It is eight years now since The Spectator sent me to Lampedusa to see the boats coming in. That was at the start of the 2015 migrant crisis. The island, which is home to just 6,000 locals, had just buckled under the weight of another 1,300 arrivals. I followed them to Sicily and then on up and across the continent. If I may be self-referential for a moment, it was on Lampedusa that I realized the scale of the problem and got the opening lines of my resulting book, The Strange Death of Europe: “Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide. Whether the European people choose to go along with this is, naturally, another matter.”
My prediction then was that the people of Europe would try to make their voices heard by electing more and more anti-illegal-migration politicians. And they did so. With few exceptions, Europe responded by electing politicians who were more restrictionist when it came to illegal migration. Italy ended up electing Giorgia Meloni, the most right-wing politician the country had seen in some while.
Yet last week, Lampedusa’s local population was, in just forty-eight hours, dwarfed by the arrival of roughly 7,000 illegal migrants. Meloni visited, along with a smiling Ursula von der Leyen. Meloni has complained that Italy is being put under “unsustainable pressure” and that the EU is not doing enough. Eight years on from 2015, and less than nothing has changed.
Perhaps it is time to add a further chapter to my already dire prognosis. Europeans will vote for politicians who want to stop the migration. Those politicians may even come into office but the situation will not change. How can this be?
At this stage the online know-alls will claim that Meloni has been “bought” and become “a shill.” They will claim that she has sold out and become a “puppet” of the EU. These explanations — such as they are — are ridiculously comforting as well as wrong. The reality is infinitely worse. Let me throw out two names that explain why.
Matteo Salvini — a political rival of Meloni’s — also made a political career out of talking tough on the issue of the illegal boats. As Italian deputy prime minister and interior minister, he did a great deal to stop the flow. Specifically, he refused to allow boats to land. Various open-borders NGOs and others had been testing Italian law for years. Salvini worked out that if you said the illegal boats couldn’t dock, then the flow might stop, or at least slow down.
In the years since, Salvini has faced repeated attempts to prosecute him for this “crime.” In 2021 he was dragged through the Italian courts on a charge of “kidnapping” migrants (the “kidnapping” being not allowing illegal migrants to land in Italy). When that case fell apart, the Italian Senate of which Salvini was a member voted for a new trial to take place. Once again he was charged with “kidnapping” for blocking the arrival of the NGO Open Arms ship with 147 illegal migrants on board.
For his part, Salvini has said that he did what he did for Italy and would do it again. But it is a heck of a warning to other politicians, in Italy and beyond. Allow the daily erosion of your borders and you’ll be just fine. Keep allowing people with no discernible asylum claims to land by the thousands, from a continent with hundreds of millions more to come, and you will be fêted. Stop the law-breaking and you will find yourself prosecuted.
In case you think that is a one-off case, let me raise that of another politician who is perhaps less well-known in Europe. Inger Stojberg is one of the most successful Danish politicians of recent times. This I know will not excite everybody. But Stojberg should be a modern European hero. Her country was lucky enough to have her as immigration minister in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis. She served in that role for four years and — with great popular support — managed to stop Denmark becoming a priority destination for illegal migrants. If there is a reason why modern Sweden has such an upsurge in violent crime and other disorders, it is because of the vast number of illegal migrants the country foolishly took in during the period Stojberg was being a more sober player in next-door Denmark. Her country owes its comparative peace to her.
As immigration minister, she instituted deliberately off-putting policies, such as a law threatening to take possession of a migrant’s belongings up to the sum the migrant cost the state after breaking into it. This law was used a handful of times, but it gave off a signal: Denmark was not going to be the welcoming welfare farm for anyone in the developing world in search of a better lot. Although Stojberg was a member of Denmark’s Liberal Venstre party and decidedly mainstream, she was repeatedly lied about in the liberal press. But she stuck to her position: Denmark’s borders must hold.
Stojberg too has been chased through the courts in recent years. One of her policies stated that if a couple arrived at an asylum center and one of them was underage, they should be separated. Stojberg’s opponents said this went against the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2021 the Danish parliament (including her own party) voted to impeach and try Stojberg for her “crime.” She was sentenced to sixty days in prison and ended up wearing an ankle bracelet in order not to actually spend any time in jail.
So when people ask why our politicians are unable to do the right thing on the migration issue, this is one of the reasons. Because if you allow laws to be broken, then nothing will happen to you. You will serve your retirement in peace. But try to defend the laws, and the peoples of Europe, and you will be hounded. During Europe’s strange death, only doing what is right is punished.