key transport route through the Alps that connects Austria and Italy. The duty of the unit is clear, as Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz put it, "We are ready to protect our Brenner border if necessary.”

This may seem at first like a rather abrupt shift, but these more strident positions come in response to a serious situation. A growing number of governments and political leaders have recently come to realize that the EU’s current migration policy has failed and in turn have begun to adopt positions similar to the Hungarian response.

It’s a growing club. Who will be the next to join?