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The two Trumps of the Mediterranean

Joseph Muscat and Matteo Salvini both put the national interest before saving lives

On the eve of a meeting between EU leaders on migration, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the next year will determine whether the EU can hold together.

Salvini, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, told German magazine Der Spiegel that the EU’s response to its multiple challenges over the next year will show “whether the whole thing makes sense any more.”

The country’s hardline interior minister keeps stoking uproar with his inflammatory migration rhetoric and it only makes him more popular.

Salvini is in line with the worst of the Italian political traditions. His rhetoric has echoes of fascism in the country that invented it.

One of his favourite topics is pointing at Malta for not taking in migrants – but this is an occasion where he’s found his match. Joseph Muscat comes from the same line.

The Guardian was among others to compare Salvini’s rhetoric to Trump’s “from his embrace of impulsive and often racist rhetoric, to his rejection of democratic norms”. Muscat has been criticised in similar terms in Malta.

On Friday, Salvini pointed a public finger at Malta and said the country should take in over 200 migrants on the MV Lifeline at a time when the crew on the boat confirmed the vessel was not in Maltese waters. The team replied to Salvini with the ship’s co-ordinates posted on Twitter.

The vessel entered Maltese territorial waters later in the afternoon. There was no official statement from the Maltese government while international 24/7 news channels considered this top news in their daily cycle.

As a result, they kept repeating what Salvini said on Twitter while the Malta government’s account posted announcements of public transport services for Isle of MTV and a visit to an exhibition by the Dominican Order.

The government chose a couple of journalists in the mainstream media and chose to update only them on Friday. That exclusivity obliges the journalists to report, not to question.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister then chose an interview with his Party’s radio station to update the nation. A migrant was evacuated from the ship somewhere between Libya and Lampedusa. The chest-beating of Malta not succumbing to Italian pressure followed.

“We’re a sovereign country and nobody should dictate what we can and cannot do,” Muscat said.

The stand will inevitably win him applause across the political divide, but at what cost?

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “populism was spreading across Europe like a disease that Europeans should fight more vigorously”.

“You can see them rise a bit like a leprosy all across Europe, in countries where we thought that would be impossible to see them again, in neighbouring countries,” Macron said.

Malta’s stand will be under international scrutiny when EU leaders meet on Sunday to discuss the migration concerns ahead of an EU Summit next week.

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